Dedicated to better times
I’ve just climbed up from a pile of office work, to write a few unrequested lines about one of my favourite novels. Please, don’t expect anything ambitious.
When I first read Maurice by E.M. Forster, I was seventeen years old. I produced a sloppy little review for La Chambre Ardente, a journalistic project kept by a couple of film student friends of mine, and myself. Oh, well, of this review, I’ve only got some scraps distributed across many text processor documents. It’s not my intention to have you suffer through my adolescent prose, so I’ll just finis- So I’ll just rescue some observations I had back then, and expand them with what I have learned in the meantime.
Maurice, Forster confesses in the novel’s “Terminal Note”, was first ignited during a visit he paid to socialist writer Edward Carpenter, who lived with his young, working-class lover, George Merrill. Not only did the vision of two men living in the fields, together and happy, inspire Forster in the most literal sense possible (by providing him with a real picture to translate to fiction), but the novel’s first spark in Forster’s emotional landscape is attributed specifically to an occasional brush of George Merrill’s hand against his lower back.
Two long and strenuous years ago, I started my review with a quote from a letter that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote to Georg Brandes, in Turin, in January of 1889. The sentence in question was:
“…After you discovered me, it was no great feat to find me. The problem now is how to lose me…”
I followed up with the book’s epigraph, as mistranslated into Spanish for Seix Barral:
“Comenzada en 1913
Terminada en 1914
Dedicada a tiempos mejores.”
The original reads:
Dedicated to a Happier Year”.
The translators, José M. Alvarez Flores and Ángela Pérez Gómez, who did a wonderful, rigorous job overall, turned “Happier Year” into “Better times”.
I’ll ignore, for a while, the concepts that homosexuality carries into the narrative: In structure, tone and dynamic, Maurice is a pretty typical romance novel. Its characters, most of the time, talk like those of romance novels, because they are in a romance novel:
“…You do care a little for me, I know… but nothing to speak of, and you don’t love me. I was yours once till death if you’d cared to keep me, but I’m someone else’s now…
Like a romance novel, the book is sealed by love’s triumph. This led E.M. Forster to assess it as unpublishable.
Once more, I quote from the Terminal Note:
“…[if the story had] ended unhappily, with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact, all would be well…”
The conventions of the age didn’t allow for the possibility of homosexuality as a source of happiness.
A miserable end wouldn’t have merely been acceptable in the dull, plain sense, but celebrated as righteous. Had Maurice ended badly, not only would it have appeared more prone to editorial acceptance, but it even could have succeeded as a moralizing document, serving as a fictional case study for a perversion whose only possible outcome was doom. Homosexuals didn’t deserve happy unions, but misery, condemnation, ostracism – torture, self-inflicted, or enforced by a virtuous outside force.
I’ve just introduced the concept of ostracism- It’s interesting to analyze the context in which Maurice’s romantic interests, his “friends” (so are his males lovers veiled), indulge in their desires.
Maurice’s first friend, Clive Durham, whom he meets at University, has his homosexuality’s shy sprouts allowed and sustained by Hellenic imaginary.
We could pose that the relationship between Clive and Maurice has its refuge in the Hellenic past, while Maurice and the working-class lover with whom he’ll finally flee, Alec, find their permanent refuge in nature. The novel ends with Maurice and Alec exiled to the fields, safe in solitude and greenwood. In scenarios free from the touch of civilization, one is free from the bounds of social conventions.
Quite early in the novel, Maurice and Clive spend a day alone in the fields. From these scenes, I’ve scrapped this observation, which, one can argue, hints the novel’s end:
“…They cared for no one, they were outside humanity, and death, had it come, would only have continued their pursuit of a retreating horizon...”
Two years ago, I only cared about stylistic oddities and politics, now I finish this brief nothing, the consequence of a light re-reading, spellbound by the notion of removed natural settings as the only scenarios in which one can be faithful to oneself and fully follow one’s feelings. It supports a conviction that is a political double blade, that of nature as sacrosanct.