Maurice by E.M. Forster

Maurice - E.M. Forster

I had problems with deciding how to rate this book. It’s very much a draft, and not even the kind that is ready to be sent to the publisher. I should let it be because it was published posthumously. I have read even more broken posthumously-published works. But those were quite obviously collections of writings, as opposed to Maurice, which we’re supposed to read as a novel. I just wasn’t able to ignore it to the point it makes this a five-star-level enjoyable.

 

It’s possible that Forster never intended it to be published. It feels very personal. Particularly the ending. But then again, the ending is the one of the things I liked the best, even though it would have had me shaking my head in any other romance.

Yes, it’s unrealistic. But knowing the background, one cannot fault Forster for desiring it. And as silly it is, I really hope they lived happily ever after in that forest. So, no complaints from me about the wistfulness from me.

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The only thing, contents-wise, that made me pause was the misogyny. We’re not talking the standard, casual, societal-norm-induced sexism; I was taken aback at how vicious it is at times. Vicious by the standard of late 19th-early 20th century cool-and-controlled style of British writers, that is. Which means too subtle for a good chunk of modern readers to catch. But if your radar is tuned to those frequencies, it is there and how. I wondered if it was a character trait, as Forster wrote down that he’s not Maurice. (It’s impossible, however, to dismiss the belief that a lot of the things in the book were influenced by Forster’s personal experiences. There seem to be parallels between the family relations as well.) Still, this was the first work of his I read and I decided to research a little so I wouldn’t run into unpleasant surprises in case I decide to try more. And...yeah. It’s subtle in most of his published works, humanistic as they are, but not quite as much in his private writings and conversations. Reasons given by critics and biographers vary from his personal struggles with his identity, over his mother, to the influence of J. R. Ackerley and the school of thought among homosexual men of the time that advocated anti-feminism. Is it excusable given the circumstances, and to what degree, is a matter of personal values. It wasn’t enough to spoil the book for me, or make me stop rooting for Maurice, but thought I should mention it since few reviews do. In the case of characters - Maurice and Clive - no reasoning was given; it’s not about sublimination of their discontent, aimed at the wrong target. While alienation was to be expected, the way Maurice treats his sisters is deliberately cruel.

 

Another interesting subject was religion. While all of the gay characters in this novel have decided to cut ties with it, none condemn it. Same goes for lawmakers and society in general. They don’t see themselves as rebels, but criminals or diseased. Some manage to persuade themselves to do “normal” life, some struggle for a long time, some seek escape.

 

My nitpicks aside, if we lived in a better world, this book would have been required reading in schools. In parts that are complete, the prose is beautiful. While it’s not quite “realism”, there is no stylisation or idealisation either.

Except at the end, but that’s entirely forgivable.

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I’m not an expert on the subject, but I thought that struggle with the identity, social norms, indoctrination and guilt was done perfectly. And then, of course, there is the historical significance. The points of the greatest interest to me were the boys’ school romance - if it wasn’t written by someone who most likely had brush with it, I’d have thought it completely fictional - and the hypnotist - not only the therapy, but the information he provides about the other clientele and alternatives he recommends to the “uncurable”. Overall, a book that should be more recognised, recommended, be included into classics/canon and feature on more lists of "X books to read". It definitely has vastly more value than some unduly acclaimed entries.