Saturday, November 05, 2011

Maurice: EM Forster's Classic...

At the suggestion of a dear MOHO friend, especially with my current gay-themed movie watching mood in full bloom, I sat down and watched "Maurice", EM Forster's classic autobiographical gay tale of growing up and coming to terms with homosexuality in Edwardian turn of the century days as a student at Oxford. I had seen snapshots of the story on YouTube, but never had I taken the time to watch it in its entirety.

Until now.

The Merchant-Ivory beautiful period piece of pre WWI England captured me completely. A huge fan of "A Room with a View" and "Howard's End", I watched it intently and devotedly, and came away thinking how much I have been or am part of the two main characters, Clive and Maurice (pronounced "Morris").

In one scene, Clive is the pursuer of Maurice's affection, and Maurice is the innocent and affectionate friend, never imagining that their caresses or fondness for each other, their playing with each other's hair, or long embraces meant anything but bromantic friendship. How this was me with my Italian friend during my mission... he affectionately in love with me, and me incapable of recognizing his advances as anything more than romantic friendship. Nothing happened until he professed his love for me, and I rebuked him, still some 30 years later feeling the pain of having done so.

Later Maurice rethinks his friend's confession of love for him, and sneaks into Clive's window and hugs and kisses him and professes his love as well... This scene reminded me of being in my friend's bedroom after my mission and returning to the mission as a RM and wrapping myself on top of him and kissing him - and now him shocked, reminding me of my RM status, and that I was to be going to the Swiss Temple that next morning, and shouldn't I return to my own bed.

The roles reverse again and Maurice finds this discovery of male contact insatiable and desires to have it more and more, while Clive returns to the role of proper gentlemen, marrying, keeping up proper appearances, status and decorum. This is when I come to my senses, stop pursuing a life with my friend post-mission, and return home, settle into a proper, righteous role as priesthood holder, provider and companion to a wife, marrying within 1 year. My friend comes to visit before entering the MTC, he still physically wants me, hugs me, kisses me in that guest bedroom, my wife down the hall left to wonder, and I hold back his physical advances reminding him of his temple visit that next day in preparation for his missionary service, and that we must keep our relationship within bromantic terms of friendship, with proper appearances, dignity, worthiness of temple blessings, and decorum above all else - passion be damned.

Oh how I bounced between these two characters, sympathizing and truly understanding each.

Maurice seeks to be cured by a doctor who puts him in a hypnotic trance. I've sought counseling as well, in hopes of finding the cure, or at least the cause for why I'm this way. So far, for Maurice the hypnosis did no good. So far, for me, the counseling has either been of no use or self-indulgent.

In the end, Clive is resolute to a life of self-hatred. He resolves to be a slave to his position, or station in society instead of a slave to his passion. I, too, have resolved to be a slave to my family, marriage, church position, and job status and predominate culture, instead of releasing my reigns and being a slave of my passions for men. I have done a pretty great job of hating myself.

In the end, Maurice throws caution to the wind, potentially losing his status, career, and opening himself to public ridicule and abuse, and allowing passion to win in the end with a man he loves. This part I can certainly understand but haven't yet embraced. It's a nice romantic idea, but not very practical. The two had nothing in common, but their passion. Their interests, education, and common experiences were so vastly different that in "reality" it would have never worked... but the story ends with the observer left to wonder if "passion conquers all", and that being authentic in one's attractions of who one is, is the most important thing.

"Now we shan't never be parted..."

I'm left wondering... wondering if I will forever be the proper gentlemen, secure in my stately home of position, with a loving wife who always wonders who I'm talking to , or what I'm thinking about, and me locking the doors and windows tight from those outside intruders, but while doing so, longing looking to see if anyone may still be coming to steal me away. Or wondering if I could have ever found happiness with my Italian friend had we given it a chance, despite our differences of culture and experience, allowing passion to rule the day, recognizing that church membership, family, position in society, etc. would be lost due to our relationship... but would we be happy? Would the physical passion be sustaining enough? Or would we be on to other more suited to our likings?

"I was yours 'til death once if you'd have cared to keep me..."

Oh the questions. I will never know. My friend, upon returning home early, acquired AIDS and soon thereafter died a miserably painful death. And I, the Clive of the story, was too proud to embrace him in his time of need, of reaching out for my love and affection - leading him to a pathway to self-destruction.
EM Forster's "Maurice" was hidden from being published until after his death, and even upon being published, it was shunned as an inferior literary work in comparison to his other novels. Yet, this film's 1987 interpretation feels real, genuine, and thought-provoking. I want to read his words. I want to obtain a copy and read it for myself. For you see, like Forster, like his two protagonists, Clive and Maurice, like my Italian soul mate and me, we are lost in the world of homosexuality amidst a backdrop of intolerance and bigotry...

What did the hypnotic doctor state - something along the lines that "I would advise you to live in some country... France, Italy, where homosexuality is no longer criminal...Will England ever come around?... England has always been disinclined to accept human nature". What a great line!

It's interesting to read some of the YouTube comments:

"aren't we so fortunate to have been born in a day where it's less sucky to be gay"...

...whereupon another responds: "Man, how can we expect change when even all you guys are fighting about what the "right" attitude should be for homosexuals growing up during this time. Of course he wanted to be cured, who wouldn't want to be cured of something they are told everyday is wrong. When it's shamed in the house and in church. Now we have people to talk to, supporters, and support. Seriously, don't judge what you don't understand. We weren't there, we didn't live it".

Whereupon I respond with a chuckle... little do these commentators recognize the world that is mine that is still as Edwardian England here and now in the 21st Century Utah, as in 1913 England, where we are still and always will be "disinclined to accept human nature", where we still make choices that may seem counter-intuitive or incapable of living authentically... and where we "shouldn't judge what we don't understand."

I am there. I am here. I am living it still.


Trev said...

Wow, what a story--what stories. I'll have to check this out.

naturgesetz said...

I've never seen the whole thing — nothing before the scene where one of them kisses the other who has just collapsed at a party. But I think at one time or another I've seen every scene from then on, on Vimeo or something — the whole Alec Scudder part.

You seem to see yourself most like Clive in the story, and you see him as self-hating. I'm not so sure we should consider ourselves self-hating because we have not given in to our passions. A human should keep his activity under rational control, despite his passions. There may be times when passions may, even should, be followed, but the decision should be made by reason.

We are not entitled to happiness in this life. So our thinking "this will make me happy," does not necessarily mean that we are entitled to pursue it.

Besides, for aught we know, Clive, with his settled life, would have ultimately been happier than Maurice.

All that said, I think we may legitimately regret that we did not know how to develop a satisfying friendship with another guy or guys. There were always guys I was in love with, and while my feelings were not overtly and explicitly sexual, it is telling that I never developed such a desire toward a woman. But two things impeded me from developing a relationship — beyond my shyness, and changing circumstances which ended our contact — one was the fact that they were straight and I was in the closet, and so had to be careful not to say too much. The other is that I would not have felt safe developing an intimate friendship with an acknowledged homosexual of the danger of the relationship becoming sexually active. I did not see the possibility of an intimate, non-sexual friendship with a gay man.

Now I see that it is possible, and I have begun to develop friendships with other men. In one case we are out to each other and agree that we don't want sex. In another, the man is not out, and I'm not even sure of his orientation — but he's 50ish and single and never speaks of any activities with women. But even though my intentions are honorable, I feel the need for some measure of caution in order to avoid outing myself to my whole community.

I gather you're in a similar situation. Your marriage complicates the process of developing a satisfying intimate friendship. You have family obligations which have to be met, just as I have community expectations to live up to. But in some ways you may have an advantage. Being out to your wife means that you can be honest with her about what is going on, and her presence in your life keeps you "accountable" as the Evangelicals say. Being married also gives you a certain degree of cover. I mean, a close friendship which a married man has with another guy will not provoke suspicion as readily as one where both parties are unmarried.

So don't be too sorry that your life seems like Clive's. Don't be sorry that you didn't become Maurice.

Anonymous said...

I have a slightly different viewpoint. I struggled from the same position of an active Mormon for decades before coming to the spiritually inspired position that I wasn't changing; that God wasn't going to change me; and, especially, that I was part of the creation which God said was good. Shortly afterward, I came out to the bishop of my ward.

Since that happened, I came to the conclusion that if a heterosexual man should not live alone and that he needed to learn how to love, care for, and be a companion to another, so did gay men.

I am deeply grateful for the companion (literally, one with whom I break bread) I have. We have been together now for over fifteen years and married legally for over three. I do not regret the path I have chosen, though I have lost some things as a result.


Jonathan Fairborn said...

I saw it years ago, while I was still married. I had a torrent of mixed feelings: envy, pity, excitement, longing, sadness, admiration, hope. I understood the hearts and hopes and fears of both guys perfectly. It was amazing to see that not only was I not alone, other guys who lived long before I did had felt the same things I did. That by itself gave me some courage.

I can't and won't presume to speak to your situation, Mr. Beck, or your reactions to the movie. But I agree with you that it is heart-rendingly beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I watched Brokeback Mountain four times. The first time I cried my eyeballs out. The second and third times I cried less each time. The fourth time I got angry.

What happened?

The first time I totally identified with the victimization both men endured. The second and third time I studied the men's reactions to this vicitmization and how it affected each of them and their relationship. The fourth time my emotions weren't running so high and I saw what was there all along that at some point both men had become complicit in their victimization.

That's how I felt about Clive. A victim but also a victimizer.

By the way, the Director of Brokeback Mountain also directed another gay film that was totally different but also excellent, "The Wedding Banquet".


Beck said...

TREV: Please do so. I highly recommend it for its beauty, its quality, its story with which I relate on so many different levels.

NATURGESETZ: I see myself really as both, having very deep emotions relating to both predicaments - relating to my past and to my current conditions. My current condition identifies more with Clive, and I see the parting shot of him staring out the window, longing.

Sure he has the stability and blessing of his marital relationship, but he remains conflicted no matter how resolute he is to stay within cultural and social confines. His happiness is in his stability, but his lack of passion is painful... a pain that cannot be satisfied no matter how "happy" he may seem.

He is NOT out to his wife, and thus, he spends enormous amounts of energy to "hide" his passions from her. I have done this and it is enormously tiring. Now out to her, I can "talk" when it is appropriate or necessary, but mostly it just isn't addressed... better left tucked away.

And thus, I stare out the window, left to wonder, left to long for what Maurice is able to do... knowing he will never have what I have (cultural, social, political, religious, familial acceptance) but knowing things that I'll never know.

Is he better off? Not necessarily with Alec, but maybe with someone else... who knows... one is left to wonder.

Beck said...

GAYMANINHAWAII: Your story is Maurice's for sure... you found your passion and you were able to make it real and lasting - something Clive will never know.

So you mention those things that you had that you "lost" in the process. May I ask what were they? And how did you deal with that loss? And was it worth it?

JONATHAN: Yes, all of those emotions are beautifully portrayed and they linger in me in multi-dimensions - something rarely achieved in a film.

Beck said...

PHILIP: My experience with Brokeback Mountain has been similar. I've only watched it twice, the first time a couple of years ago, and the second time this last week. The first time I was extremely emotional and could only think of the plight of the men. The second time I could only think of the plight of the people around these men. In that second view, I could not cry for them. The tears weren't there. I just felt frustrated and disturbed by the whole thing.

With "Maurice", I've watched it twice now as well, but within a week of each, and I still feel for these men and their predicaments, relating to both. I do see Clive as both a victim and a victimizer, particularly in those bedroom scenes... though maybe not to the point that you have. Maybe I have to give it more space and watch again once my primary emotions subside.

So I can't help but think: Am I a victim? Or am I a victimizer?

I think I am a victim of my emotions and attractions as I've chosen to live, but accepting them and internalizing them without hatred, angst or despising, has decreased my feelings of victimization. Opening up to my wife and giving her the choice of how to deal with the truth of the matter has decreased my victimizing her (or her me).

Yet, I still stare out that window...

Freddie said...

Maurice isn't autobiographical. It contains elements of what Cambridge students called "honeymooning" with a fellow student. Forster said he himself was more like an old maid aunt most of his life. He went to India where his host Raj noticed his melancholy and asked why his guest was not happy. After learning of Forster's tastes, he arranged that an itinerant barber would come once a week and spend private time with Forster under the guise of his regular services. No one questioned and Forster was happy for the first time in his life.

Maurice is noteworthy because it is the first known novel in English (referring to its creation, not its actual publication) where homosexual love does not end in tragedy. This being the case, the emphasis should be on seeing the positive development, not on the merits or probability of living in the wilds of England with a social inferior. When British society began to honestly treat homosexuality with the work of the Wolfeden Report, they found that among the greatest fears of the establishment, regarding homosexuality, was that mixing of the classes for love without regard to status!

Beck said...

FREDDIE: I guess I used the word "autobiographical" in a more general sense implying Forster's life at Cambridge, and his hidden homosexuality and its consequences or ramifications of Edwardian England.

Thank you for educating me more about his life in India. I intend to purchase "Maurice" and read it myself to understand and feel more - and hopefully relish in the joy that is life embraced instead of pain in the life locked securely behind a window.

Anonymous said...

I strongly recommend reading the book and watching the movie alternately several times. As a sixty year old closeted married man, it actually allowed me to understand how I felt and acted. Eventually, I accepted the decisions I made.