Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Fiction Review: Maurice

E.M Forster was on my list of classic authors I have never read, and I recently bought a copy of one of his most famous novels, Howards End. Before I got to that, though, my favorite book podcast, Book Cougars, hosted a read-along of one of his lesser-known novels, Maurice. Since I love communal reading and discussing books, I joined in the fun and borrowed the slim novel from my library. I enjoyed this engaging story about the life of a gay man in the early 1900's and am now looking forward to reading more from Forster.

The author doesn't state the exact time period that the novel takes place, but he wrote it in 1913-14, and it feels set at about that time in England. We follow a young man named Maurice (apparently pronounced like "Morris" in England) through his early school years to his college years at Cambridge. He is kind of just sleep-walking through college, hanging out with his old high school friends, when he meets a vibrant young man named Risley, who is alive and different in a way that Maurice can't quite figure out but is attracted to. Through Risley, Maurice meets Clive, another young man who immediately grabs Maurice's attention and wakes him out of his stupor, a constant state of "pretending" that he was vaguely aware of but thought was normal for everyone. Maurice and Clive fall in love, and Maurice's world opens up. They understand it is a forbidden kind of love, and their relationship remains mostly chaste physically, but they both feel more alive when they are together.

The novel follows Maurice through his college years and into his working life, through ups and downs with Clive and more. Throughout that period, Maurice struggles against his nature, even seeking out a hypnotist to try to "cure" him. My heart was breaking for these poor men who worked so hard to deny their true feelings and were told repeatedly by every facet of society that people like them were abominations. The novel is beautifully written and makes you feel as if you are there with Maurice, in the English countryside. It's a very sad story, but there is hope at the end for a better, happier future for Maurice. In a "Terminal Note," Forster explains that he was inspired to write the novel after meeting two gay men in 1913 who were not only happy but full of life and vibrancy. He wanted a happy ending for Maurice, but alas, that was the reason why this novel was never published until 1971: it was unthinkable that a novel about men wrestling with their evil, dark side should have a happy ending (and not one where they are converted!). The novel itself and this backstory are thought-provoking, inspiring musings of how far we have come as a society...and how far we still have to go.

255 pages, W.W. Norton & Company

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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  1. This reminds me a bit of the movie that came out about the Cambridge mathematicians who invented the Enigma machine (Alan Touring). So tortured.

    1. Yes, my husband mentioned that, too, when I described the story to him - that was set about 50 years later and things were no better!