Now we shan’t never be parted.
— Alec Scudder, from the film
Rob Berg and I released a thirty-year-old song by our band Bachelors Anonymous last week on the the occasion of the Winter Solstice; it also happened to be the birthday of Michael Tilson Thomas, whose work we knew as guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the early 1980s.
“What’s This Feeling?” asks a question that Rob posed to himself, and his affecting account is in the latest post from our BachelorBlog.
I had my own question, about the lyrics:
I’m haunted by a line—if it be Rob’s or mine—“Who will save me?” It’s not a sentiment I care for because for the longest time I’ve rejected the notion of salvation via romantic love. And yet I associate it with the breakup scene from the Merchant Ivory adaptation of E. M. Forster’s Maurice, the film’s most powerful. But was that Maurice’s line exactly? It was not. From the novel: “What an ending. What an ending.” Followed by “What’s going to happen?,” just as in the film, but with two words more on screen: “What’s going to happen to me?” Explaining my mental mixtape: “Who will save me?”
What will happen to Maurice and his kind?
When we published our post last week, I received the January–February 2022 issue of The Gay & Lesbian Review. It includes producer Cal Skaggs’s review of James Ivory’s memoir, Pure Ivory, published last month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as well as a sidebar by writer Court Stroud recalling his reaction to seeing Maurice upon its release in 1987. “I’m seated in an art theater and, as the credits end, the houselights rise, and cleaning crews sweep popcorn from the floor,” he writes. “My chest heaves with each sob.” After seeing the film, Stroud “inhaled the book and exited my closet.”
I saw the film that year with my now-wife Andrea Carney. We left the theater feeling bothered. The gist (with perhaps a little embellishment): As an antidote to the inevitable ending of, say, the homosexual’s suicide, Maurice had gone too far in the opposite direction, depicting a committed relationship between men of two different classes in early 20th-century England. We felt it was unrealistic.
Protagonists Maurice and Clive, scholars at an unnamed college and in the throes of a romance, were peers of a certain rank, one of whom makes the right choice. Which allows Forster to indulge in a fantasy. Or so Andrea and I thought at the time. Later I too read Forster’s novel, which could have been my introduction to the lives of Edward Carpenter and their forerunner John Addington Symonds (1840–1893). All three had long-term relationship with working-class men. (See my Symonds, Whitman, Rossetti and Rake for more on these writers. To see the film, contact your local library about Kanopy, a free streaming service.)
Carpenter and Symonds both bent the bars in search of Whitman’s “manly love of comrades,” either without regard—or perhaps with much—to said comrades’ station. For himself, Forster wrote in a “sex diary” that came to light in 2010, “I want to love a strong young man of the lower classes and be loved by him and even hurt by him”—eighteen years after having his first sexual experience at age 38 in 1917.1
In his Terminal Note to the novel, Forster writes: “In its original form, which it still almost retains, Maurice dates from 1913. It was the direct result of a visit to Edward Carpenter” and Carpenter’s lover George Merrill.2 Forster was familiar with the writings of Symonds,3 but the latter’s relationship with the Italian gondolier Angelo Fusato wasn’t made public until years after the former’s death in 1970, although Forster might have heard of the limited and private edition of Symonds’s A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883), devoted to male love.
Forster wrote the novel between 1913 and 1960, and in 1987 screenwriters James Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey completed Forster’s wet dream by having Clive’s gamekeeper Alec Scudder, per manor chatter, pursue the coy Maurice with a fervor somewhat more fulsome than in the novel. For instance, both the novel and the film have Maurice, while at Clive’s estate, opening his bedroom window to the rain.
Novel: Maurice “fell on his knees, leaning his chin upon the window sill and allowing the drops to sprinkle his hair.”
Film: Maurice leans out the window to the tempest, drenched and gyrating, silent.
Novel: “‘Come!’ he cried suddenly, surprising himself. Whom had he called?”
Film: Scudder, from the bushes, smiles and laughs aloud.
Novel: “He had been thinking of nothing and the word had leapt out. As quickly as possible he shut out the air and the darkness […].”4
Quentin Crisp, in his first memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, writes a lot about what women and men want from men. Forster’s “strong young man” is dissected by Crisp as the “myth of the great dark man.” Unlike Carpenter, Crisp was no socialist, yet he claimed an egalitarianism. “Even under an exterior as rugged as a mountain range, there lurks the same wounded, wincing psyche that cripples the rest of us.” Crisp mentions a sex worker friend who, on an off night, brought home a young soldier who, despite “camping myself silly,” turned over, as in prone. My departed friend and musical partner John Callahan once rented a room from a drag queen who dated men that inevitably would do the same. “Isn’t there a man in this fucking town?” they would exclaim.5
We all don drag each day, often choosing what conforms with a gender we didn’t. And so I’m reminded of Clive and Maurice’s post-matriculation mustaches in the film. Clive’s is positively pasted on as he retires the night of Maurice’s wet scream. By then Maurice has lost his, but the stockbroker ’stache he’d grown earlier looks as quaint as CNN international correspondent Will Ripley’s earlier this year. When Maurice asks, “What’s going to happen to me?” in the film, his upper lip is a pathetic reminder of how he can’t really fit in. And yet he finds a place.
In that same Terminal Note, Forster admits he attempted to end his novel differently, as a challenge to himself and at the suggestion of others. “It took the form of Kitty [Clive’s wife; Maurice’s sister] encountering two woodcutters some years later and gave universal dissatisfaction,” Forster writes. “Epilogues are for Tolstoy.”6
Waiting for Wolfendon
Forster’s note is dated September 1960. He expresses pessimism about the famous 1957 Wolfenden report’s recommendations ever being acted upon legally and so “police prosecutions will continue and Clive on the bench will continue to sentence Alec in the dock. Maurice may get off.”7
The law (in England and Wales only) was changed in 1967; Forster did not amend his note. But he included, regarding the novel’s plot: “If it ended unhappily, with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact, all would be well, for there is no pornography or seduction of minors. But the lovers get away unpunished and consequently recommend crime.”8 Maurice was not Howl. And the U.K. was not the U.S. Still, Forster’s novel was published promptly, the year after his death, in 1971.
Crisp, thirty years Forster’s junior, was asked in 1982 by David Letterman, “Are you thought of now as […] a champion of the cause?” Crisp: “No, I’m considered to be rather a nuisance. They want to pass themselves off as members of the community. They want to take their place in society. Never do that. Stay right where you are and wait for society to form itself around you.”9
Forster didn’t. He stopped writing after 1924’s A Passage to India. In 1930 he met Bob Buckingham and, having already penned Maurice felt, well, there already was enough that didn’t reflect the nature he’d embraced.
From the last paragraph of Forster’s note, on Homosexuality:
Since Maurice was written there has been a change in the public attitude here: the change from ignorance and terror to familiarity and contempt. It is not the change towards which Edward Carpenter had worked. He had hoped for the generous recognition of an emotion and for the reintegration of something primitive into the common stock. And I, though less optimistic, had supposed that knowledge would bring understanding. We had not realized that what the public really loathes in homosexuality is not the thing itself but having to think about it.10
Despite all of this, Class figures into these relationships. Maurice may be gay, but he’s not a gamekeeper. Forster’s paramour Bob Buckingham, a policeman married to May Hockey Buckingham, received a house from the author in Shepherd’s Bush. But it didn’t bring the two men any closer; at 69, Forster was twenty-five years Buckingham’s senior.11 Technically, Carpenter brought George Merrill into his home as his servant after the departure of another George—Adams, who retired with his wife Lucy and family.12 Symonds—himself married to Janet Catherine North—described the gondolier Angelo Fusato by his nickname “il matto or the madcap”: “He was careless by nature, poor by circumstance, determined to have money, indifferent to how he got it.”13
Header image: Portrait of
E. M. Forster by Paul Cadmus,
drawn as he read passages from his
Maurice manuscript, gifted to
Bob and May Buckingham14
- Wendy Moffat, A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, 330n31, 344, 390n316. Moffat writes that Forster began his undated “sex diary” in about 1933 (330n31, 331n37).
- E. M. Forster, Maurice, New York: W. W. Norton, 1971, 176.
- Moffat, 249.
- Forster, 176.
- Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977, 141, 55–56. I should mention that John Addington Symonds is described by New York Times critic Parul Sehgal as “a lifelong invalid,” while Crisp answered David Letterman’s question, “What was your ambition as a child?” with “I wanted to be a chronic invalid. I had a certain flair.” See Parul Sehgal, “Loose With the Facts, One More Time,” New York Times, 06 Jun 2019, C9; Late Night, 03 Mar 1982 broadcast.
- Forster, 254.
- Forster, 255.
- Forster, 250.
- Letterman interview mentioned in a note above.
- Forster, 255.
- Moffat, 276.
- Edward Carpenter, Selected Writings Volume 1: Sex, London: GMP, 1984, 55 (Introduction by Noël Greig).
- Phyllis Grosskurth, ed., The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds, London: Hutchinson, 1984, 274.
- Moffit, 296.