rereading Maurice by EM Forster

Laurence Scott in The Guardian:

MAURICE-008This year marks the centenary of one of the best known gropes in English letters. A hundred years ago, the writer Edward Carpenter's young lover George Merrill placed a hand on the indeterminate region between EM Forster's buttocks and back. Shortly thereafter, Forster began his novel Maurice, and in a “Terminal Note” written almost 50 years later he identified Merrill's touch as its inspiration. While this genesis story gets a lot of press in Forster circles, for me what is more striking is Forster's description of Maurice as belonging “to an England where it was still possible to get lost”. The militaristic demands of two world wars – the extensive mapping of England in the name of security – had, for Forster, robbed the island of its wild places. In Maurice, the ability to become lost in “the greenwood” provides the book's homosexual lovers their escape from society's punishments, and indeed even this happy ending can be traced back to the upper slope of Forster's bottom. As well as sparking a novel, Merrill's caress further initiated Forster into the comradely haven of his and Carpenter's rural domesticity: a Derbyshire homestead, safe from public scrutiny.

Throughout his life, Forster kept Maurice from mass consumption. Today it isn't widely considered a literary success, but, despite its failings, both the book's plot and its life as a secret manuscript have something to say about a major debate of our times: the extent to which the bounds of privacy are being redrawn. By means of the posthumous publications of Maurice and the homoerotic short stories of The Life to Come, Forster's ghost fought in the battle against censorship. The decriminalisation of homosexuality was tied to its demystification, and the fact that same-sex love now has a public dimension is a triumph of civilisation. But while the publishing history of Maurice engages with the politics of free expression and visibility, the novel's text radiates a nostalgia for reticence and a desire to fall off the grid. This instinct for withdrawal and obscurity speaks to present critiques of digitised life. In a world increasingly patrolled by online analytics and social media, Maurice's political dilemma still resonates: how might you not be in hiding while not being on display?

More here.