EM Forster’s reinvention of “Maurice” – a gay love story that chronicles the relationship between an aristocratic English gentleman, Maurice Hall, and a working-class gamekeeper, Alec Scudder – comes alive with dynamism in the first novel by playwright William di Canzio “Alec”. Forster originally wrote “Maurice” in 1913 and attempted revisions twice during his lifetime, but his published words never saw the light of day until 1971 after his death. Forster believed the book was unreleased during his lifetime due to public attitudes and the law regarding same-sex love. Once published, however, the book became one of the most classic gay love stories ever written.
In di Canzio’s story, Alec Scudder’s backstory, told with Alec’s agency and point of view, becomes the driving force behind the story. Born in 1893 in Dorset, England, to a working-class family, Alec realized early on that he was different because of his attraction to other men. He grows up without shame of his homosexuality and does not apologize for what he feels, unlike Maurice who had difficulty in accepting his homosexuality. He was an insatiable reader in school and was accomplished in sports. As he grew older, he cultivated a constant interest in the male physique and began to exercise with weights to sculpt his torso. He desperately wants the ideal male body. In due course he has his first sexual experience with another male bodybuilder. Shortly after, he reluctantly left for successive gamekeeper jobs in Michaelmount and Penge, two renowned estates.
It was in Penge that he met Maurice, who had shared a three-year unfulfilled love affair with Clive Durham, owner of the Penge estate. Clive, after suffering from a brief illness, decides to end her relationship with Maurice and suddenly declares that he is “normal” and has decided to get married. Maurice’s love no longer being shared, he falls in love with the handsome gamekeeper. The two quickly fall in love and soon begin a passionate romance that consumes them both. Di Canzio makes extensive use of over thirty pages of dialogue from Forester’s novel, which he documents at the end. This allows di Canzio to inform and magnify its history with the influence of the original text.
Increasing the timeline of the original text, di Canzio incorporates Forster’s never-before-seen epilogue as the two lovers begin their fiery and illicit romance. They plan to move to the English countryside, raising and hunting game for sale to hotels and restaurants. The couple begin to meet other men who “live outside the law,” and these new bohemian characters give the story extra dimension and richness.
As Maurice and Alex’s life unfolds, the world is plunged into the turmoil of WWI. The two decide to enlist, believing they would be stationed together. However, their social class differences preclude this possibility and the two men are unfortunately separated. Maurice is sent as an officer to serve in North Africa, and Alex an infantryman of the British army serving on the battlefields of France.
This is where di Canzio delivers some of the best parts of his novel. With Maurice ending up at the Battle of Gallipoli and Alex in the trenches of the Somme, the true horrors of war become evident to them as they suffer the violence and death of a protracted armed conflict. The scenes are written in a lively and captivating way and the response of the two protagonists is realistic and portrayed in a traumatic way.
The post-war scenes also have a power that supports the narrative and are very compelling. Suffering from PTSD and not knowing whether Maurice is alive or dead, Alex is fighting for his life in a village in the south of France. As the story unfolds, di Canzio focuses on the love of Alec and Maurice as they seek to reunite in the aftermath of the war. These are some of the best chapters, full of suspense and spellbinding.
Forster, in writing “Maurice”, wanted the story to end well – a hallmark of classics in LGBTQ literature. A standard for homosexual love stories of the time would have deemed appropriate a conclusion of misfortune or misfortune, so much the love between people of the same sex was reprehensible for the mores of the time. Forster, however, set a new standard, and di Canzio followed suit and made a valiant and satisfying statement with his expanded account. The gaps and unknowns in Maurice and Alec’s life together are filled with a sense of completion and accomplishment that pays homage to Forster’s intention and original story. Forster, I think, would be delighted.
By Guillaume di Canzio
Posted in July
Farrar, Straus and Girouix, 336 pages, $ 27.00