The Politics Of Sexuality In E.M. Forster’s Maurice

2431 words - 10 pages

Modernist writings have always been hailed for its nuanced relationship with sexuality. This paper looks at the ways E.M. Forster, one of the modernist writers on the fringes, deals with the discourses of sexuality different in ways different from other high modernists against the backdrop of the socio-cultural milieu which was extremely intolerant to homosexuality through his novel Maurice, written in 1913-14 and published posthumously in 1971. To what extent Forster’s homosexuality and his novel on same sex love negotiate with other homosexual writers and activists of the period? The mere fact that Maurice was published posthumously shows the grim situation of homosexual men and women of the time. Now our job is to closely look at the novel and situate its transgressions and liberation in the larger context of same-sex writings of the early twentieth century.

In Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown (1924), Virginia Woolf remarked: “…on or about 1910, human character changed” (4). Going by this classic definition of modernism, we can locate E.M. Forster’s Maurice in the Modernist canon. In fact, out of his total seven novels, four were already written before 1910. Unlike the other modernist novels, Maurice does not experiment much with language, form or style. However, its modernist ethos lies in its transgressiveness – dealing with homosexual themes in the way Oscar Wilde anticipated modernism in the previous century. Michel Foucault in his essay “A Preface to Transgression” writes: “the whole of modern thought is imbued with the necessity of thinking the unthought…for modern thought, no morality is possible” (qtd. in Tambling 4). It is hereby interesting to look at Forster, a homosexual author, and his novel Maurice which raises and/or daringly answers difficult questions on same-sex love, family and society when homosexuality was still a crime only to be decriminalised in 1967 in England- thirty three long years after the novel was written. Forster’s dealing with same-sex love is very outright and realistic unlike the other modernists such as Virginia Woolf who deal immensely with sexuality but in a subtle, mysterious ways archetypal of high modernist writing.

Maurice was never published during Forster’s lifetime. One of the main reasons was the fear created by the infamous trials of Oscar Wilde, 1895. Linder in his account on the Wilde trials argues that the trials have completely changed public attitude towards homosexuality which was increasingly being seen as a threat to the society and construed effeminacy as a signal of homosexuality. However, Forster’s view on homosexuality in Maurice is markedly different from the homosexual apologists of the nineteenth century who were trying to defend homosexuality in the name of Platonic love. Wilde’s response during his trial, calling homosexual love between an elder and a younger man as ‘intellectual’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘not unnatural’ are definitely not enough to prove that there is as much love and...

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