Is Maurice a Hopelessly Flawed Text?

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Is “Maurice” a hopelessly flawed text, or a thoughtful adaptation of the novel form to the subject matter and a strong intervention in debates of the time?

E.M Forster dedicated his novel “Maurice” to a “happier year”, affirming his intention of the novel’s purpose as an insight into the future evolution of sexual desire and relationships, leading some to attach significance to the text as a protagonist of controversial debate of the time . Forster delayed publication of Maurice for 57 years waiting for a time where wider concepts of desire could be explored without recrimination . Indeed, it has been argued that the novel was self-prophetic in predicting experiences Forster had not had himself, who later described his own sex life within the framework that Maurice had provided .

Forster’s autobiographical parallels with Maurice has fuelled debate as to whether the novel was significant as “a strong intervention in debates of the time” or alternatively a “hopelessly flawed” text. It is submitted at the outset that neither dogmatic view is entirely authoritative regarding the significance of Maurice and this analysis explore the premise that perhaps the flaws associated with Maurice were a necessary evil in presenting E.M. Forester’s gay ideology.

Forster’s self proclaimed significance of the novel as a symbol of the future is juxtaposed with Maurice reflecting on the past . In the “Terminal note” to the novel, Forster asserts that Maurice’s escape with his lover in the ending “belongs to an England where it was still possible to get lost. It belongs to the last moment of the greenwood.” The juxtaposition is further highlighted by the fact that whilst Maurice is set in Georgian England, the lovers apparently disappear to an England of the past, however the irony here is that they escape to an escape that was not possible in 1913 . Forster justified this on the basis that a happy ending was imperative, “I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, because in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood. ”

However, searching for a world of the past and waiting for “a happier year” was not realistically possible and therefore “Maurice and Alec inhabit a novel twisted in the grip of time ”. As such, it has been argued that these contradictions are Maurice’s flaws, leading some commentators to assert that “they result from self-hatred and indecision, from escapism and self-indulgence and have therefore disappointed readers of all kinds ”.

Conversely, this literal interpretation of Forster’s “flawed” narrative can also be viewed as meritorious in propagating strong debate at the time. For example, Maurice’s dedications to the past are symptomatic of the complexities of any relationship whether heterosexual or homosexual and it is possible to read Maurice’s conclusion as a symbol of “experimental temporality ”. For example, the selfhood is reflected through a corresponding narrative, which defies traditional convention of sequence and tense, which results in a “healthy circle” of time and narrative . It is this very structure that characterises Forster’s writing through Maurice which has been utilised to assert Forster’s ingenuity in groundbreaking literary work.

Similarly, whilst the actual concept of looking to a past that doesn’t exist may theoretically be flawed, it is arguable that it this very “flaw” is essential to communicating Forster’s intentions in Maurice. In Utopian fiction, it is common to describe an ideal past to highlight the possibilities in an ideal future on the presumption as Maurice propounds that a “happier year” will come when past possibilities that never materialised can return without recrimination .

This view has distinct parallels with Edward Carpenter, described as “the first great theorist of homogenic love, who inspired Forster and many others with his justifications...
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