7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Maurice (Twentieth Century Classics) (Paperback)
This novel, whilst by no means the greatest of Foster's, does however strike at the heart of the values and ideals his works espoused. While his novels had been written as it were "professionally" (so that he said that of the immensely successful "Howards End", which had preceded "Maurice", that there was no character in it for whom he really cared), "Maurice" is an intensely personal novel. It seems funny to think nowadays, but Forster only fully realised his homosexuality about the age of 26. Initially preferring "Platonic" relationships, he came to value the phyisical aspect more and more, and "Maurice" to some extent documents this.
The plot is fairly simple. Maurice Hall, a highly conventional youth of the pre-World War One era, goes to Cambridge, and there is gradually shaken from his suburban preconceptions. He meets Risley, and through him Clive Durham, and they gradually fall in love. Their relationship is platonic and chaste, rather charmingly. However, Clive (somehow) decided to "go straight", leaving Maurice in an abyss of loneliness and despair. When Clive marries, he goes to visit, and there meets Clive's gamekeeper Alec Scudder, with whom he eventually has a happy, physically-fulfilling relationship.
The main imagery of the novel concerns self-knowledge and self-revelation. Light and darkness are used as appropriate symbols - Maurice seeking the light of (self)knowledge, and is "afraid of the dark". In contrast to "Howards End" the novel is deliberately fragmentary, with short chapters and often some (unexplained) time between them. This suits the subject matter, as Maurice's gradual self-revelation comes to him in fits and starts, not following a smooth trajectory.
Close to Forster's heart are the critique of the middling-classes (Maurice and Clive's mother's are often talking about central heating, i.e. "hot air"); the rejection of Christianity (which foreshadows Maurice's later "corruption); the preference of the countryside as more nourishing and stimulating than "civillisation); Forster's anti-government views (he celebrates "the greenwood" into which Maurice and Alec disappear in the terminal note); and, linked with this, his sexual prefernce for the working-classes, whom he thought freer and more vital than the middle-classes from which he hailed. All of these were particular concerns of Forster's, although he would work these more successfully in varying degrees into "Howards End" and "A Passage To India".
The novel has been criticised for the ending, which many people have found unconvincing. Either the character of Alec is not fully fleshed-out, or the circumstances of their meeting was too unlikey. I think that in the days of particular sexual repression that much had to be read into small hints and clues when people met, exciting little tokens that only those who knew could understand. As for their decision to have a life "underground", well, the novel does also chart Maurice's disillusion with conventional morals and standards, and Forster was excited by the idea of a life with the working-classes. Alec as a character is sketchier than the gamekeeper in "Lady Chatterley's Lover", and his motivations are unclear.
However, Forster aimed in this novel to restore to the human stock homosexuality as something fine and dignified. He undoubtedly acheived tht with this novel, perhaps the first of its kind in English literature.