During his long life, E. M. Forster distinguished himself with six novels. Two, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and A Room with a View (1908), are known as the Italian novels because they are set in Italy and because they share certain qualities, themes, characterizations, and tone. Maurice was first written between September, 1913, and July, 1914. Because of its gay-themed content and the tenor of the times, the novel was not published in Forster’s lifetime. Forster published three other major novels in his lifetime, The Longest Journey (1907), Howards End (1910), and A Passage to India (1924).
During the next fifty years, Forster reworked Maurice, and as late as 1960 made substantial revisions, adding a “Terminal Note.” This note describes the novel’s origins, which can be traced to Forster’s visit with the writer Edward Carpenter, who has been called the first modern writer on sex in England. Carpenter heavily influenced D. H. Lawrence but is now virtually forgotten as a significant writer. Carpenter’s lover, George Merrill, had touched Forster at one time, a touch and “sensation,” Forster later said, that “was unusual.” He added, “and I still remember it.” Forster soon began to write Maurice, a novel that is part autobiography disguised as novel and part novel as wish fulfillment. In Maurice, Forster utilizes the epigrammatic theme from Howards End: “Only connect.” In doing so, he writes a novel of a young man’s inner journey toward understanding the nature of his sexual identity.
The genius of Forster’s novel lies in his creation of Maurice Hall, an Everyman who is “someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad businessman and rather a snob.” Maurice’s homosexuality is the “ingredient” that brings Maurice to life: It puzzles him, awakens him, torments him, and finally saves him. In Maurice’s efforts to connect, he first meets Clive, whose Hellenic values attract Maurice and awaken his sexual identity. When Maurice determines that he and Clive will never connect physically, only mentally, he is again tormented. When Maurice connects with Alec Scudder, the gamekeeper on Clive’s estate, Maurice saves himself by rejecting the conventions of the society in which he was reared.
The character of Alec is loosely based on Stephen Wonham, a man of working-class origins with whom Forster had a relationship. To say, however, that the thematic focus of Maurice is finding love despite class hierarchy distinctions would be inaccurate. The theme of Maurice is the search for self-fulfillment through realization of sexual and self-identity as well as the place of gays in society. Forster thought, by 1960, that the book was dated because it belonged to an era when it was still possible to escape to “the greenwood” and get “lost.” This is still possible but unnecessary for gays, given the changing mores that include a greater acceptance of gay and lesbian sexuality. The theme of connection in Maurice is still relevant to any confused young man who may be uncertain of his sexual identity and who is experiencing the puzzlement such a discovery brings about.
Change, discovery, and connection are all very much part of Maurice . Maurice discovers that his options in life are not limited to those of his deceased father. He does not make this discovery on his own. When Clive speaks openly about his own feelings and platonic ideals, Maurice awakens to the possibility that what had puzzled him about sexuality since his walk on the beach with Mr. Ducie and their discussion of the birds and the bees was the existence of an “other” sexuality. Maurice makes discoveries only when challenged by others; he is as...
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