What I Was – Meg Rosoff

WIW(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

A tale beautifully, wistfully told but with a twist towards the end.

The London group did this book so I thought I would look into it. I am glad that I did.

A lazy boy in a minor public school in the middle of nowhere becomes fascinated by a strange boy who lives alone, fending for himself, in a hut that if often cut off by the tides. The boy’s birth was never registered so, technically, he doesn’t exist and ‘they’, the authorities, social services et al, know nothing about him. The other boy is envious, given the lack of privacy and freedom which mark his life. Escaping from the unheated (character-building) school and the stewed cabbage, he spends the night in the hut, only to have police and coastguards searching for him.

The market is described thus: Kitchen goods were next, steel teapots and cheap tin saucepans, heavy china plates with red marks above the makers’ names to indicate rejected stock. Then the fabrics: great bolts of rough grey suiting made from wool mixed with waste cellulose that would be hell to wear. Further down the road the domestic products gave way to carefully composed pyramids of fruit and veg. It being October, that meant piles of dusty beetroot, huge cauliflowers, cabbages and great wooden bins of runner beans. In two months it would all change — to parsnips, turnips, carrots and spuds.

Nothing about this market set it apart from ten thousand identical others scattered throughout England, but something of the noise and chaos excited me nonetheless. If I squinted to block out the shiny gadgets and trinkets, I could easily imagine myself a century or two earlier in a scene from Hogarth or Daumier. The faces certainly wouldn’t have changed since then — the broken veins, bulbous noses and crafty eyes lifted straight out of A Rake’s Progress….and the market was already starting to thin, so I turned back and walked away from them, past the flowered nightdresses and cheap fabrics, back towards the high street. I paused at the butcher’s where a sign reading Fresh Meat belied the fact that something (everything) smelled of death. Flies had colonized a cow’s shin, and six glassy eyes stared sightlessly out of a trio of gently rotting sheep’s heads. I shuddered and moved on. At the top of the narrow street, there was nothing to do but head back. A few harried, last-minute shoppers bought bruised apples and onions from stallholders anxious to pack up and be off.

Contrasted with school: I stood for a minute, just taking in the colour and noise and the great clamouring chaotic bulk of humanity all busy with everyday tasks. At school we lived with so much order and ritual and so little contact with real life that we might as well have been high-security prisoners or Trappist monks. There were no girls, no pets, no harried shouting fathers or sentimental doting mothers, no old people or babies, no sisters to pick up from ballet lessons, no dogs to walk or cats to feed, no heaps of bills post each morning. As boarders, our basic needs were fulfilled, our brains and bodies stuffed full of texts and truths, but we were desperately, terminally, catastrophically starved of real life.

Anyone who has spent time in a school will recognise the way time dominates everything: minutes were what we lived by: stolen minutes, minutes between lessons, four minutes to smoke a fag, twenty minutes for a pint at the pub, free periods during which forged exam papers or contraband could be purchased. Every minute was crucial in the race from lesson to town shuttle bus, and from town to catch the last bus back (fifteen minutes) or be stuck hitchhiking (thirty-plus minutes), finding a taxi (up to an hour and a near-insane extravagance), or sprinting the four miles back from town (twenty-six to forty minutes, depending on fitness).

There is an insightful meditation on memory and history. We can dig up things belonging to people in the past but we shall never know their memories. Memories stay inside heads and die with them.

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Fishboys of Vernazza – J. S. Jones

FOV(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I liked the author’s previous books so ordered this one. The stories are a bit dated but a good read.

Chatting up a handsome waiter on holiday, cruising in the sand dunes, should a gay teacher come out when asked by his pupils? invited to a wedding not only as a gay man but with a Jewish partner, how do you react to a positive HIV test? A widow aching for raunchy sex, a mother realising that her gay son gets up to most of the stuff she did when younger, a gay priest with tattoos and piercings, worrying that if you put sun cream on your cock it will taste nasty if you get lucky, being queer bashed by a trick – it’s all here.

As is the issue of kidney donation and a man with breast cancer – what would you do if you had six months to live?

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Rid England of This Plague – Rex Batten

REOTP( group review here but this written in a personal capacity.)

This book, though far from being a literary masterpiece, is one of the most absorbing things that I have read for a long time. The author (if there is an element of autobiography in this novel) went to the same school as me but he is twenty-five years older than me. Many of the places and scenes he describes are deeply in my memory too. I suspect that he has been wanting to write it for many decades and finally got round to it as he became increasingly aware of his mortality during his retirement.

I hope that his testimony isn’t in vain because it is important reading for all who need reminding that we should never things for granted. Freedoms fought for are always in danger of being eroded. Think Germany in the 1920s and the abrupt changes of the 1930s.

The title reflects words of the early 1950s the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyffe, who claimed he would ‘Rid England of this Plague’ – the plague of homosexuality. “Paradoxically,” says the author, “It was the reaction to the zeal with which the Establishment carried out the Home Secretary’s behest that resulted in the setting up of the Wolfenden Committee when the first steps were taken to rid of the plague of Homophobia.

Had this book been written forty years earlier, it would have been suitable as a credo for the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (much as the Dirk Bogarde film ‘Victim’ changed attitudes.). White the 1967 act partially decriminalised homosexual acts and marked an end to blackmail, few remember that more police surveillance of ‘cottages’, more arrests and suicides took place in the decade that followed the change in the law.

The police were ignorant, however. That a man could smoke a pipe was enough proof that he wasn’t gay. Too manly. (Maybe they’d read: Fifteen Ways to spot a Queer’ It is not difficult to pick out queers they invariably walk with mincing steps. Their walk is the reverse of a manly stride and causes the characteristic wobble of the buttocks. They often flick their eyes up to the right to emphasise a point

At the beginning of a conversation a man who is one of those will keep his hands still, but as he talks his gestures become more and more exaggerated. They wear suede shoes. Men of a homosexual disposition are often colour-blind, and they can rarely sing in unison. They often remain bachelors. They look effeminate and have high-pitched voices. Homosexuals are mummy’s boys and later in life are good to their mothers. Such men rarely drink pints of beer in mugs. They prefer half pints in glasses. They smoke- cigarettes in holders. They never smoke pipes. They adore operatic sopranos, and like the theatre in general. A man who is a lady’s hairdresser is invariably one. Boys allowed to play with dolls often develop female tendencies in adulthood. They cannot whistle. The index finger and the fourth finger are, invariably, the same length.

Imagine living in a village where the nearest phone box is half a mile away.

Imagine being unable to send vital information by letter since it might be incriminating.

Imagine: Penicillin had liberated sex. Sexually transmitted diseases, diagnosed in time, interrupted one’s activities for a few weeks but they were not life threatening. AIDS was years away. As far as the clinic was concerned, if you did land yourself with a dose of the clap, you caught it from a female. To admit it was a male would have been unthinkable, even if the doctor knew better. Though one lab technician told Tom a bloke claimed he got the clap, gonorrhoea, on a railway station. How or where on a railway station? The patient would not admit it was in the GENTS…… Michael had broken the law and his crime would have been seen as being greater than using drugs to commit a robbery. The powers that be would have put the blame totally on Michael. Had he not been soliciting for an immoral purpose the watch would not have been stolen.

To be slightly indelicate, Brylcream was the usual lubricant and circumcision was favoured because of lack of hygiene in those days in tin baths once a week.

People got pleasure wherever it was to be had during the war. You never knew if this day were your last. Attitudes changed post war, yet: In later life, Tom Adamson felt that though he had never worn a uniform, or marched carrying a gun, he did do his bit for the war effort Though official recognition will never be given, he is certain his visits to the various GENTS did help to keep up morale. It must have been much easier for quite a number of serving men to face the macho barrack room after a, not bad looking, country lad had lightened the load in their underpants.

It is frequently asserted, nowadays, that the labels which previous generations ascribed to themselves are meaningless to today’s young people. They like sex, regardless of the gender of their partner. Kinsey’s 5% applied to a former generation. However, it is quite clear that many young men in previous generations ‘dabbled’ before they settled down and got married. They are labelled ‘TBH’ = ‘to be had.’

I am sure there is some anachronism in suggesting that parts of the Health and efficiency magazine were airbrushed out. Wasn’t airbrushing a technique that came in with computers? Along with ‘recycling bin’ that also gets a mention?

Of the ‘criminal’: If charisma is the result of genes Ash had inherited a warehouse full of Levis. I was somewhat miffed to find him being described as ‘old’ when he reached age fifty.

Were the police merely vindictive homophobes or did they believe that they could ‘help’ people? Were they lying when they said: You are young with a future. Are you going to let this man destroy it all? I don’t need to spell it out Young men do grow out of it and we think you may have. That is why we want to help you. You help us and we will help you.

“Most religious bodies would have been horrified at any admission of homosexuality. As repentant sinners they might be accepted but only on condition they kept absolutely silent about their sins. A reformed alcoholic, a blasphemer or even an adulterer could be accommodated but a (the word no decent lips could speak) came in a very different category.

Tom could see no point in thinking further ahead than each day. Michael was different. He had read that some defendants in homosexual cases were to receive treatment. Apparently, a cure was available. A very up to date medic advised aversion therapy, involving an electric shock every time you were shown a picture of a naked male. Treatment designed to put you off wanting to look at men, or that bit of the male body you found most attractive. Then to assist the cure you were given something you really liked, maybe a sweet, when you were shown a picture of a naked female. Sometime later an acquaintance of theirs did opt for such treatment and ended up an alcoholic.

With Michael’s strong Anglican background, silent prayer offered hope. The plea each night, kneeling by their beds, was for forgiveness and absolution. Again it was Michael who took the initiative and they went to a church in Camden Town a couple of times, but sat at the back without any contact being made with either the clergy or members of the congregation. Tom was lost in a maze of conflicting ideas and emotions. Then, apparently out of the blue, Michael began to talk of a High Anglican church off Oxford Street and insisted they should go. Tom had no idea what High Anglicanism meant but was receptive to any idea. He never asked how Michael had learned of this particular church or how he discovered the Reverend Father would welcome them knowing the trouble they were in….The theatricality offered escape into a realm, high up in the bright blue yonder, where there were no prison bars. In face of the impending disaster, Tom’s father’s pragmatic Methodism seemed so totally inadequate. Tom had no difficulty in rationalising that when worshipping the great creator of the universe the informality of the village chapel was almost irreverent If one would bow to an earthly monarch what then should one do to ‘Him’ who is above all?”

The role of Anglo-Catholicism is important. Gay men would be hard put to find a lawyer to represent them if in court. They’d have to lie to a doctor if they caught an anti-social disease. The Samaritans had yet to be founded. Yet we know, from works by the Victorian Society, that churches such as All Saints Margaret Street, which features in this book, were havens for gay men – not just because of the theatricality of the liturgy but because of the availability of sacramental confession. Way back in the late Nineteenth century, men were advised, able to speak in confidence, heard non-judgementally. (Minor niggle: living in Camden, the couple would have found many Anglo-catholic churches on their doorstep instead of having to travel to the West End. Likewise many of the oldest gay pubs. Also a query: the priest in the book publishes a ‘Letter to a homosexual’.  Such a letter was published very early in the Twentieth Century from All Saints Maggie Street – is this an anachronism?)

This needs to be heeded in today’s Anglican Communion.  Many of these Anglo-catholic churches are now mired in misogyny and homophobia. In Uganda and Nigeria, Anglicans are supporting tougher laws, brutal policing and even the death penalty. Who says that history always results in progress?

As for a ‘cure’, what an amazingly stupid psychiatrist who charged 4/5ths of a weekly wage merely to say that if you fantasize about men in trousers it is easy to switch to women in trousers, now that that is acceptable.

There are quite a few flashbacks – is this to provide titillating stories to entire the reader to stay with the book? If so, then I hope they succeed in making younger people aware of their history.

A lovely, true story. John Guilgud had been arrested for cottaging so everyone was wondering what would happen when he next appeared on stage. He received a standing ovation. Alleluia!

Some puns and some childish misunderstandings – some amusing, some not: Sodomy is when the paths of rectitude lead up the rectum tube”

“Lying one man with another is an abomination.”

To the ten-year-old Tom that was simply stating the obvious. For one man to lie was bad enough but when two did it together, well, they deserved to get into trouble. No wonder this man went wild.

“Man’s duty is to go forth and multiply.”

Tom was quite good at sums so that was all right Then the preacher man added a complication; “To waste your seed on the ground was a sin.” Tom’s dad always put his seeds in the ground.

Such mixed metaphors were confusing to the lad. What sums and gardening had to do with being paid, and being paid to sin, was more than he could figure out; and if all this sinning made you so miserable, as he heard with boring regularity, why not do something to make you happy? ……It did not enter Tom’s head that what the older boy had shown him in Lovers Walk Wood had anything to do with the tears being shed in the pulpit Why should it? Neither of them felt miserable after, and he had learned a lot, and it couldn’t be sin since neither he nor Derrick was old enough to be  paid any wages.

A pun with a purpose: ‘Go and sin no more.’ A lifetime of keeping one’s penis soft was going to be hard. (If such a rule is part of the ‘game’ of sacramental confession, is it time to give up the game and live by one’s own conscience?)

After all: It was a very confused Tom Adamson who sat in the Reverend Father’s study. He was feeling lost He had actually enjoyed remembering the encounter with G.I. Joe. Time had most probably glamorised the incident but he did realise it was the point where his attitude to sex changed. Simple animal sex can be great fun. It can satisfy a very real need and get rid of a mass of frustrations but something more than that is needed. The G.I. showed him that two men can give each other warmth and affection and it was this Tom’s whole being was screaming for. That contact and warmth was now denied him. It had been replaced with fear and guilt, generated by unjust attitudes and laws. He was penalised because he wasn’t made the way society said he should have been and that was his fault and his hard luck!

It is not true that those who are ‘promiscuous’ care nothing for their ‘prey’ but are merely using people for their own selfish ends: Tom often thought of his G.I. He met others who were more handsome, more manly but it was never quite the same. His G.I. was not in the hunky male class. His body was light and delicate. He was special. Tom often wondered if he survived the war.

Would a teenage boy, on joining in gossip about a girl made pregnant by an American GI, retort thus?: “That is what comes of playing around with officers.”

To which Tom interjected, “I always thought it was the privates that caused the trouble.”

I was torn between eking this book out so as to savour these people who I now thought of as fiends and racing to the end to see what happened to them. The race won.

There is a parallel with today’s debate about gay marriage. Fear of arrest and blackmail meat that many had one night stands, resulting in sex addiction and a fear of stable relationships. The very law that persecuted gay men perpetuated their ‘crime’.  If gay marriage blesses ‘living in sin’, how much more is its denial encouraging the ‘sin’ of ‘promiscuity’?

For those who say that we’ve come a long way, why is it that three times as many gay teenagers attempt suicide as straights?

See also here.

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When I Knew – Robert Trachtenberg


(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

A collection of often poignant stories about that revelatory moment for all gay men and women: when they first knew. A gorgeously illustrated, full-colour coffee table book by fashion and celebrity photographer Robert Trachtenberg with over 100 contributors

My favourite was the little boy who looked under the television to see what was under Tarzan’ s loin cloth.

What are American straights afraid of? So many of these little stories evoked hostility.

I liked Stephen Fry’s ‘When I was born, I remember looking back up  at my mother and saying, that’s the last time I’m going up one of those.”’

Also the author’s foreward ‘If this book can help just one person…. Then I’m that much closer to getting residuals.’

You can read it in one sitting but it is better savoured in short doses.

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The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

The title seems overly sentimental until you see that it is from a poem by Keats. Ned uses it of Leonora grieving for James

Our group mostly liked this: ‘I am so happy to have read this.’ ‘Humorously absurd.’ ‘The first chapter was so Pymishly wicked.’ ‘Icy cold dissection of people in remarkably few words.

Pym is a comfort read but this one is bleak….utter selfishness.’ ‘A parody of how life is for a lot of people.’

Yet from one member: ‘One of the crappiest books I’ve ever read. There isn’t a likeable character among them. Nothing happens except in people’s heads. Pulp reading.’ ‘It’s like Neighbours set in Sloane Square.’ ‘It’s the sixties but these people are burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the revolution that is going on all around them.

There’s some catty descriptions: the shabby clothes worn by men in auction rooms (I was thinking Antiques Roadshow), a man staring at James, who is not sure that he wants ‘that kind of admiration…a fate worse than death.’

James is ‘arm candy, a canvas for them to write on, callous in a vacant way.’

 Leonora organises her day so that agreeable things outweigh the disagreeable.
Leonora offered her cheek. She did not like being kissed by women, or indeed by anyone very much
Leonora liked to think of her life as calm of mind, all passion spent, or, more rarely, as emotion recollected in tranquility. But had there ever really been passion, or even emotion? One or two tearful scenes in bed — for she had never enjoyed that kind of thing — and now it was I such a relief that one didn’t have to worry anymore. Her men friends were mostly elderly cultured people, who admired her elegance and asked no more than the pleasure of her company. Men not unlike Humphrey Boyce, indeed.
‘Oh, very chilly,’ Leonora mocked. ‘One feels that using paraffin at all is somehow degrading — the sort of I thing black people do, upsetting oil heaters and setting the place on fire. Really, it’s rather frightening to think of her up there — that’s why one will simply have to get rid of her when her lease runs out.’

Phoebe was obviously not at her best in the kitchen. It was a mistake to assume that all women were.

Should she write and announce herself or call unexpectedly ­people in the country were always in (In fact door and windows open while she’d gone to London for the day)

Didn’t trust the kind of man you meet on trains

Leonora had taken a great deal of trouble polishing it and restoring its beauty with loving care. Yet when she looked into it the reflection it gave back was different from James’s mirror in which she had appeared ageless and fascinating. Now her reflection dis­pleased her, for her face seemed shrunken and almost old. Or was she really beginning to look like that?

‘A bucket?’ Leonora echoed. Really, did one look the sort of person who would have a bucket?

Is her James’s relationship with her oedipal?

Humphrey; ‘Goodness, is it nearly Christmas?’ said Humphrey. ‘I suppose women start their shopping much earlier than we do.’
So that was how it was, thought Humphrey. Now he could admit to himself that he had always had some doubt as to the sex of James’s lovers. Perhaps, as uncle and nephew, they had been in too close a relationship for James to confide in him. Or perhaps they had not been close enough. And this most decidedly was a girl. He had put on his spectacles to make quite sure, for it wasn’t always easy to tell these days.

Ned `Is it a comfortable bed?’ Leonora asked, foolishly, she realized.

‘I guess so,’ said Ned, ‘though maybe comfort isn’t all I look for.’

present, a pair of expensive cuff links. This had been com­paratively easy to choose, for all Ned asked of a present was that it should have cost the giver a lot of money.

 Miss Caton Her friend’s upset stomach and dislike of Continental Catholicism were made vivid to James, so that he found himself sharing in their relief at the eventual return to good plain food and the Anglican Church.

Miss Foxe: was a person of gentle birth and refinement living in reduced circum­stances. – a bit dated, even back then?

Homosexuality, hinted at in her other words, gets more of a look in: Colin and Harold are ‘lovers’.

He told the man the price of the object and they made some perfunctory conversation. Then the man made a suggestion which brought a not unbecoming blush to James’s cheek, though it was not the first time such a proposition had been put to him. If his suitor had been more attractive, and if Miss Caton had not come in at that moment, who knows what might have happened. As it was the man mumbled something about a friend being interested in the paperweight and left the shop as quickly as he had entered it.

‘Oh, that man — he’s always hanging round here,’ said Miss Caton, with an impatient gesture as if she were brushing away an insect. ‘You don’t want to have any­thing to do with people like that.’

‘So like Colin,’ Meg went on. ‘I’ve been through it all so many times. But they always come back in the end, you’ll see.’

What’s not to like in cat-lover Liz, who gives her cats turkey liver for their Christmas dinner?

There is a lot of drinking and driving – obviously people weren’t aware then.

There’s no sex until page 42!

And no vicars until page 157, though Leonora muses about a village bric a brac sale: This did not appear to be the kind of function that men attended, except perhaps the clergy, but no clergy­man was visible, only the Scoutmaster with a little group of Scouts and Cubs.

I liked: ‘Now how will you get home?’ Meg wondered in the rather vague way that car-drivers do about non-drivers.

‘Oh, I shall manage,’ said Leonora, with an enigmatic smile as if she had a magic carpet waiting.

….’I’ve never found that,’ said Leonora. ‘Taxi drivers are usually sweet little men.’

….. It was good to be leaning back in the cool darkness of the taxi. The driver, she now saw, was a coloured man, but she was sure he would turn out to be as ‘sweet’ as taxi drivers usually were to her.

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Brunel’s Bristol – R. Buchanan & M. Williams

B's B(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is a collaborative work by one of our members and another writer. (Our member has provided hospitality and counsel to many of several years).

There are loads of photos of things we now take for granted but are what makes Bristol what it is today – Brunel’s engineering feats: the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Severn tunnel, Temple Meads train station and nearby-ish Saltash bridge. Also the ship SS Great Britain that sailed to and from the Falkland Islands before it became famous in Thatcher’s Britain – a ship which our member helped to bring home to Bristol where it has lots of visits every day.

Clifton is an inner suburb of the English port city of Bristol. Clifton was recorded in the Doomsday book as Clistone, the name of the village denoting a ‘hillside settlement’ and referring to its position on a steep hill. I am reminded of its glories when I travel home by bus from the south of the city. Brunel’s famous bridge towers above you as you pass by on the right.

There is mention of the famous Bristol riots of 1831. It has always struck me that this city is divided into segments in such a way that those of us who live on the post side of the city need never encounter the poor. In my previous city, you couldn’t get through to the posh bits without travelling through the poor bits. It made you aware. Many (most?) Bristolians try to live in blissful ignorance of ‘the other’.

There are lots of black and white photos which might well be otherwise unobtainable and which are well worth a look.

The book was published by the Bristol & West before it ceased to be a mutual and capitalism took over such noble ventures.

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Maurice – E. M. Forster

MauriceThis was the book which the group discussed at my first meeting. It was in the Watershed and the only way I could find the right table was by noticing copies of the book on the table next to people’s lagers.

The group was aged mainly in their mid to late twenties and this classic novel from pre-gay history was as if it had come from another world; so much has changed since then: “gay” meant happy, and just that, and one could be sent to prison for such an unspeakable vice as homosexuality. It was such a different world that people like Edward Carpenter were talking of homosexuals as an intermediate sex and terms like ‘urnings’ were used.

It was written in 1914 and remained unpublished until 1970, a year after Forster died (a note found on the manuscript read: “Publishable, but worth it?”).  It tells the story of Maurice Hall, a young man trying to come to terms with his homosexuality in traditional Edwardian England where his “sort” are arrested for such “crimes”. However, when he meets Clive, falls in love with him but faces a life of loneliness and despair when Clive turns away from him and their platonic relationship (Clive wants to remain ‘respectable’ because he intends to stand for public office).

Light and darkness are a theme: Maurice attends his father’s public school, named ironically “Sunnington,” where his darkness is prolonged – his schoolmaster tells him that his body is a ‘temple which was never be abused’; and when he arrives at Cambridge, he stands “still in the darkness instead of groping about in it.” There’s good darkness as well as bad darkness. Good darkness would be to: escape forever into the shadows.

After graduation, he sees a hypnotist, Mr. Lasker Jones, in an attempt to “cure” himself. Lasker Jones refers to his condition as “congenital homosexuality” and claims a 50 per cent success rate in “curing” this “condition.” But it is clear that the therapy has failed. (So much for those London buses advertising a ‘cure’ for homosexuality). On his second visit to the hypnotist, after his night with Alec, “the afternoon sun fell through the window upon the roll-top desk. This time Maurice fixed his attention on that.” The hypnotist, however cannot put him into a trance, cannot return him to darkness: “Nothing happened.” Maurice’s inner light is triumphing over the external darkness.

Like so many gay men of the time, Maurice suggests that he may marry: “The fact is I’m hoping to get married,” said Maurice, the words flying from him as if they had an independent life.

“I’m awfully glad,” said Clive, dropping his eyes. “Maurice, I’m awfully glad. It’s the greatest thing in the world, perhaps the only one—”

During the times he spends at his country manor, Maurice gives way to his longings by getting involved with one of the servants, Alec Scudder, who wants to meet him at the boathouse. So we now have the issue of social class (a bit like the later Lady Chatterley’s Lover) as well as ‘deviant’ sexuality.

One night, Scudder uses a ladder to climb into Maurice’s bedroom. After their first night together, Maurice panics and, because of his poor treatment of Alec, the latter threatens to blackmail Maurice. Maurice goes to Lasker Jones one more time. Knowing that the therapy is failing, he tells Maurice to consider relocating to a country that has adopted the Code Napoleon, where same-sex expression is not the state’s concern, such as France or Italy.

Maurice and Alec meet at the British Museum to discuss the supposed blackmail and it becomes clear that they are in love with each other, and Maurice calls him Alec for the first time.

Alec has a one-way ticket for to Argentina but Maurice asks Alec to stay with him, knowing that he will have to give up his social and financial position. Alec does not accept so Maurice decides to give Alec a send-off. When he sees that Alec is not at the harbour he goes to the boathouse and finds Alec, who tells him that he had sent a telegram stating that he was to come to the boathouse. Alec had changed his mind, and intends to stay with Maurice, telling him that they “shan’t be parted no more” and they live happily ever after. (The original ending showed the extreme dislike that Kitty feels for her brother and ends with Maurice and Alec in each other’s arms at the end of the day discussing seeing Kitty and resolving that they must move on in order to avoid detection or a further meeting.)

Of the oppression of conventional church: When Alec and Maurice are lying in bed the morning after their night of love in Penge, the parish church bells ring, indicating on a literal level that it is time Alec climbed out the window. But when Maurice says, “Damn the church,” Forster means it to apply also to the interference of society in the lives of the men. Before Alec leaves the bed that morning the two men tell each other their dreams of the previous night. Maurice dreamt of Mr. Grace; Alec, that the Reverend Borenious, the local clergyman, was trying to drown him. Throughout the novel Mr. Boreniouis has been concerned with Alec’s soul, and near the end of the novel he shows up at Southampton to see Alec off to Argentina with a “letter of introduction to an Anglican priest in Buenos Aires in the hope that he will get confirmed after landing.”

Of the respectable, Maurice opines: the middle-middle classes, whose highest desire seemed shelter–continuous shelter–not a lair in the darkness to be reached against fear, but shelter everywhere and always, until the existence of earth and sky is forgotten, shelter from poverty and disease and violence and impoliteness; and consequently from joy; God slipped this retribution in. He saw from their faces, as from the faces of his clerks and partners, that they had never known real joy. Society had catered for them too completely. They had never struggled, and only a struggle twists sentimentality and lust together into love.

What of the author? A researcher with access to his private papers discovered one diary entry where he wrote “I should have been a more famous writer if I had written or rather published more, but sex prevented the latter.” The researcher surmises that he stopped writing in his forties because having gay sex killed his creative drive, a scholar claims. The researcher goes on to say: “He never had sex until he was 38, although he never had any doubts – even from a very young age – that he was gay……Forster lost his virginity aged 38 to an injured soldier on an Egyptian beach. He met his long-term lover – a married policeman – some years later. One poignant entry in his diaries said: “Now I am 85 how annoyed I am with society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges and the self-consciousnesses that might have been avoided.”

One reviewer pointed out:

‘With eyes that had gone intensely blue, Clive whispered, ‘I love you.” ‘
Weren’t Clive’s eyes ‘intensely blue’ to start with?

‘This set the Doctor (Dr. Barry) off, and he cried, “How dare you bully your mother, Maurice! You ought to be horsewhipped. You young puppy! Swaggering about instead of asking her to forgive you!” ‘
Is there a smidgeon of unconscious sadism here?

‘Life went on as usual – how could Maurice sleep and rest if he had no friend?’


However, my favourite quotations are:

“You confuse what’s important with what’s impressive.”

“I am an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort.”

“Did you ever dream you had a friend, Alec? Someone to last your whole life and you his. I suppose such a thing can’t really happen outside sleep.”

“Nothing’s the same for anyone. That’s why life’s this Hell, if you do a thing you’re damned, and if you don’t you’re damned . . . .”

“After all, is not a real Hell better than a manufactured Heaven?”

“A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn’t have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense, Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood.” (It was unheard of, at the time, to have a happy ending. Homosexual stories always ended in tragedy as if to reinforce ‘respectable’ morality.)

“It comes to this then: there always have been people like me and always will be, and generally they have been persecuted.”

“I knew you read the Symposium in the vac,” he said in a low voice.
Maurice felt uneasy.
“Then you understand – without me saying more – ”
“How do you mean?”
Durham could not wait. People were all around them, but with eyes that had gone intensely blue he whispered, “I love you.”

“There has been, is, and always will be every conceivable type of person.  ”

“There was something better in life than this rub­bish, if only he could get to it—love—nobility—big spaces where passion clasped peace, spaces no science could reach, but they existed for ever, full of woods some of them, and arched with majestic sky and a friend. . .”

“When love flies it is remembered not as love but as something else. Blessed are the uneducated, who forget it entirely, and are never conscious of folly or pruriency in the past, of long aimless conversations.”

“He was obliged however to throw over Christianity. Those who base their conduct upon what they are rather than upon what they ought to be, always must throw it over in the end . . . .”

“He educated Maurice, or rather his spirit educated Maurice’s spirit, for they themselves became equal. Neither thought “Am I led; am I leading?” Love had caught him out of triviality and Maurice out of bewilderment in order that two imperfect souls might touch perfection.”

“I was yours once ’till death if you’d cared to keep me, but I’m someone else’s now – I can’t hang about whining forever – and he’s mine in a way that shocks you, but why don’t you stop being shocked, and attend to your own happiness?”

“It’s miles worse for you than that; I’m in love with your gamekeeper.”

“He knew that loneliness was poisoning him, so that he grew viler as well as more unhappy.”

“I think you’re beautiful, the only beautiful person I’ve ever seen. I love your voice and everything to do with you, down to your clothes or the room you are sitting in. I adore you.”

“You mean that a Frenchman could share with a friend and yet not go to prison?’
‘Share? Do you mean unite? If both are of age and avoid public indecency, certainly.’
‘Will the law ever be that in England?’
‘I doubt it. England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.”

We revisited this book in 2014 and the review is here.

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