Andrew Belonsky

EM Forster's 'Maurice,' Ex-Gay Therapy & Immortal Love

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | September 06, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: EM Forster, ex-gay ministries, gay literature, immortal love, Maurice

ForsterMaurice.jpg"Did you ever dream you'd a friend, Alec? Nothing else but just 'my friend,' he trying to help you and you him... Someone to last your whole life, and you his?" So wonders a lonely Maurice Hall in EM Forster's great, gay novel, Maurice.

Penned in 1913, between Howards End and A Passage To India, Maurice concerns a young British man coming to terms with his homosexuality, a word he has not uttered, nor even heard.

He simply knows that he longs for a mythical, seemingly impossible "friend" who has appeared in his dreams his entire life.

Maurice very nearly finds that friend in a Cambridge classmate named Clive. The men, as a closeted Forster writes, "had as much happiness as men under that star can expect."

"That star," homosexuality, of course went against the social grain, leading well-connected and "respectable" Clive to seek psychiatric help.

"I have become normal -- like other men," he tells confused, heartbroken Maurice. Our protagonist can only reply, baffled, "[But] we love each other, and know it."

Unsure where he stands in life and love, suicidal Maurice too seeks counseling, and that counseling bears an eerie resemblance to "ex-gay" therapies like those practices at Marcus Bachmann's clinic.

"[The doctor] held that only the most depraved could glance at Sodom," Forster explains of the "theological" therapist who administers hypnosis to "cure" Maurice. Forster seems keenly cognizant of the fact that such methods are not only in vain, but damaging.

"I don't have my own mind," weeps Clive while again explaining his "normalcy."

Though I've already given away many of the plot points, I won't give away the end.

But this book, later made into a movie starring Hugh Grant, James Wilby and Rupert Graves, stands as a testament to how much harder queer people have to work for their love. How many more social, political, religious and psychological hurdles we must overcome.

As I said above, Maurice was penned in 1913. The author, however, hid it until his death, well-aware that such a frank and honest discussion of same-sex love would cause a scandal and end his career. But it's clear the novel weighed on Forster, who in 1960 wrote an afterword that would be included in the eventual 1971 publication.

The passage is worth a block quote:

Note in conclusion on a word hitherto unmentioned [homosexuality]. Since Maurice was written there has been a change in the public attitude here: the change from ignorance and terror to familiarity and contempt. It is not the change towards which [early gay activist] Edward Carpenter had worked.

He had hoped for the generous recognition of an emotion and for the reintegration of something primitive into the common stock. And I, though less optimistic, had supposed that knowledge would bring understanding.

We had not realized that what the public really loathes in homosexuality is not the thing itself but having to think about it. If it could be slipped into our midst unnoticed, or legalized overnight by a decree in small print, there would be few protests.

A lot has changed since Forster wrote those words over five decades ago. Yet, so much of what he says there and in the book remains the same: large swaths of the nation and the world still sneer at LGBT people, and some LGBT people in turn seek so-called "reparative therapy."

Though a depressing thought, even the skeptical Forster sees, through Maurice's eyes, that oppressive environments can be overcome. It just takes a little fighting.

More than that, though, Forster's brilliant narrative abilities illustrate the simple beauty of same-sex love, a love that differs in no way from its heterosexual counterparts.

A continuation of the aforementioned "that star" passage: "If Maurice made love it was Clive who preserved it, and caused its rivers to water the garden... Their happiness was to be together; they radiated something of their calm amongst others, and could take their place in society."

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