Missing image
DVD cover for the film adaptation of Maurice.
See also Saint Maurice for the saint and Maurice for the Byzantine Emperor.

Maurice is a novel by E. M. Forster. A tale of homosexual love in early 20th century England, it follows Maurice Hall from his schooldays, through university and beyond. It was written from 1913 onwards. Although shown to selected friends, such as Christopher Isherwood, it was only published in 1971 after Forster's death.

The novel is remarkable for its time in describing same-sex love in a fulfillingly romantic but also funny way. Forster resisted publication because of public and legal attitudes to homosexuality — a note found on the manuscript read: "Publishable, but worth it?". However, by the time he died both British attitudes and law had changed. One thing that sets Maurice apart from modern gay fiction is the archetypal storyline and three principal characters, who represent different classes and forms of masculinity.


Film adaptation

The novel was made into a film Maurice (1987) by Merchant Ivory Productions and Channel Four Films: directed by James Ivory and written by Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey, produced by Ismail Merchant, with cinematography by Pierre Lhomme. It starred James Wilby as Maurice, Hugh Grant as Clive and Rupert Graves as Alec. The supporting cast included Denholm Elliott as Dr Barry, Simon Callow as Mr Ducie, Billie Whitelaw as Mrs Hall and Ben Kingsley as Lasker-Jones.


Maurice is first met age 14 when a discussion about sex between him and his prep-school teacher takes place just before he progresses to his public school. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel, as Maurice feels isolated and removed from the adult's depiction of marriage with a woman as the goal in life. Moreover, his deep-seated contempt for his own (middle) class takes root here, as he perceives that his teacher does not have the capacity to see beyond the social norm to whatever may lie behind it.

When Maurice enters university, he soon makes friends with Clive Durham, who introduces him to the ancient Greek writings about homosexual love. For two years they have a committed if exceedingly chaste romance, which they must keep hidden from everyone they know. It is obvious that Maurice hopes for more to come out of their until now only emotional attachment, but slowly it becomes clear that Clive is basically equally attached to society's view of what is right and wrong. Clive intends to marry, even though Forster's prose leaves no doubts that his marriage will probably entail a mostly joyless sex life. Disappointed by his friend's backdown, Maurice seeks psychiatric counselling in a scene executed by Forster with glee, again mercilessly exposing the emotional limitedness and helplessness of society, as personified by Dr Barry, who cannot even comprehend Maurice's situation.

Maurice grows older, leaves university without taking his degree, adopts a gentleman's habits and dress, and gets a good job as a stockbroker. In his spare time, he helps run a Christian mission's boxing gym for working class boys in the East End. Maurice's unfulfilled emotional longings get closer to being resolved when he is invited to stay at Penge at the Durhams'. There, at first unnoticed by him, lurks the young under-gamekeeper Alec Scudder (just called Scudder for large portions of the book, to emphasize the class and age difference even more), who has noticed Maurice very well. He is spotted in the book at continually shorter intervals, as if furtively circling his prey, until one night the lad simply uses a ladder to climb to Maurice's bedroom, answering Maurice's call unheard by everyone else. After their first night together, Scudder panics and tries to blackmail Maurice, but in a moving scene with Maurice at the British Museum in London he turns around completely, after Maurice calls himself Scudder when asked for his name. This transgression of class differences fortifies the bond between the two males instantly.

After another night of lovemaking it becomes clear that Alec has a ticket for a trip to Argentina, from which the boy will not return. After initial resentment Maurice gives in and decides to at least give Alec a sendoff. He is taken aback when Alec is not there. In a hurry, he makes it for Penge, where the two lovers have met before at the boathouse, and indeed the two are reunited there and "live happily ever after". Maurice visits one more time with Clive, for closure on their relationship, and outlines his vision of his future with Alec. Clive's helplessness at hearing what has transpired between Maurice and Alec leaves him speechless and unable to comprehend.

Differences in the Film

Maurice is 11 at the beginning of the film, rather than 14. The film omits almost all of the novel's philosophical dialogue, and also many sub-plots such as Maurice's love for the schoolboy Dickie. It expands the Wildean character of Lord Risley and his imprisonment for immorality (he is not imprisoned in the novel), in order to dramatize the dangers of Edwardian homosexuality and provide a plot device by which Clive feels he must reject Maurice.

The place of the final tryst between Maurice and Alec has a certain homoerotic symbolism when seen in the movie; the pseudo-Elizabethan boathouse alludes both to the Arts & Crafts movement that was so associated with Edward Carpenter (a visit by E.M. Forster to Carpenter and his lover George Merrill inspired the writing of Maurice), and also to the Elizabethan England of Christopher Marlowe ("all they that love not tobacco and boys are fools") and the Shakespeare of the Sonnets. In the novel the "greenwood and the night" serve as the place of refuge, and the boathouse is only alluded to.

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