It has for long been known that E. M. Forster had a novel that at first he could not, and then would not, publish in his lifetime. But he intended it to be published after his death, and he left an account of how he came to write it. In the spring of 1913, when he was thirty-four, Forster was suffering from that perpetual loneliness which for a bachelor is the first sign of middle age. One day he went to visit Edward Carpenter, a curious late-Victorian clergyman turned free-thinker, nature lover turned socialist—a sage and liberator to some of Forster’s generation, who lived with his working-class friend George Merrill in a cottage in Derbyshire.
During their talk Merrill did to Forster what apparently he often did to young men—he touched him just above his bottom. “The sensation,” Forster recalled, “was unusual, and I still remember it, as I remember the position of a long vanished tooth. It was as much psychological as physical. It seemed to go straight through the small of my back into my ideas…. I then returned to Harrogate, where my mother was taking a cure, and immediately began to write Maurice.”
This happened to occur at a moment in time when Forster was at his most creative. On his return from India the previous year he had begun work on a novel which became A Passage to India, but he got stuck in the Marabar Caves. The next spring he began another novel called Arctic Summer, in which he again got stuck, and this he did not finish. But he had no difficulty in finishing Maurice. The difficulty was to publish it, for it was entirely about homosexuality.
It is the story of an ordinary philistine young man who discovers that he is homosexual when a fellow undergraduate at Cambridge falls in love with him. The affair is ecstatic but platonic. After two years, however, Clive, the friend, breaks it up and eventually gets married to live in upper-middle-class style. Maurice can find no way out from his guilt and loneliness until, on a visit to Clive at his country house, he establishes a curious antagonistic relationship with a gamekeeper called Alec Scudder.
They go to bed together, but their love appears doomed because the gamekeeper’s family has paid for him to emigrate to Argentina. Disconsolately Maurice turns up at the dock to see him off, and, when Alec fails to appear, remembers that Alec had begged him more than once to meet at the boathouse on Clive’s estate. His instinct is right and there he finds his lover waiting. The book ends with Maurice—or rather Forster—having the exquisite pleasure of telling Clive that he is flinging up his job and his status as a gentleman to go off with his gamekeeper.
Many will greet this book with a titter. Someone has unkindly suggested that it should have been called “To the Boathouse,” and the appearance of yet …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.