By Guillaume di Canzio
When it debuted, EM Forster’s “Maurice” offered a rarefied take on the queer possibility: a happy ending for gay men, with the book’s protagonist, the wealthy and well-educated stockbroker Maurice Hall, finding love with the young gardener Alec Scudder. The book was originally written in 1913 and 1914, but Forster tinkered with the manuscript for decades until it was finally published posthumously in 1971. So it looked at its initially contemporary novel era. in a period piece embalmed about the crippling, self-cannibalistic anxieties that homosexual men lived in early 20th century England. But, as he writes in a 1960 “Terminal Note” which serves as an addendum to his manuscript, sketching out a happy ending was still an imperative for the book: “I was determined that in fiction anyway. , two men should fall in love and stay in it forever and ever as fiction allows, and in that sense Maurice and Alec are still wandering in the green forest. “
Forster hasn’t dared to introduce readers further into the future of his lovers, other than letting us know they end up together. To dream of their material lives over the fateful years that followed would have tainted the idyllic “never and ever” he suggested at the end of his book.
Enter: “Alec,” by William di Canzio, a novel that aims to both complement and complement “Maurice” by picking up Forster’s characters and plunging them into the mud-riddled trenches of the Great War.
In ‘Alec’ di Canzio (re) introduces readers to Maurice’s lover, starting with Alec’s birth in Dorset in 1893 and following his growth and his own personality. Here, Alec has a shrewd self-awareness of his sexual desires and a decidedly modern approach to satisfying them (not only does he not despise his homosexuality, but he even finds a certain trump card in it: “It kept him from having sexual desires. trouble with the girls. ”). He also developed increasingly radical political ideals, although he remained enamored and devoted to Mauritius, wealthy and educated in Cambridge.
For anyone who’s ever read “Maurice” (or seen the faint-worthy 1987 film adaptation), the first third of “Alec” will run on familiar ground. As the story revisits the original’s cricket matches, nightly dates, and botched blackmail attempts, now seen from Alec’s perspective, this Forster twin sheet is at times in danger of being too indebted to its source.
Once di Canzio breaks through the figurative greenwood of his borrowed characters, his goal of reviving them becomes clearer. By following the couple beyond one happily ever after, di Canzio makes Forster’s wish all the more tangible as he shows these characters building lives for themselves on their own terms.
There is a radical romantic take here that is as old-fashioned as it is modern and refreshing, with this war-torn couple pining for each other as they hold their love in highest esteem, disregarding the law. and English customs.
“We have so few role models, men like us, for privacy, for dedication that lasts,” a friend told the couple, reflecting on how the war has inadvertently opened their eyes to the life they ‘he refused. “No fault on our part. How many of our stories have been erased from history, from memory? Without stories, we are made to feel alone, unnatural, ashamed. “
Di Canzio’s novel reads as an attempt to make these forgotten men feel less alone, to proliferate their stories. In nudist country shelters in peacetime, codified arrangements between soldiers and majors during wartime, spooky encounters in mainland brothels on leave, and heated lounge conversations about Hellenistic poetry after the armistice, the novel presents the many ways in which other “outlaws” like Maurice and Alec have managed, albeit tenuously, to carve out spaces for themselves.
“Alec” is fiction as queer archeology, demonstrating that looking back does not necessarily mean looking back.