Discussing Maurice by E.M. Forster and Its Film Adaptation

Today I’m bringing you a new type of post for me, a sort of discussion based on a specific book. These posts are my favourites to read but —besides my review of The Atlas Six, which was more of a rant and chat about the characters—I’ve never attempted to write one of my own. This post is highly inspired by Krysta @ Pages Unbound’s discussion on posts of this kind and Florence @ Miscellany Page’s discussion of the misogyny in Maurice.

I had been wanting to watch Maurice (1987) for a long time, and I recently decided to. Actually, I had just finished watching the film precisely on the day that Florence’s post was published. So, I watched the film and, unsurprisingly, loved it. Then I decided to read the book which, once again, I adored. And to top it all off I decided to watch the film again. All of this in the span of six days. Needless to say I was able to compare them pretty well.

Maurice, originally completed in 1914 but published posthumously in 1971, is a depiction of male homosexuality during the time of its writing. The dedication, to a happier year, shows E.M. Forster’s hope for a better future in which people do not have to live in secret. This is also relevant because Forster set out to write a story of hope and love, and not a tragedy. This was one of the reasons why he felt this was not publishable at the time of its completion as he mentions in the afterword. A story of two gay men falling in love was not acceptable unless it ended in some sort of tragedy where they paid for their “sins”.

After reading and watching Maurice, I find there are many interesting topics to touch on, but one of the aspects that I personally found more interesting was Clive. Although the film is a pretty honest adaptation of the book—the dialogues, for instance, are often pulled directly from the novel—there are some slight differences in the handling of this character. His motivations to break up with Maurice, I believe, can be interpreted differently depending on which medium you decide to consume the story.

There is a significant addition in the film: Risley’s “immorality charge” and subsequent trial. This appears to be Clive’s motivation to put an end to his relationship with Maurice. We can pin it on fear, or even on societal pressure. He sees his friend, Risley, be arrested for being gay and he himself becomes terrified of what could happen if people found out about him and Maurice.

Still from Maurice (1987)

However, in the novel, Risley doesn’t have a significant role beyond introducing Maurice and Clive, and he is never arrested or put on trial. Instead, in the book, Clive says to have “changed” after having recovered from influenza. He becomes disgusted with Maurice and he starts treating him extremely badly—he is actually quite manipulative throughout the novel, but at this point becomes outright mean. Despite his repulsion towards Maurice he doesn’t want to let him go, and in set on keeping him in his life on his own terms. When Maurice moves on with Alec is when we see Clive’s grip on him finally lessen.

What Clive’s motivation is to break things up in the book is quite hard to pinpoint. Is it still fear and societal pressure hidden under a thick layer of internalised homophobia? Does he really “change” and stops feeling attraction towards men? Is he actually also attracted to women and hides himself in that, choosing to ignore his attraction to men altogether? I am inclined to believe it is actually still fear that motivates him but it is pretty unclear and hard to decipher because of the differences in how we view sexuality nowadays. Whatever his motives are, the only part that is perfectly clear is that Clive becomes cruel and treats Maurice very badly.

All of these reasons make Clive a very intriguing—and often puzzling—character. In his afterword, written in 1960, Forster writes some notes on the characters. About Clive he writes:

“[The relationship] lasts until Clive ends it by turning to women and sending Maurice back to prison. Henceforward Clive deteriorates, and so perhaps does my treatment of him. He has annoyed me. I may nag at him over much, stress his aridity and political pretensions and the thinning of his hair, nothing he or his wife or his mother does is ever right.”

This doesn’t tell us much more about Clive’s motivations, but it reiterates Clive’s bad treatment of Maurice. It is clear that E.M. Forster wasn’t the biggest supporter of how Clive behaves by the end of the novel. However, he goes on to say that during all his Clive intends no evil, so perhaps it is true that he acts out of fear.

I have no clear answers to this question, but that’s what makes it all the more interesting. People aren’t perfect, and sometimes we act badly out of fear or worry. Clive is often a dislikeable character, but a fascinating one.

Have you read or watched Maurice? What are some other dislikeable yet fascinating characters you love?

18 thoughts on “Discussing Maurice by E.M. Forster and Its Film Adaptation

    1. Thank you, Zoë! I had a good time writing it, so that’s always great!
      Maurice was my introduction to E.M. Forster, and since I was completely blown away, I’m more than open to reading more of his work. If you have specific recommendations, don’t hesitate to tell me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really enjoyed A Room with a View. It’s set between Italy and England and makes for a great summertime read. I know there’s also a really well-regarded film adaptation of it starring Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis but I haven’t watched that yet ❤

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  1. This was such an interesting post to read! I loved how in-depth you went. I haven’t heard of this book before, which is strange considering it’s probably one of the few queer books written in the early 1900s so would give a depiction of the situation then.

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  2. Okay, first of all – can I just say thank you for making me read this book??? 😍 Honestly, I only intended to read the first few chapters today and see what all the fuss you were making was about, but then I stayed glued to its pages until the very end… I love Maurice!!! And I really despise Clive, although I also think that maybe part of him was deceiving himself because he didn’t want to be seen as an outsider… It sounds like this is a bigger deal in the adaptation, though, so I guess my next job will be to watch that and see how they compare 🤣
    But this was definitely such a great classic, and I can’t believe I’d never heard of it until you mentioned it! Honestly, that note E.M. Forster wrote about wanting a hopeful ending for a story focused on homosexuality over 100 years ago nearly made me tear up, even though I had actually been hoping for the tragic ending myself (I know, I know. I’m a horrible sadistic masochist 😁 But character in pain always worm their way into my heart even more! 😭)

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    1. Needless to say, I’m very happy to hear you enjoyed the book!!🥰 I think both characters are quite fascinating. Maurice is a great protagonist, who’s not that likable when you think about it, but we still root for him. And Clive… oh Clive, his motives are a mystery to me, but that makes him all the more interesting.
      I get you being drawn towards characters who suffer, but I believe than in this instance, having a gay story with a happy ending is much more powerful than writing a tragedy. After all, writing an unapologetically queer protagonist and story that thrive over 100 years ago is an act of rebellion that truly sends a message.

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  3. Love this review! Also, I find that Maurice tends to be rather underappreciated, even today, which is a pity really: I honestly think both the book and film are very profound and way ahead of their time! And the message about self-realization, about falsehood and genuine living is something everyone, not just queer people, could learn from. And the class conflict, class consciousness, hypocrisy, are all very sharp and scathing depictions of society. Again, splendid review!

    Liked by 1 person

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