Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity

By James Eli Adams | Go to book overview

Afterword

At the end of chapter 10 of E. M. Forster novel Maurice, Forster's hero comes to a momentous decision: "He would live straight, not because it mattered to anyone now, but for the sake of the game. He would not deceive himself so much. He would not—and this is the test—pretend to care about women when the only sex that attracted him was his own. He loved men and had always loved them" (62). Students in late-twentieth-centuryAmerica tend to be puzzled, perhaps bemused, at Maurice's resolve to "live straight" by acknowledging that he loves men. The puzzle, they recognize after a moment's perplexity, stems from the fact that "straight" here does not mean "heterosexual"; it means "straightforwardly," directly, openly. The word in this sense grounds Maurice's dangerous avowal of his desires within the complex history that I have tried to sketch in this book. "Straight," that is, appeals to a familiar norm of middle-class manhood, particularly that of the late Victorian public school—a world richly evoked in the appeal, "for the sake of the game." Even as Maurice attempts to break free of respectable norms of masculinity, his new sense of self is constructed, inevitably, out of an existing rhetoric of masculine identity. And within that rhetoric, being "straight" is opposed, not to loving men, but to being guarded, furtive, evasive, deceptive, tangential, oblique, bent—"queer," perhaps.

What we glimpse in Forster's novel, I suggest, is the emergence of our late-twentieth-century idiom of male sexuality from a Victorian discourse of masculine identity—a discourse in which masculinity is centrally bound up with dynamics of communication. One aspect of this continuum is a commonplace: Maurice is "an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort" (159), whose "criminal morbidity" is (of course) the love

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