An unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort

MauriceWhen Maurice reaches a low point in his life he consults the now retired family doctor. Maurice at first tells the doctor he has a problem with women, but after the doctor responds to everything from unwanted pregnancy to impotence, Maurice admits to being “an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort.” The doctor responds, “Rubbish.” How often do you hear science defined by literature?

But the doctor’s response was indicative of the times:

Dr. Barry had given the best advice he could. He had read no scientific works on Maurice’s subject. None had existed when he walked the hospitals, and any published since were in German, and therefore suspect. Adverse to it by temperament, he endorsed the verdict of society gladly; that is to say, his verdict was theological. He held that only the most depraved could glance at Sodom, and so, when a man of good antecedents and physique confessed the tendency, “Rubbish, rubbish!” was his natural reply. He was quite sincere. He believed that Maurice had heard some remark by chance, which had generated morbid thoughts, and that the contemptuous silence of a medical man would at once deplete them.

E. M. Forster wrote Maurice early in the century but it was not published until 1971. Interestingly, this was just after I left graduate school. I remember students being aware of which English writer was homosexual and which died of consumption … add opium and you had a good picture of the literary world of the 19th century. But even so, no one was openly writing about a gay lifestyle. I don’t suspect that Forster was the first but his novel was an early revelation.

In my reading I have gone from Gary Indiana’s Rent Boy to those unspeakables of the Oscar Wilde sort, from unnecessarily graphic representation to sighing and handwringing in the dark … homosexuality is a powerful theme in literature but it is happily losing its value. Today we can read a book where a character has dark hair and not consider “dark hair” to be a theme; tomorrow we will read a book where a character is gay and not consider being gay a theme of the novel. This is not to say that homosexual experiences or relationships won’t be considered plot worthy in the future, after all, we still get novels about married life or kids growing up or race car drivers.

I’m not suggesting that Maurice as an important work in the history of literature but it does have value. For all the books I have read with homosexual themes and characters, Maurice is one of the few that shows a happy homosexual relationship and suggests that going against the natural tendencies (otherwise referred to as the unnatural tendencies) is not good.

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