review: maurice

12 April 2014

Arthur Sales & Liuk Bass by Saverio Cardia

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 256
review written: 12.4.14
edition read: W. W. Norton & Company (2005)
originally published: 1971

title: Maurice
author: E. M. Forster

Set in the elegant Edwardian world of Cambridge undergraduate life, this story by a master novelist introduces us to Maurice Hall when he is fourteen. We follow him through public school and Cambridge, and on into his father's firm, Hill and Hall, Stock Brokers. In a highly structured society, Maurice is a conventional young man in almost every way, "stepping into the niche that England had prepared for him": except that his is homosexual.

Written during 1913 and 1914, after an interlude of writer's block following the publication of Howards End, and not published until 1971, Maurice was ahead of its time in its theme and in its affirmation that love between men can be happy. "Happiness," Forster wrote, "is its keynote….In Maurice I tried to create a character who was completely unlike myself or what I supposed myself to be: someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad businessman and rather a snob. Into this mixture I dropped an ingredient that puzzles him, wakes him up, torments him and finally saves him." (goodreads)

My thoughts:
Something interesting I'd like to point out is that E.M. Forster finished writing this book in 1914, the start of World War II. He resisted publication because of the views of same-sex marriage at the time. Maurice was published after his death by his trustees in a time where social attitudes about homosexuality were changing. The cover reveals an interesting perspective--the pink title and the velvet-cake deep red lace seems to indicate a feminine touch to the book while having the silhouette of two men talking. The main character, Maurice, has an aversion to women but his lover doesn't hate them as much as Maurice does. The role of women is a key point in this book for women remain to be the obstacle in Maurice's quest for love. An interesting cover, but one that I think could have been better. My Language teacher told me that this book was sad, but had a happy ending.

The book begins with an almost-fifteen year old schoolboy graduating from his boarding school in England. As a graduate on the last day, he has a talk with one of the teachers. The teacher preached to him "To love a noble woman, to protect and serve her--this was the crown of life" (14-15) to which Maurice responded "I think I shall not marry".
Thus begins the story of Maurice's realisation of his sexuality. He's cold towards his family, unloving almost, and firm with his beliefs. I think it's fascinating that as he realises his sexuality, he also questions his relationship with religion. He meets a friend at Cambridge, where he now attends college, and this friend, Clive Durham, says he's not a Christian. Maurice, an atheist and homosexual, must hide himself from his upper class family. He becomes alienated, but he is in love with his friend, to whom he shows his loving and caring side; a side he rarely ever shows to anyone.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Despite being written in 1914, I find that I can relate very much to the characters, not in regards to sexuality, but with religion. Maurice and Clive were about my age and proclaimed themselves atheists, which at the time was incredibly controversial. It's surprising that not many YA books nowadays questions religion-mostly every character is presumed to be Christian by default, or agnostic. Many characters remain ambiguous religion-wise, a position I find a bit annoying. But Maurice does a fine job in drawing parallels between the struggles of sexuality with religion. Even if one isn't a homosexual, the question of religion is universal. They're two of the same--one's religious status can almost be like one's homosexuality, except that the former can be changed while the latter is more or less permanent. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the characterisation. Maurice's character isn't exactly likeable, but that's exactly why I like him. It's too easy to write a likeable protagonist, but to write an unsavoury one? That takes talent. It's like the protagonist of The Enchanter by Nabokov. Not only is Maurice an un-likeable character, but so is literally every character in this book save for one, and it wasn't even a good one. But the way these characters are characterised is masterful and subtle. In just a couple of sentences, one could understand a mountain load of a character's personality. Along with issues and characterisation, the overall plot line was well done. There was a definitive structure and path with several unexpected twists and turns that makes the story interesting and enjoyable.

I couldn't help but to notice similarities between Maurice and other books. If you've read A Separate Peace by John Knowles, you'll find Maurice to be similar. I never understood when people told me that A Separate Peace has a homosexual sub-context, but now I realise it actually might. It was published before Maurice was published, which is fascinating. If you've read Catcher in the Rye, Maurice reminds me of Holden in their uncaring characters. Maurice intentionally hurts his family, as does Holden, and skives off classes to the point where he gets expelled, just like Holden.

I recommend this to older readers or more mature readers (I read deep stuff when I was twelve and thirteen) because the language is a just a bit thick, like all the books that are published in that century. I enjoyed the book, but my dislike of the characters and my own personal satisfaction wasn't quenched (like when you ship two characters in a T.V. show and it never becomes canon), and thus my ratings are affected by my judgemental bias.

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