Maurice: Three-dollar bill

I’ll get this out of the way right off: The novel Maurice, by E. M. Forster, is not actually very good. It’s better than most fiction, simply because even at his least subtle Forster’s a good writer, but given a choice between it and, say, Howard’s End or A Passage to India or A Room With a View, there’d be no contest, unless it was for a reading course on sexuality in fiction or something.

But, anyways, not talking about the book here, although there’s a lot to be gone on about, such as the class-consciousness Forster displays even under a homoerotic context (which, getting back on track, is well-reflected in the film: the class-driven friction between Maurice and Alec is played out prominently). One modification for the movie I actually violently dislike—and will go on about—is the promotion of Risley from a minor character to a Oscar-Wilde-type martyr. Part of the problem is that Oscar Wilde makes a shitty martyr.

That dreadful silence you hear now is the gay-rights movement ostracizing me.

See, this sort of character wasn’t in the original for a reason. The likelihood of conviction for homosexuality was, for a gentleman like Maurice Hall or Clive Durham, quite remote, and even for a laborer like Alec Scudder, fairly unlikely without a voluntary complainant. “What about Oscar Wilde?” I hear you cry. Well, Oscar Wilde was convicted, certainly, but only after making it absolutely impossible for the Crown to do otherwise. By and large the British government was too happy to ignore homosexuality. There were dangers for gay men in early twentieth century Britain, but they were social rather than criminal (which is not to make light of them: intolerance could lose someone not only their social connections but also their job). These aspects are played up too, but the spectre of criminal prosecution, in my opinion, rather weakens what’s otherwise a pretty strong adaptation of an imperfect source-material.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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