(A Letter to E. M. Forster)
Dear Edward Morgan Forster,
I recently read your novel Maurice, although it was published posthumously in 1971 (one year after your death), but written many years earlier in 1913-1914, with certain changes and additions in 1932 and then again in 1959-1960. The action takes place in England in 1912. I write these facts more for myself in order to re-examine the historical context when the novel was set and written because that’s one significant layer in the story as of a historical document level. I will immediately disagree with your friend (even though I really don’t want to) who told you that this novel is obsolete and stands as a testimony to a bygone era.
If we remove all anachronisms that you cite in your last note about this book: The Hague conference, master’s tips, Pianola records, tweed jackets–the last one is disputable, although I’m not much into fashion, I do think that tweed is in the “timeless” category, let me say: dear Forster, Maurice is relevant today on so many levels, although you can rest assured because legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England took effect in 2014. In other countries, to be honest, not many, it’s slowly becoming a reality too.
But let me quote dialogue from your novel: “I say in your rounds here, do you come across unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort? But Jowitt replied: ,”No, that’s in the asylum work.”
These words (uttered in moments when Maurice solidifies the idea of seeking medical help to get rid of his “sinful thoughts”) left a deep impression on me, not because the past stung me with its ignorance, arbitrarily constructed social categories of what’s acceptable and what not, or defining what’s shameful, disgusting, immoral, but because they sounded like present-day status on social media (a completely different theme that I will discuss in another time). Hate crime and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are incredibly high nowadays. The contempt, rejection, d-r Barry’s words from your novel that homosexual love is nonsense, evil hallucinations, devilish temptations, lies planted in someone’s head, disease still torment many people as early as from childhood. Those battles are very real to this day. Society sinking in decadence, crime, corruption, slowly detaching itself from essential human values takes it as its right to make remarks on nature itself and to show dominance over it. That’s why nature, i.e. the forest is the only shelter, the only safe place in your novel for the young lovers who dare to live love in its pure form.
In one thing I agree with you entirely: the novel belongs to a time when it was still possible to get lost in the forests of England. Today wildlife is completely controlled, and that last sanctuary for outcasts like Maurice and Alec, for people who want to break away from the imposed social norms to live in harmony with their true nature and the surrounding nature, is a utopian idea these days.
My very dear Forster, I would never argue about the novel’s end, about your insisting on a happy ending, which is quite idealistic, considering that love between two men was a criminal act at that time in England. Above all, what I enjoyed most was your carefully measured structuring of the entire atmosphere as if a mosaic, which drove me eagerly through the last pages. The story between young lovers Maurice and Alec slowly appears as a vague silhouette in the night to find happiness again in the forest’s darkness, which offers relief and absolute freedom. And happiness is your novel’s leitmotif, isn’t it? The ultimate feeling that we all strive for, and you bring it to an uncompromising level, for which I am incredibly grateful. The symbolism of this happy end is your belief that the attitude towards homosexuality will change, and it will become everyday normality in a better and happier future society. Because love is love, right? Especially when it’s in agreement, and it doesn’t hurt anyone but can only bring happiness.
Finally, dear Forster, I admire you for the courage to write this kind of novel at that time. The first queer novel in my country was promoted only a year ago. But I am not saying this to sadden you as if your optimism was in vain, but quite the opposite, to share my joy that things are slowly changing. Or at least I want to share your optimism.
So, let me answer the question you pose on the cover of the manuscript: “Publishable – but worth it?” It is worth it, especially because your book becomes a refuge, just like your forests and caves, for many people who feel like Maurice and Alec, and for many others, a closer acquaintance, discovery and, hopefully, acceptance of love in all its diversity, and yet sameness.