A favourite book is an very personal thing, it is, in some sense a part of you. I would never recommend my favourite book to a friend for fear that they wouldn’t like it, and I’m not trying to sell it to you right now. Yet at the same time other people’s opinion of my favourite book don’t matter because I know it will always be there on my bookshelf, ready to welcome me home. A favourite book can be something you read over and over again without getting tired of it, or something you read as a special treat every few years, personally I reread my personal favourite whenever I have a yearning for it.
So on to my favourite book: ‘Maurice’ by E.M.Forster. Forster is the author of many novels including ‘A Passage to India’, ‘Howard’s End’ and ‘A Room With a View’. It is one of Forster’s lesser known novels, it was written in 1913/1914 but remained unpublished until 1971, after Forster’s death. The book has a small, but loyal, fanbase online which can partially be accredited to the 1987 Merchant Ivory film starring James Wilby, Rupert Graves (now known as Inspector Lestrade in ‘Sherlock’) and Hugh Grant (now known as the ‘cute’ Englishman in every Rom-Com). I came to the book admittedly through seeing gifs of the film on tumblr when i was about 15 and thinking it looked good but, being a purist, I wanted to read the book before watching the film. Since then I have re-read ‘Maurice’ countless numbers of times, each time enjoying it just as much, if not more than, when I read it for the first time.
The book is a story of same-sex love in the early 20th Century, consider that this book was written and set in the 1910’s and same-sex relationships were not legalized in the U.K. until 1967. It follows Maurice Hall, an average Englishman, from his schooldays, through university and into his life in ‘the world’ where he finds a love which transcends class boundaries, legal boundaries and societal values in the under-game keeper, Alec, on his university friends’ estate. Forster when writing the novel was inspired by his close friend, and fellow writer, Edward Carpenter who reportedly had a relationship with a man of lower social class. Forster when writing the book was adamant that it should have a happy ending and deliberately held back the publication until after his death (and after homosexuality had been legalized) so that censorship laws wouldn’t force him to change the ending.
A early copy of the manuscript was found with the words “publishable, but worth it?” writen inside. He showed it to a selection of his friends throughout his life, most of which had same-sex relationships themselves, including Carpenter and Christopher Isherwood (writer of ‘A Single Man’, a book which inspired one of my favourite films). Rather than killing his darlings in the sense of William Faulkner and giving up on the novel when he realised he couldn’t publish it in his lifetime, Forster instead made revisions over a number of decades and prepared a perfect introductory piece to accompany the novel when it did finally come to print.
Forster buried the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope that still exists to this day that gay characters can not have a happy ending. This trope was cemented by the ‘Motion Picture Production Codes’ (also known as the ‘Hays Code’) which were implemented in the U.S.A. between 1930 and 1968 which stated that “all criminal action had to be punished, and neither the crime nor the criminal could elicit sympathy from the audience,” and as homosexuality was criminal action, it was easier to kill off your gay characters than give them a happy ending and faces the wrath of the censorship boards.
The Edwardian era also contributed to the demonisation of homosexuality; after the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde 1895 public displays of affection between men stopped over night and cures for the ‘homosexual disease’ sprung up all over the medical profession. The birth of psychoanalysis with Freud in the late 19th Century led the categorisation of homosexual desire as a mental illness, this categorisation prevailed in the U.K. until 1973 (5 years after homosexuality was legalised). In Forster’s novel Maurice visits a hypnotherapist to try and cure him of his homosexuality before realizing he either has to accept himself or face a future of unending unhappiness. Although the politics of the book are undeniably interesting, it is not what draws me to the novel over and over again.
Forster dedicated the book “To a happier year”, and I think that dedication really sums up the novel – it does not matter what comes after you are happy, it matters that at one moment you are allowed to be totally and purely happy.This book, every time I read it, never fails to make me squee with joy. Along with the poetic style of writing that draws me in completely, it is the happy ending that always makes me repeatedly go back to this novel. Although I often think about how Maurice and Alec are in a fragile bubble of happiness, poised on the cusp of WWI and with threats from every side, I like to picture them together for eternity, which I suppose they remain, trapped in the leaves of Forsters’ novel.
A favourite novel is a personal thing and mine epitomises my own belief in happy endings, against any and all odds.
Tell me what your favourite book means to you in the comments.