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Our Intrepid Heroine

I'm a multitasking, knitting, cooking, voraciously-reading library worker who wants to spread her bibliomania as far as possible.

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Maurice - E.M. Forster

This was not the book I expected to read on my honeymoon.


We drove up north the day after the wedding, still exhausted and reeling from the previous day. I wanted to leave as soon as possible, though, so that we could make the most of our week off. We arrived to a town full of sunshine, crisp air, and autumn colors, and I had planned a number of outdoor excursions to make the most of the fall season we hadn't had in Chicago.


The rain began at midnight, and as a thick fog unfurled over the town, I retrieved the book I had in the car. That was Maurice, which I had left in the backseat just in case I needed something to read before dragging my husband to the used bookstores nearby. I read it mostly between the hours of 1 and 4 on two separate insomnia-fueled, befogged, rain-drenched mornings, and this turned out to be the perfect atmosphere in which to read Maurice.


I did not expect to like Maurice as much as I did. This is the first work I've read by E. M. Forster, and it was mentioned on a book podcast I listen to regularly. It sounded interesting, so I picked up a copy at the library and then forgot it in my car.


The novel follows Maurice Hall through school and early adulthood in the Edwardian period. Maurice -- handsome, muddle-headed, and accustomed to following the lead of others -- struggles the entire novel with being "an undesirable of the Oscar Wilde sort." While at Cambridge, he meets Clive, a fellow undergraduate to whom he can pin his dreams, and so his life changes with the course of their relationship.


The novel was occasionally unpolished and I would definitely have liked to see some of the characters better developed. That said, I found this book fairly delightful. It was so nice to read a book from this time period with homosexual adult characters who didn't need to be constantly punished for their Sinful Love. It also got me thinking about the sexuality spectrum and functional vs. dysfunctional relationships, and I became unexpectedly invested in the love lives of assorted characters.


Spoilers from here on out.


I've read some criticism of the way that Clive was handled as a character: that he essentially has a fever one day and wakes up straight, and isn't that convenient. It is certainly true that Clive attributes his blessed state of matrimony partly to the fever. However, Clive also spends a majority of the novel deluding himself. And doing things like attempting to flirt with Maurice by giving him a copy of the Symposium, which is hilarious.


Clive and Maurice were not good for one another as a couple or as friends. Clive was too impressed with his social situation and obligations, and too deeply ashamed of any physical desire he had for Maurice to be the supportive partner that Maurice needed. And Maurice let Clive lead, including adopting many of Clive's mannerisms and philosophies which he did not always understand. Maurice did great things like be really, really contemptuous toward his family because Clive disdained his own. Maurice became an athiest because Clive argued him out of what little grasp of faith he had. He followed Clive around like a puppy begging for table scraps and trying to be satisfied with what little affection, respect, and social comprehension Clive could give him. And Clive began to feel cornered and smothered by Maurice's good intentions, lashing out at him and fretting himself into long-standing illness because the pretty, sometimes nice young man he fell in love with in college had turned into a less interesting version of himself who couldn't keep up with him.


Clive wanted someone who was quiet, sedate, and acceptable, and instead found himself with Maurice, who with all the best of intentions managed to be loud, slow, boistrous, and indescreet, in addition to being unable to appreciate the things Clive held dear. Like culture, travel, and academics. Maurice just wanted to go play rugby while the light was good. So when Clive suddenly began to notice women during a long illness (which could easily have been stress-induced), it startled and fascinated him, but he brought it up the same way he tried to voice an interest in Maurice in college: completely obliquely and in a way that went entirely over Maurice's head. Maurice just thought he was taking a ridiculous devil's advocate position and began to seriously worry that his boyfriend was dying because he was talking rubbish.


So when, wracked with the aftereffects of influenza, Clive dumped Maurice by trying to explain that he had begun to notice women, Maurice didn't believe him. He insisted that Clive was messing with him because that was the tenor of their relationship. And Clive was offended because Maurice didn't grasp that their relationship was doomed to be temporary the second Clive developed any interest in being involved with a woman.


There are examples throughout literature and film of the "evil" bisexual, but thankfully, this isn't one of them. Maurice certainly views Clive as a huge jerk who yanked him around and then parceled out affection piecemeal, and Forster was pretty much over it as well. Clive is certainly inconsiderate, and Maurice is at his worst when they are together. I read Clive as somewhere on the asexual scale (there is a line about how he never saw much use for sex anyway, as it is an inefficient use of time) but romantically interested in both genders. Given the time period, I can easily see him deciding that marrying a woman he's actually interested in being romantic with, in addition to being his duty as an upper class society man, could completely overrule his same-sex attraction. He may also have been burned out by relationships with men by dating Maurice, who didn't really like changes in his routine or read signals with any degree of success.


After their breakup, though still lonely and miserable, Maurice at least becomes a better person. A snob, surely, and reactive when people do not behave as he feels they should, but he is less casually cruel to others than he was while dating Clive. To become a better person, Maurice needed to be happy and to be with someone who let him be himself, and he was on his way to that toward the end of the novel. Less inconsiderate on a personal level, beginning to think for himself, willing to give up some measure of social status and financial gain in order to be happy with another person. Because I got a glimpse of that Maurice, I wanted for him to have a happy ending. And spending it with a hot bisexual working class guy sounds like a great way for Maurice to be happy.