"No Trace of Presence": Tchaikovsky and the Sixth in Forster's Maurice

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Tchaikovsky and his Sixth Symphony have two distinct functions in E.M. Forster's Maurice. The composer and composition serve as a strategy of disclosure for Clive Durham as he woos Maurice Hall, and may provide evidence of the ways that music, like literature, can take part in individual and social formations.


Alan Sinfield suggests that knowledge of Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's homosexuality serves "as a test of queer knowledge" in E.M. Forster's Maurice (145). Describing the four male characters in the novel, Sinfield declares that Risley, unlike the others, knows "how to be queer," for Risley presents "himself in Wildean manner," "likes Tchaikovsky and knows he was homosexual," and "terms the Pathetique symphony the 'Pathique'" (140). Arthur Martland explores the relationship between art and sexuality in Maurice, arguing that, "for Risley and Maurice, the knowledge of their shared sexuality with the composer provides a second road by which the work [the Pathetique] is known and appreciated" (139). Martland points out, too, how Risley's reference to the symphony as the "Pathique" is "clearly intentional" on Forster's part to serve as a means of disclosure, because "Pathique" or "pathic" refers to a "passive homosexual" and is defined "as a man or a boy upon whom sodomy is practised" (139). Other th an these insightful observations, however, little has been written about Forster's use of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony--the Pathetique--in Maurice. Linda Hutcheon, Andrea Weatherhead, David Lean Higdon, W.J. Lucas, Tony Brown, and P.N. Furbank have documented Forster's interest in music in general and his admiration for Beethoven and Wagner in particular, but certainly no extended study exists regarding the relationship among Maurice, Tchaikovsky, and the Sixth. My intention in this essay is to provide an initial reading of that relationship. I argue that Tchaikovsky and the Sixth function in at least two distinct ways. First, they provide a strategy of disclosure for Clive Durham as he woos Maurice Hall; second they serve--by way of the Tchaikovsky biography that Maurice eventually reads--as evidence of the ways that music, like literature, can take part in both individual and social formations. Further, I suggest that Forster's treatments of Tchaikovsky and the Sixth differ in meaningful ways from his treat ments of composers and music in his other works--both fiction and non-fiction. In Maurice, Forster eventually abandons the aesthetic arguments about music's appeal and power to focus, instead, on music as a cultural product with social and political implications.

Throughout his career, Forster acknowledges the potential of music's formal features as a means of suggesting the "rhythms" available to modernist literatures. "When the symphony is over" Forster says in Aspects of the Novel, "we feel that the notes and tunes composing it have been liberated, they have found in the rhythm of the whole their individual freedom" (169). He suggests this musical analogy for "a type of beauty which fiction might achieve in its own way. Expansion. That is the idea the novelist must cling to. Not completion. Not rounding off but opening out" (169). The use here of musical metaphor successfully underscores--while resisting an explanation of--Forster's notion of expansion. Music's power, as Catherine Clement says, to be "received" not only through the ear but also "through the whole expanse of skin, through the whole body" (255), is a power that philosophers and artists have long acknowledged. Forster says simply, "I love music" and he claims that "music is the deepest of the arts and deep beneath the arts" ("Raison d'Etre" 107). But he also acknowledges that love of music is not enough to express appreciation for music's value or its potential, and he says most of what has been written about music "has nothing to do with music" but merely "describes the state into which the hearer was thrown as he sat on his chair in the concert hail and the visual images which occurred to him in that sedentary position" (110). …


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