E. M. Forster - Maurice

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E.M.Forster's Gay Novel, Maurice, Differs From Its Movie

Jan 10, 2005 (Updated Mar 9, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:characters; touching story; in-depth writing

Cons:old-fashioned words; slow pace

The Bottom Line: See how hard it is to come out of the closet when it's considered a felony.


The following lines adroitly encapsulate this gay period piece out of Edwardian England called Maurice, so I daresay if they do not tempt you into getting to know the two characters better, nothing I say will help matters.

During the next two years Maurice and Clive had as much happiness as men under that star can expect. They were affectionate and consistent by nature, and, thanks to Clive, extremely sensible...

Clive had expanded in this direction ever since he had understood Greek. The love that Socrates bore Phaedo now lay within his reach, love passionate but temperate, such as only finer natures can understand, and he found in Maurice a nature that was not indeed fine, but charmingly willing...He educated Maurice, or rather his spirit educated Maurices spirit, for they themselves became equal. Neither thought “Am I led; am I leading?” Love had caught him out of triviality and Maurice out of bewilderment in order that two imperfect souls might touch perfection.
Pp98-9

After writing Howards End, E.M. Forster says in the Terminal Notes at the back of Maurice that he wrote Maurice in 1913-14 after being inspired by Edward Carpenter, a so-called rebel appropriate to his age, and his friend George Merrill who flirted with the author. Forster developed his gay character Maurice as someone completely different from himself, rather a snob in an uncultured, non-wordy way. His character Clive was inspired by an academic acquaintance and Clive, caught up in his Greek studies, believed in platonic restraint while he thought himself gay, but after a visit to Greece as an adult, he unhappily realized his error and fought against his awakening in vain. A third character, Alec, who appeared towards the end of the novel as a gameskeeper, emanated from George Merrills playful touch on the authors backside and was a major factor in how Maurice as a character and novel ended.

I, being straight as well, watched the 1987 movie adaptation starring James Wilby and Hugh Grant after reading a ciao review by member frkurt, but was left feeling puzzled and dissatisfied. I realized why when I sought out the E.M. Forster novel. The movie only fully reveals the character of Maurice, but leaves the characters of Clive and Alec mostly open to interpretation by not allowing us privy to their thoughts. It plays like an often torturous gay love story, as if Clive denies his gayness out of fear of imprisonment and loss of honor. A former Cambridge colleague of theirs even gets caught for sexual immorality and is imprisoned to Clives horror, but the book records no such incident.

Maurice, the novel, begins when Maurice as a child hears a lesson of the birds and the bees from a kindly schoolmaster who knows that the boy lost his father. We read of his ‘violent repulsion’ from women and how such lecturing pains him. Then he is in college and it is in his second year that he begins to understand that people are alive and not made of cardboard like himself. Through a mutual friend, the one who gets arrested in the movie, he meets Clive and thinks him a ‘queer fish’ that he has to meet again. He does not realize he is gay until their joyous friendship leads Clive to declare that he loves him and Maurice reacts with utter disdain, running away.

Reconciliation does not happen quickly, but it does only to soon open up new barriers in their relationship while they grow up and take their places in the class-defined English society. The book is more descriptive (though not with the sex!), including Maurices contemplation of suicide, than the movie and while this slows down the pace greatly and can be irritating, it also fills in the world that the characters must live in so we can perhaps better understand why they are who they are.

E.M. Forster did originally compose Maurice in 1913-14, but did not allow it to be published until after his death in 1969 (with slight revision) because of its controversial theme and happy ending, which moralists felt should have been otherwise. Today we still have those moralists, but I do not think the Edwardian novel will upset most of you reading this review. You like me will read it with all its old-fashioned words, ideas and ways as a period piece that will probably amuse or intrigue you, especially if you typically enjoy such books (Lady Chatterley's Lover comes to mind). I do not usually read gay novels, but I had no problem reading about these engaging characters whose happiness I wanted.

Not often do I read the book after watching the movie it spawned. Sometimes, though, like with the movie Maurice, I feel the need to understand the characters better by reading the book and I am very glad I did. The book is not vague about Clive like the movie is, having revealed that Clive definitely did not love Maurice as he once did and preferred women. The book was, happily, more interesting because of its differences from the movie, but I am not sure that all of you will appreciate the differences...

Besides not liking the older, in-depth writing style, you may prefer an unhappy Clive who regrets becoming normal, as he puts it. This, of course, is up to you to decide. The movie is quite beautifully paced and filmed with very expressive performances from the men who in real life are quite straight, but though enjoyable, it is not the full story that Forster wrote. I appreciate both book and movie for their differences.

This has been an entry in member inthelilypond's Book VS Movie write-off. See details and links to other entries here: http://www.epinions.com/content_4208107652


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