The Book That Didn't Bark: Forster's Maurice.

AuthorNormey, Rob
PositionE.M. Forster

November 2, 2018

You have no doubt heard the expression "the dog that didn't bark--a wonderful phrase emanating from an old Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. I would like to conduct a little touch of literary sleuthing and ask why E.M Forster, eminent English novelist, declined decade after decade to publish the one and only novel that deeply explored the truth of his nature as a gay man. His literary executor published Maurice in 1971, one year after Forster's death. In exploring the decision to refrain from publishing a book first completed in 1914, we can also ponder the question of if and when a writer has a duty as citizen and public intellectual to enter the public arena and adopt a clear position on a contentious issue. I suggest that publishing the novel in the late 1950s would have been an ideal intervention on Forster's part in the debate over whether to decriminalize homosexuality.

E.M Forster was one of the century's truly great novelists. Following a string of elegant comic novels, Forster penned an ambitious Condition-of England novel, Howard's End, in 1910. Fourteen years elapsed before he wrote his masterpiece, A Passage to India. He then clearly struggled, publishing no novels at all for the last 46 years of his life. Yet all the while, he had another novel that he circulated to those close friends he thought would be sympathetic to his attempt to depict a positive gay relationship in Edwardian England. The legal context to his decision to refuse to "let his novel bark" is critical. Homosexual relations between men was against the criminal law. Harsh punishments could be meted out. Further, obscenity laws prohibited works that depicted gay or lesbian relationships from being published, or at least created a risk of prosecution. While all of this is true, it certainly does not provide a full explanation for Forster's unwillingness to take a public stand. In the 1950s attitudes began to change in English society, particularly amongst writers and their readers. Mary Renault forged ahead with her novel The Charioteerin 1953. Even earlier, Angus Wilson wrote his remarkable novel Hemlock and After, in 1952. This tale of an aging novelist and bisexual who journeys through the homosexual underworld calls into question certain liberal pieties and the potential pitfalls of liberal humanism. It also brought squarely into the open areas of British life--homosexuals making assignations that were illegal and subject to harsh...

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