The Private Forster: an analysis of Maurice (1913–14)

Part of the How to Study Literature book series


I want to start with something of a false start. Forster wrote Maurice after all his other novels with the exception of A Passage to India. It is not a great novel, perhaps not even a very good one. The plot is simple, all the characters save one undeveloped, the fictional texture sketchy and thin. Critics are more or less unanimous that Forster’s characteristic strengths only appear fitfully. Consequently, it is unlikely to appear on an exam syllabus. Why then, you might ask, are we bothering to look at it at all? Well, because I think it will give us some insight into Forster’s problems and difficulties both as a man and a writer. The novel’s obvious weakness will be helpful, I think, in defining the nature of Forster’s strengths in the ‘official’ novels that do get put on exam syllabuses. I say ‘official’ because Maurice was a clandestine work that Forster wrote for himself and a few friends when he felt very unhappy and ‘dried-up’ as a writer. It was not intended for publication; had it been, it would, no doubt, have been a different sort of book, but that would have meant Forster being a different sort of man. A brief summary of the story will make Forster’s difficulties very clear. When studying any fiction this is always the first step.


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© Nigel Messenger 1991

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