Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

Forster’s Maurice March 20, 2007

Filed under: books 2007 — itsy @ 4:21 pm

Finished Maurice by E.M. Forster in perhaps record time for me. It was an easy read, the prose flowed smooth and uncomplicated, the pages were thick, providing a satisfying advance through the novel.

Written in 1914, the novel is shockingly bold, given the times. Protagonist Maurice is gay and must struggle with his attraction to other men and the homophobia of early 20th century England. Usually I shun romanticism, but I found this book quite charming and touching – the key, I think, is the light touch Forster uses throughout, and his honesty. He says he wrote the novel in a year, and one feels he has written straight from the heart, with nothing kept back

He also has some great one liners:
“He filled a pipe with the tobacco that he had smoked for the last six years, and watched Romance wither.”

“Out of some external Cambridge his friend began beckoning to him, clothed in the sun, and shaking out the scents and sounds of the May term.”

I should have written more down, but these are the only ones I remember the location of.

Most surprisingly, the book ends happily. I wasn’t quite prepared for it. My cynical heart has assumed beauty results from the bittersweet, from tales of sacrifice and loss. Not so. And, I will add, this books has the two best written ending paragraphs I’ve read in a while. My main beef with many books seems to be the endings, where the author flounders.

Of the ending, Forster writes:

“A happy ending was imperative. i shouldn’t have bothered to write otherwise. 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, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood. I dedicated it “To a Happier Year” and not altogether vainly. Happiness is it keynote – which by the way has had an unexpected result: it has made the book more difficult to publish.”

(He uses far fewer commas that I do, as well, and in transcribing the above I had to stay my finger.)

And of England…

“The book certainly dates and a friend has recently remarked that for readers today it can only have a period interest [I would vehemently argue not]. I wouldn’t go as far as that, but it certainly dates – not only because of its endless anachronisms…. …but for a more vital reason: it belongs to an England where it was still possible to get lost. it belongs to the last moment of greenwood.”

This romanticized, nostalgic vision of the greenwood, something like Robin Hood’s Sherwood forest, is a place where heroes and rogues dwell, and peculiarly English, analogous to the hero-absorbing sunsets of the West. Threads of the greenwood still crop up – in Rowling’s Hogwart’s, for instance, and gives Forster’s tale just a whiff of myth and fairy tale.


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