I have never read anything by E.M. Forster, I am not well-versed in English literature classics and I haven’t watched the movie, but I still got an idea of what this story would be : a Tess d’Ubervillesque love story with a happy ending and a young, gay, dishevelled and cavorting Hugh Grant.
If by any chance you have the same idea, forget it.
“Maurice” is not a romantic drama, and if it’s what you’re looking for, you’re going to be disappointed. I was not. Besides the fact that it was rather a relief, I can’t describe my experience better than comparing it to a growing relationship. The more I read it, the more I liked it; and even though I never disliked it, my initial temperate appreciation grew until I finished it with a kindle-hugging feeling.
My main reserve was (and nevertheless still is) about the writing style that I found rigid like a starched collar, at first. However, there is also a dry humour in this same writing that gives a deliciously ironic lighting to dramatic scenes and sketches wonderful portraits. Rigid and repressed, yet sharp and funny. It’s Forster’s humour that made a dent in my reserve and nudged me to pay attention and reach the emotions lying under his style. For all its restraint, it is never detached. Among other things, I loved his ability to tell a love story, touch me deeply and make me root for the HEA in half a sentence. Some of his quotes are still resonating.
In the same way, this story is about Maurice, whom I didn’t dislike but didn’t like either, at first. I liked how E.M. Forster brushed his portrait, but I found that it was hard to grow attached to him even though it wasn’t really a problem for me. Maurice is a bit of a snob without being totally insufferable, he seems a little low on the uptake without being totally stupid, he can be a domestic tyrant without being totally mean. He is average without being ordinary. Maurice doesn’t entertain intellectual considerations about homosexuality or love or life; he is tuned to sensations and feelings, may they be desires or longings, happiness or pain, and he doesn’t shy away from them. Somehow, his body and his heart precede his mind, and because he is fundamentally honest, they jolt him into reflecting, learning, then making choices. That’s how E.M. Forster develops his character and stays true to his nature all along, with the best of results. Not only does Maurice develop as a character, but he grows as a person. You are so going to cheer him! It doesn’t have to be easy though; what would we hold our breath for, otherwise?
I’ve read in Forster’s final note that a friend of his found that the book dated and could only “have a period interest” for modern readers. It definitely reflects its time and it is quaint, but it is not a museum piece. It’s a beautiful journey toward owning one’s own soul with the underlying idea that if love is a beautiful emotion, the path toward happy ending is through growing into oneself. That is not out-dated.
It will probably not be your cup of tea if you’re dead set on forefront romance and lots of emotion and sex, but definitely give it a shot if you like character-driven stories. Not a romantic drama, but still holding its fair share of dramatic twists and romantic moments, this book was nothing I expected it to be. I wasn’t hard into it from the get go, but I ended up loving it and I enjoyed the journey that brought me there.