I found E.M.Forster’s Maurice in our garage when Iwas about 14. I don’t remember how I came to read it before even noticing A Passage to India or A Room with a View. They were all in the same box that my uncle(who had been taking night classes in English) left at our house. It must havebeen during the hot, idle and depressive summer holidays after my first year ofhigh school.
I was sure that I amgay, but knew that I would never tell anyone. We had read Othello that year andI cast myself as Iago – “look like the innocent flower, But bethe serpent under’t”. I hated myself, and knew I would one day findmy thrills without ever telling anyone. I would live in the dark, anddifferently in the light. I was very dramatic (some things don’t change!).
Then I discovered this English novel completed in 1914 but published posthumously in the 1970s.The more I re-read it now (I do it at least once a year), the more absurd itseems. Anyways, at my first reading, I came across this passage. My fingersstill know where it is in the musty book. Two friends find each other atcollege without ever having to speak out their affliction. They find a complicated and transient love.
Love was suddenly possible for me.
For a long while,this passage was all the hope I had.
Durham sat upon the floor beyond [Maurice’s] reach.It was late afternoon… . Maurice stretched out a hand and felt the head nestleagainst it. He forgot what he was going to say. The sounds and scentswhispered, ‘You are we, we are youth.’ Very gently he stroked the hair and ranhis fingers down into it as if to caress the brain.
‘I say, Durham, have you been all right?’
‘You wrote you were.’
The truth in his own voice made him tremble. ‘Arotten vac and I never knew it,’ and wondered how long he should know it. Themist would lower again, he felt sure, and with an unhappy sigh [Maurice] pulledDurham’s head against his knee, as though it was a talisman for clear living.It lay there, and he had accomplished a new tenderness – stroked it steadilyfrom temple to throat. Then, removing both hands, he dropped them on eitherside of him and sat sighing.
‘Is there some trouble?’
He caressed and again withdrew. It seemed as certainthat he hadn’t as that he had a friend.
‘Anything to do with that girl?’
‘You wrote you liked her.’
‘I didn’t – don’t.’
Deeper sighs broke from him. They rattled in histhroat, turning to groans. His head fell back, and he forgot the pressure ofDurham on his knee, forgot that Durham was watching his turbid agony. He stared at the ceiling with wrinkled mouthand eye, understanding nothing except that man has been created to feel painand loneliness without help from heaven.
Now Durham stretched up to him, stroked his hair.They clasped one another. They were lying breast against breast soon, head wason shoulder, but just as their cheeks met someone called ‘Hall’ from the court,and [Maurice] answered: he always had answered when people called. Both startedviolently, and Durham sprang to the mantelpiece where he leant his head on hisarm. Absurd people came thundering up the stairs. They wanted tea. Mauricepointed to it, then was drawn into their conversation, and scarcely noticed hisfriend’s departure. It had been anordinary talk, he told himself, but too sentimental, and he cultivated abreeziness at their next meeting.
This took place soon enough. With half a dozen othershe was starting for the theatre after hall when Durham called him.
‘I knew you read the Symposium in the vac,’ he saidin 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.’
Maurice was scandalized, horrified. He was shocked tothe bottom of his suburban soul, and exclaimed, ‘Oh, rot!’. The words, themanner, were out of him before he could recall them.