There are some books that you know you want to read even though you can’t remember who recommended it. Books that maybe weren’t even recommended directly to you, but they’ve worked their way into your consciousness anyway. Maurice is one of those books. A cornerstone of Western queer literature that I had to read at least once in my life. I had high expectations going into this novel, which were only raised by the 4.02 rating on Goodreads. Thankfully, it did not let me down.
Maurice follows the titular character of Maurice Hall from his teenage years into adulthood, as he comes to terms with his sexuality and the effect that it has on his life. Maurice realises at a young age that he is attracted to men and he enters into his first homosexual relationship whilst at university. We are privy to the highs and lows of Maurice’s life and we discover with him how he is to live happily in this world as a gay man. In Maurice, Forster has written an affecting account of what it meant to be a gay man in Edwardian England and how difficult, but worthwhile, it is to learn how to accept yourself.
Part of what makes this book so important is the context within which it was written and published. For those reasons, I implore anyone who reads it to read the introduction. David Leavitt wrote the introduction in my Penguin Classics edition and it was fascinating. As I did not know the plot, I chose to read the introduction after finishing the novel and I am happy with that choice. The introduction gave me a deeper understanding of everything that Forster hoped to accomplish with this novel and enhanced my appreciation of the work. There is also a terminal note written by Forster in 1960, in which he discusses his experience of writing this book and some thoughts about homosexuality in Britain. It was deeply affecting:
Since Maurice was written there has been a change in the public attitude here: the change from ignorance and terror to familiarity and contempt. It is not the change towards which Edward Carpenter had worked […] We had not realised that what the public really loathes in homosexuality is not the thing itself but having to think about it.
Through this book, Forster explores concepts of internalised homophobia, oppression, the class divide, and growing up. Maurice is a completely believable character and when he was coming to terms with his sexuality I believed his journey wholeheartedly. The whole novel felt real and raw. Maurice may not have been the most likeable of characters, but I felt that I knew him and understood him. I was sad and happy and heartbroken and hopeful with him. When he came out to himself, his words felt like the truth:
He would not – and this was the test – pretend to care about women when the only sex that attracted him was his own. He loved men and always had loved them. He longed to embrace them and mingle his being with theirs. Now that the man who returned his love had been lost, he admitted this.
I was enchanted by the story that Forster created with Maurice. It is a book that I will hold dear for quite some time. That Forster felt unable to publish this book whilst he was alive is a poignant fact. I am glad to be living in a world in which it was eventually published, but I wish that Forster could have seen the praise it would receive. Maurice is an important reminder that queer people have always existed. It is a book that explores a history that often feels like the world is trying to erase. It is a book that touched my soul. I am grateful that there are books like this that bring comfort, hope, and understanding to so many people.