Becoming Gay in E.M. Forster's 'Maurice.'

By Harned, Jon | Papers on Language & Literature, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

Becoming Gay in E.M. Forster's 'Maurice.'

Harned, Jon, Papers on Language & Literature

The term "homosexuality" appears only twice in Maurice, both times in pronouncements by the psychiatrist Dr. Lasker Jones. Otherwise when the narrative requires that Maurice's sexual orientation be designated in some way, terminology from another, older discourse about sexuality is used, that of ecclesiastical and civil law, as when Maurice describes himself to Dr. Barry as "an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort" (159), a confession that Dr. Barry could discount because he "had read no scientific works on Maurice's subject" and thus believed that "only the most depraved could glance at Sodom" (160). Were Dr. Barry familiar enough with the contemporary medical/psychiatric literature to have known the term "homosexual," which had been introduced into English in 1892 through a translation of Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia sexualis (1887), he might have regarded Maurice's disclosure in another light, for "sodomy" designated acts that any sinner might commit from time to time, whereas in the voluminous scientific writing on sexual abnormalities in the nineteenth century, the "homosexual" had become a species of people (Foucault 43). By the time Maurice was composed, the creation of a new discourse about the "homosexual" had also brushed aside the nineteenth-century term "sexual inversion," which selected a reversal of gender roles as the defining feature of sexual pathology, and thus even more firmly established sexual preference as an identity - an identity, according to David M. Halperin, "polarized around a central opposition rigidly defined by the binary play of sameness and difference in the sexes of the sexual partners; people henceforward belonged to one or the other of two exclusive categories" (16).

This immensely influential reconceptualization also gave rise to "reverse" discourses, as Michel Foucault has called them (101), and to an extent Maurice is such a creation, a plea for the acceptance of homosexual desire as a "natural" condition. It is important to note, however, that unlike many "reverse" discourses, the novel does not fall into the trap of confirming the very legitimacy of the normative medical/psychiatric discourse that stigmatized homosexuals. Some of its characters prefer sex with partners of the same sex and some with partners of the opposite sex, but it does not represent homosexual desire as the essence of a timeless identity or homosexuality as one of two mutually exclusive sexual categories. Clive Durham accepts the first of these premises and most of the characters the latter, but Forster was too shrewd a psychologist not to recognize the inextricability of the two categories and his novel insistently undermines their opposition.

One challenge to the new taxonomy of sexual orientation emerges from the bits and pieces of information we are given about the relationship between Maurice and his father. In the first chapter the elder Hall is said to have "recently died of pneumonia" (11) when Maurice is fourteen and graduates from the same preparatory school that his father had attended twenty-five years before. Maurice's father must thus have become fatally ill at the relatively young age of thirty-nine or forty. In the next chapter we learn that at about the same time as his father's death Maurice experiences homoerotic longings for the garden boy, George. Forster does not explicitly advance a theory to explain why Maurice becomes homosexual, and one cannot plausibly invoke the misogynistic and homophobic cliche of post-world War II American psychiatry that he is the victim of an overly devoted mother and an absent father, for Maurice is not portrayed as a "mama's boy," emotionally close though he is to her as an adolescent. On the contrary, the novel emphasizes his masculinity - his fondness for sports, his indifference to aesthetics, his likeness to his father in manner as well as appearance. Indeed, the close temporal connection implied between the death of the elder Hall and Maurice's first inklings of his homosexuality suggests that Maurice might best be understood symbolically as his father's repressed Other, the sign of a fracture within the father that results in his illness and early demise. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Becoming Gay in E.M. Forster's 'Maurice.'


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.