Published posthumously, this is Forster's most autobiographical novel. Having lived a life 'in the closet', Forster regales us with his own, personal and secret, experience of his life as a gay man. Starting in Oxford, when Maurice is at university and discovers through his classical studies the 'unmentionable sin of the ancients', he starts a relationship with Clive, a co-student, which lasts two years. This story, however, comes to an end when Clive becomes engaged, and Maurice has to step aside. Heartbroken, he moves to London, where he works as a stockbroker, and, after joining a boxing club, he meets and falls in love with the other great love of his life, Alec. However, things do not turn out as Maurice, desperately in search of a stable relationship, would have hoped: a story of blackmail and psychological bullying follows...
Set in the first decades of the twentieth century, in the UK, among the upper middle class, Oxford and London, the context is the one where Forster grew up, and is presented not just beautifully, but also with great insight. The relationship between the context and homosexuality, which was tolerated, but never talked about in such milieu is not only explored thoroughly, but becomes an important factor in the plot and in the prospects of love and happiness of the protagonist.
Forster's style, realistic with symbolic elements, presenting narrative through dialogue yet slowing down when emotional passages are narrated is not new to this novel. His balance between realism, which seems to be the driving force of the plot, and symbolism, which allows a more sophisticated exploration of themes and ideas makes this a very enjoyable and hardly forgettable novel. Poignant language, in sentences that use both rhythm and pathos perfectly, conveys feelings and emotions really well.
This is 'the' gay classic: beautiful, individual yet universal, written with both the skills of a literary giant such as Forster and his personal experience. The reason why I cannot award a 5/5 to this novel is that, beautiful though it is, it does not seem to have the courage to push literature further, to explore new styles, structures and create new voices: the opportunity to create a 'gay literary voice, style and tradition', Forster relies wholly on the straight canon.
Book Reviewed by Billy Best
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