Hand in love


Bright college days! Arcady! Quadrangles! Gay sex in pre-Great War Britain! Forster's novel Maurice has it all. The lead role is filled by a genial young man, vapid and self-serving, whose awakening homosexuality brings him into close, physical (but not overtly sexual) contact with Clive, an acquaintance at university.

In a novel with so many parallels with Forster's own situation, analysis of the few differences are inevitable. Maurice is Forster's intellectual and physical opposite: slow-headed if not actually stupid; well-built and fully aware of the fact; a man of business, society and common-sense. The roller-coaster ride his emotions undertake build in him a moral sense, if not an intellectual one, and lead him from college through disgrace and enterprise into heartache and eventual---tentatively optimistic---true love. Clive, and later Clive's gamekeeper Alec, awaken self-knowledge in Maurice. If he cannot change, and cannot improve, then he can at least be true to his own self: a trite sentiment now, but a dangerous idea during Forster's lifetime.

In Maurice there are two books, repelling and repellent to each other, but knit together so closely that the tensions between the two are palpable. Forster famously spent much of his life working on Maurice (which was published posthumously), changing his mind several times about numerous passages, writing and rewriting large chunks. As such the dialogue and memorable scenes flow past with charm and wit, whereas the frequent internalizations---no doubt mirroring Forster's own tangled thoughts---are overwrought and dense.

That there is more to this book than polemic, against a society where homophobia is not merely the norm but is almost a moral compunction, is a testament to his writing skill. That Forster has---unintentionally---padded a lovely, funny book with churned-up meanderings of introspection is a shame, but inevitable. Like the better fiction Maurice is largely enjoyable and entirely readable; like the worst of fiction, it tells you less about the lead character than about the author.