Alec ~ A Capsule Book Review

Alec cover
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

English author E. M. Forster lived from 1879 to 1970. He wrote his novel Maurice in 1912-1913, but it wasn’t published until 1971, after his death. The reason for the delay in publication is the novel’s unusual subject matter: an upper-class gentleman, Maurice Hall, has a homosexual affair with a man of the lower class, Alec Scudder, who happens to work as a gamekeeper for the salary of twelve pounds a year. Homosexuality was still a crime in Britain in 1912-1913, so Forster feared serious backlash from such a novel, especially since it has a happy, positive conclusion. Maurice Hall and Alec Scudder are not freaks and they don’t destroy themselves at the end of the book.

Fifty years after its publication and more than a hundred years after it was written, Maurice remains enduringly popular. Now a writer named William di Canzio has written a novel, Alec, that picks up where Maurice left off.

It’s 1913, a repressive time in England for men of a different stripe. When Maurice Hall goes to his friend’s estate for a visit, he encounters a gamekeeper named Alec Scudder. They both harbor a secret that they keep from the world. When Alec boldly climbs into the window of Maurice’s room late at night, a barrier between them falls away. They find they connect in all the important ways, even though they belong to different classes. Alec plans to emigrate soon to Argentina, but Maurice gets him to stay in England. They decide they will spend their lives together, knowing they will face tremendous disapproval from the world.

That might be the end of the story, but it’s 1914 and war breaks out (what will later become known as World War I). Maurice and Alec must do their part for their country, so they both enlist. They think they can be together during their military service, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Alec joins the Welsh Fusiliers and Maurice ends up fighting in Gallipoli in Turkey, a hell-hole if there ever was one, where fighting conditions for English soldiers could not have been worse.

Almost the second half of Alec is about the hellish trials that Alec and Maurice both face in the war. They are both wounded and must endure loneliness, hardship and deprivation. What’s worse, they aren’t able to communicate with each other, so neither knows if the other still lives. In the chaos and confusion of war, Maurice is listed as “missing in action.” Is he one of the many fatalities of war, or does he still live?

If you have ever read Maurice by E. M. Forster and are a fan, you must by all means read Alec. It may offer nothing new about the struggle that gay men face in a hostile world, but it’s a  compelling and intelligent reading experience. The war in Alec is well-researched and has a feeling of immediacy. As with many wars before and after, it was a war of blunders and mismanagement, of “lions being led by donkeys.” The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Maurice ~ A Capsule Book Review

Maurice ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) was one of the best English novelists of the twentieth century. His novels are intelligent and literate, while also being entertaining and broadly appealing. He wrote the novel Maurice in 1913, but, because of its unconventional subject matter, it wasn’t published for decades, not until 1971.

The novel is set during the years before World War I. Maurice Hall is an upper middle-class youth from a conventional family; his father is dead; he has a mother and two sisters. He attends Cambridge University, where he meets and comes to know Clive Durham. These two “boys” (young men) are quite different from each other. Maurice doesn’t mind breaking the rules when it suits him, which eventually gets him “sent down” (expelled) from school. Clive is more mindful of convention.

As was common with English schoolboys living away from home, Maurice and Clive enter into a furtive homosexual relationship. For Maurice, his passion for Clive is all-consuming, all-important, and built to last a lifetime. He comes to care more for Clive than for anything else in the world.

The love affair (to others, it’s a very close friendship) between Maurice and Clive continues after school. Maurice works in the business his father worked in. Clive manages his family’s estate and gives dinner parties. Maurice spends as many evenings a week with Clive (and weekends) as he can manage.

A bad bout of influenza at age twenty-four leaves Clive weak and debilitated, but, more to the point, it leaves him preferring women. He and Maurice are finished as lovers but they can, of course, remain friends. Clive soon lands a woman named Anne, with whom he becomes besotted in a very short time. They soon marry, which is what every young man is supposed to do.

Maurice doesn’t really understand how Clive can suddenly prefer Anne over him, but he takes the news with apparent equanimity. As hurt as he is, he knows, logically, that turning to women is the exact right thing for men of his sort. He consults a medical doctor who instructs him to quit having morbid thoughts. A hypnotist advises him to move to Italy or France, where homosexuality is not recognized as a crime.

Enter Alec Scudder. He is an uncouth country lad, the gamekeeper on Clive’s estate. Even though Maurice and Alec are of separate classes, Alec recognizes in Maurice a fellow traveler. They come together when Maurice is visiting Clive’s estate and soon they are in love. As Maurice says, there is “one chance in a thousand” that he and Alec found each other. The only problem is that Alec is emigrating to the Argentine in about a week. Can Maurice persuade him to remain in England? Any kind of a longtime relationship between the two is by definition going to be fraught with difficulties. Not only are they of different classes, but they are outcasts from the world. (He was despise-ed, he was rejected, and acquainted with grief.)

The novel has a happy ending. How can that be? The happy ending is why the novel wasn’t publishable at the time it was written. Homosexuality was a criminal offense in England. Any novel, regardless of its literary merit, that allows two homosexual men to go on their merry way without destroying themselves or ending up in prison was an outrage against public morals. People wanted to see these people punished. Not happy. Never happy.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp