E.M. Forster completed Maurice in 1914; however, the novel was not published until 1971, following Forster’s death. Maurice contains homosexual subject matter; therefore, the novel could not be published while retaining its happy ending during Forster’s lifetime. The novel itself focuses on themes of invisibility, or without scrutiny due to an aspect of one’s identity. For homosexuals during Maurice’s time, remaining invisible typically involves remaining closeted, or without verbal acknowledgment of one’s divergent sexuality. Maurice presents dreams as a device utilized by the character Maurice to identify his own sexuality, maintain invisibility, and transition from his dream-like state to a wakeful life.
Due to a lack of available language to explain his selfhood, Maurice discovers his sexuality through his own dreams. When atypical sexuality is unspeakable, one does not attain the language necessary to verbalize his or her divergent identity. E.M. Forster, asserting “where all is obscure and unrealized the best similitude is a dream,” attempts to make an example of Maurice’s dreams of naked male friends and the way in which his subsequent dreams will parallel his wakeful identity (22). Clive, unaware of the context brewing in Maurice’s mind, declares “Dante would have called it an awakening, not a dream” (Forster 50). In a similar manner to Dante’s poem, Maurice’s dreams become an alternative avenue directed toward self-actualization, comparing the realization of his queer sexuality to that of being “awoken” (Forster 63). Subsequently, Maurice’s relationship with Clive becomes dream-like itself, exemplified when Maurice’s “name had been called out of his dreams” by Clive, insinuating Clive is the ‘friend’ mentioned time and again in Maurice’s dreams and contemplation of such. After coming out to himself, Maurice cannot acknowledge his queer sexuality to others beyond himself and Clive, thus his dreams become a method through which he maintains invisibility.
Through dreams, Maurice fulfills his homosexual desires while simultaneously remaining invisible. Dreams become a manner in which Maurice may express his sexuality without coming out and being punished socially or by law. His lifestyle is “part brutal, part ideal, like his dreams,” in the sense that it is brutal to live in a lie, and ideal as he would otherwise be excommunicated (Forster 23). By hiding his sexuality, Forster notes “none of his difficulties had been solved, none were added,” which assumes Maurice to be in a state of complacency at such a point in his life (29). However, the frustration which accompanies such a stagnancy is “healed” when Maurice has “dreamless nights,” suggesting his dreams maintain a significant role in his ability to remain invisible; if Maurice could not have these healing nights he could not maintain invisibility for he would have to act eventually (Forster 83). Conversely, without the dreams he could not understand his sexuality through any other means. Forster suggests Maurice has “the wrong words on his lips and the wrong desires in his heart, and his arms full of air,” meaning Maurice cannot have love, or any lover in his arms, due to the “wrong desires” he holds; nevertheless, Maurice has let his dreams manifest into love at various points throughout the novel (Forster 165).
While Maurice does not come out formally, he does test the boundaries of his invisibility. These tests include Maurice’s attempts to have dream-like relationships with Dickie and Alec. Dickie, Maurice’s “World’s desire,” is mistaken by Maurice as a dream within which he may express his sexuality in (Forster 147). Maurice attempts to proposition Dickie quite boldly after “his emotion had become physical,” in a manner which he would not likely do in a wakeful state in fear of his true self becoming known (Forster 148). The following day Dickie wakes “with the sun on his face and his mind washed clean,” as if to symbolize the previous day as a dream itself (Forster 149). Maurice’s temperament the following day amplifies such a notion as his desires are dwindling, as if he had awoken from a passionate dream, supplemented by Forster’s assertion of Maurice’s “fires [dying] down as quickly as they had risen” (150). Unlike Dickie, who serves as an example of Maurice’s need to express his sexuality in a dream-like environment, Alec serves as an example of Maurice’s inability to remain closeted. When his relationship with Alec begins, Maurice describes his idea of a long-term friend, “someone to last your whole life and you his,” explaining “such a thing can’t really happen outside sleep” (Forster 197). To have a friend of Maurice’s description is to jeopardize his social standing, career, and life altogether; because of this, Maurice and Alec’s relationship cannot exist in reality, and must be moved to the dream-like, perhaps even mythical, greenwood. Although Maurice’s relationships exist in dream-like scenes, his understanding of himself takes him on a harrowing journey from dreaming to existence in a wakeful life.
Questioning the validity of his identity after Clive becomes normal, Maurice turns to medical interventions to fix the thoughts which threaten to further pervade his actions. Conversely, such interventions have the opposite result, and Maurice comes to embrace his homosexuality. Before seeking medical intervention, Maurice first attempts “severe self-discipline” to achieve a masculine, more heteronormative self (Forster 141). One can infer this by the typical masculine traits of patriotism and chivalry he strived to achieve in compensation for his less-than masculine encounters with Clive. Intervention is first sought from Dr. Barry, who likens his coming out to rubbish. Maurice, already vulnerable, speculates “if his words were rubbish his life was a dream,” suggesting Dr. Barry has misconstrued his identity to that of a dream rather than reality (Forster 159). Though his identity was formed through dreams, Maurice understands from this encounter the extent to which he identifies with the themes presented within. Maurice then attempts hypnotism, being put into a dream-like trance in which Mr. Lasker Jones initiates to force Maurice to change his unconscious thoughts. Changing Maurice’s unconscious thoughts would consequently change the dreams which have a large impact on his sexual identity. However, it is clear from the beginning of their sessions Maurice lacks the will to be cured made necessary by the nature of the treatment. When instructed to leap over a crack symbolic of his struggle with homosexuality, Maurice complies but “was not convinced of the necessity” (Forster 182). Maurice’s confusion infers he cannot understand why he is lying to himself to such an extent. His next session ends in a similar matter, Maurice cannot force himself into the trance, as he is no longer willing to deny his dreams. From this scene and onward, Maurice becomes optimistic toward the future reality of his dreams:
He moaned, half asleep. 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…. (Forster 191)
Half asleep, thus half awake, Maurice imagines a very real place characterized by his confidence in the existence of such a place in the realm of reality rather than dreams; such a place has always existed in his dreams.
E.M. Forster presents a novel focused on the journey toward becoming and remaining true to oneself. While Forster could not live publicly in such a way during his lifetime, his character Maurice fulfilled his dreams and embodied his true identity, at least to himself. Through dreams, Maurice was able to accomplish the identification of his own sexuality beyond the norm, remain invisible as a homosexual to those around him, and to bring his dreams forth into reality.
Forster, E.M. Maurice. W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.
Julia Turgeon is currently attending Grande Prairie Regional College in pursuit of a degree in Social Work. She works as a barista in a large corporate chain of coffee shops despite her love of connecting with people. In her free time she volunteers at the local women’s shelter and alongside the RCMP as a victim advocate.