Sometimes…Life IS Elsewhere: The Tragic Lives of a “Schizophrenigenic Mother” and a Hopless Narcissist

A very recent manic obsession—and deliberate attempt to prime myself for Proust—has led me to the back to the delicious cruelty of the Milan Kundera novel.  Laughable Loves—I believe—was the last work I read–back in my heyday, as a budding English major–some 20 years ago.  Despite the extended hiatus, Kundera remains one of my favorite authors of all time: a fact that I will swear to until my dying day.  What impress me most about his writing is its unapologetic realism.  His characters—in all their humanness—never fail to entice, as their soiled layers are skillfully peeled back, exposing all the vulnerabilities and foibles we see in each other: the ones we never speak of aloud, especially when we see them in ourselves.   Apart from this, Kundera always manages to set the stage of a chapter—or scene—with a Spartan masculinity that provides just enough structure to carry the reader from line to line, while never allowing his characterizations to fade away into the background.  Protagonists and supporting characters, alike, experience life very much like we do with all of its absurdities and often harsh ironies, drawing us in even closer.

With naked bodies that wrinkle and sag and faces of the homeliest imaginings, Kundera celebrates the sexuality of “everyman,” forever dispelling the myth that only a chosen few—the young and the beautiful–have been blessed with the opportunity—and right—for carnal pleasures.  Most importantly, such portrayals suggest a common thread that runs through us all, elevating sex from lascivious act to a universal vibration.  With the masterful stroke of his pen, Kundera makes the most dubious instants of physicality pulsate with a sexuality that pulls you in, hungrily, searching for climax.  Thick, black, bushy triangles nestled between ample thighs. The lingering scent of lovers’ juices on fingers, clothes, and hair.  Your eyes tell you to cringe, but your brain reads on in lip-licking anticipation, engaging any and every sense at your disposal to bring the fluttering in your chest to final resolution.  Nothing—and no one—is ugly in Kundera’s world.  All have the capacity for pleasure.  Everyone actively—or in a state of potentiality—embody that which we call Love.

Kundera’s genius—perhaps rivaled only by his former work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being—is ever present in one of his most recent works, Life is Elsewhere.  A much simpler work in terms of its interplay of characters, Life is Elsewhere focuses its energies in a more singular fashion than we have come to expect from Kundera in terms of plot.  We are captivated by fewer characters in this work; however, the characterizations that demand our attention are more vibrant and commands more space than any of his others.  Rather than share facts and characteristics, Kundera paints portraits within the pages of this book, leaving nothing to the imagination or faulty interpretation.  The reader walks away feeling he knows, intimately, the two main characters of this book:  Mama and her son Jaromil, two sides of the same coin.

I won’t mince words here…what Mama and Jaromil lack in character and self-individuation, they make up for in pathology.  Truthfully, they are quite despicable, though in the beginning, they are more comical in their dysfunction than they were repugnant.  On one hand, we have an over-bearing, affection-starved woman who’s singular purpose in life is that of being a source of dependency to her helpless son.  In fact, the depths to which she will go in order to psychologically castrate him to ensure such devotion extends even as far as the bedroom, though, there is nothing incestuous about this mind game, mind you.  In truth, Mama’s manipulation stems not from the sexualizing of her son, but from her need to be the center of his world.  Unfortunately, this creates an adult child whose capacity for devouring attention and validation is rivaled only by the narcissism of today’s TV reality show “stars”.  Despite being grown, he has never really lived life: he hasn’t matured. Jaromil bounds through life one tantrum after another, riding compliments and his own ego trips like Aladdin atop a magic carpet, keeping his eye on castles in the sky rather than the ground below.  Worse yet, sexuality in his hands is transformed into cruelty and violence: a child’s response to any emotion beyond his scope.  Put them together and you have the makings of a tragedy.

At some point, Jaromil is led to believe that he is this amazing poet; however, one never really comes to that conclusion, organically.  Sure, his mother tells him he is awesome every day, but we would expect the same result if he had broken wind at the dinner table.  Ultimately, he is a great poet (at least in his mind) because people tell him so.  The ironic twist here is that Jaromil has been so sheltered that he has never been able to really form any opinions of his own, nor has he ever experienced anything from which to draw inspiration.  Like most artists of today, he takes the thoughts, opinions, and words of others, and recycles them into “original ideas” and poetic musings.  Very often in the book, we are told that Jaromil speaks “in another’s voice” or “with the words of another.”  Funny that someone as emotionally stunted, as this, could be praised for his poetry on love.  I guess every generation has its Justin Bieber.

The older Mama and Jaromil become, the more their narcissism and toxic relationship fester into a big pool of sick.  Ironically, the more dependent Jaromil becomes on his mother (and vice versa) the more he wants to strike out on his own.  This eventually leads to his undoing.  Ignoring her wish to stay home, he attends a party in the foulest of weather to pursue a woman.  After a humiliating event, he finds himself alone on a balcony, refusing to rejoin the party out of pride and childish arrogance.  Because of this he falls ill and dies.  Later we learn that Mama soon follows.

In a nutshell, Mama and Jaromil were born with a single destiny, to fill the voids within the other.  They were truly one another’s soul mate with whom no one could ever compete, as sick as that sounds.  One could go as far as to say their relationship was the main character.  When one ceased to exist, the other had no reason to go on living: the thing that nourished them, also drove them apart and—ultimately—destroyed them.  Sadly, this doesn’t sadden the reader for the reason one might think.  It is saddening not because of the loss of life, but because of the loss of what should have been.  Not such a foreign concept, really: we are often our own worst enemy.

I will definitely read this again…someday.

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Thomas Hardy and the Spirit of the Female Protagonist: Misogyny or Celebration

I am ashamed to admit this, but my but my opinion of English Literature had been rather grim during my days as a student at the University of Texas in the early 90s.  Not having been exposed to too much of it in my early academic career—only to be blindsided with a mandatory Shakespeare class—probably didn’t do much to assuage my distaste any (lest we forget to mention the 10 pound anthology that was required reading for the class AND $175 price tag).  Certainly, an easier read than Chaucer (shudder), I managed to muddle through, somehow, but was left unaffected by any of its attributes.  As you may know, it was around this time that I was introduced to E. M. Forster and things began to turn around in regards to my literary tastes.  Being a creature of habit, however, I managed to limit my international literary experience to almost any and every country but England.  I suspect PTSD.

Things change and we grow older, wiser (thank God).  Having expanded the breadth of my reading material since then, I still found my personal library lacking in writers that represented merry ol’ England, save Forster, of course.  Determined to break myself out of my narrow-minded rut, I resolved to rectify this by throwing myself at the first dead, English writer I could find that didn’t wear tights or a tutu around his neck.  After a casual stroll through one of my favorite bookstores, I perused the recent “staff picks” to see what I could scare up in terms of inspiration.  Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure was one selections I had come across and, based on its controversial history and psychological aspect, I immediately knew I had found a “winner.”

Keeping true to my obsessive-compulsive nature, I decided before reading Jude the Obscure that I had to systematically navigate my way through all of Hardy’s major works to gain some perspective on who this writer was (plus, reading any writer’s body of work out of sequence tends to spur on anxiety attacks…hey, it’s my thing).  So, with debit card in hand and the kind of crazed look one might only see on an episode of “Hoarders” I purchased five of his major works: Far From the Madding Crowd, Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure.

Now, entering this compact with Mr. Hardy was daunting to say the least in that I have always had an aversion to books that were REALLY thick and for anyone familiar with these works (except The Mayor of Casterbridge) there was some serious sweating going on.  Regardless, I have to say that my time with Hardy’s works has been one of the most enriching literary experiences of my life…even more so than my long-term love affair with E. M. Forster.  Hardy’s use of the pastoral, though subtle, pervades his works, filling the mind with the most amazing imagery; however, there is much more to it than that.  His use of pastoral isn’t just limited to setting and imagery; it really serves as a character, within his stories, operating silently and out of the reader’s purview (much like Manhattan in Sex and the City).

The characters in Hardy’s books, as amazingly complex and rich as they are, serve as mirrors to their respective environments, reflecting the beauty (and sometimes the cruelty) of nature (or society), itself.  One thing you will discover while reading these books is that it is really hard to tell where one stands in regards to character, regardless of the pretty pictures that might be imbued within the words of each page.  One definitely gets the feeling that these characters—and perhaps we—live perpetually on a moral precipice, teetering back and forth at the mercy of fate’s slightest whim.  This is, especially, evident in Hardy’s female characters, which with the turn of every page seem to vacillate between good and evil, moral and immoral, divine and demonic with little effort.  Punctuated more in his works prior to Jude the Obscure, Hardy’s portrayals of women tend to be very harsh and quite unflattering…even misogynistic.  These women(as mirrors) reflect nature’s aspects very differently in comparison to their male counterparts.  Hardy’s women reflect the chaos found in nature that destroys (passively and otherwise, unraveling all that is good by not only their actions, but by the innateness of their being).

One of the best examples of this is found in Far from the Madding Crowd when Bathsheba Everdene flees her home in despair and, exhausted, sleeps in the marsh surrounding her home.  We see her waking up the next morning, surrounded by weeping, poisonous toadstools (black with red and yellow spots),  as she rises from the ground, dampened with dew and shaking red and yellow leaves out of her raven black hair.  Portrayed as fiercely independent, horrifically vain, and cruel in her thoughtless disregard for the feelings of others, this one moment in the marsh gives us a true look at Hardy’s feeling towards the nature of woman (or perhaps just a select few).

We see a similar portrayal in Return of the Native’s Eustacia Vye.  Quite similar to Bathsheba, Eustacia is a woman of the land, though she hates it with every fiber of her being.  Pining, instead, for the lights and city streets of Paris, she grows ever resentful of her situation and with the tenacity and ambition of a woman “unsexed,” she does everything in her power to extract herself from the confines of Egdon Heath and its rural trappings.  Though beautiful like the land around her, she doesn’t reflect its vibrancy and life, made evident by her pale white skin (severely contrasted with the reddish hue of Diggory Venn, the reddleman, who is kinetic energy personified, almost catalytic).  Ironically, she seems to be one with the land that she detests like the back of her hand, suggesting a blatant rejection of the nature within—as well as without—casting an even darker shadow upon this member of the “kinder” sex.  With the ferocity of Hera in The Iliad, she manipulates and plays characters in the book to her own fancy, never taking in to account the damage and destruction that threaten to consume everyone involved.  Ironically, we see her (true) spirit taken by the land, which she despised so much when she accidentally drowns.  Deux ex machina is somewhat introduced into the story in which the pastoral setting, itself, acts as “the god in the machine”, bringing resolution to the conflict by calling its kindred “home”.  Given the fantastical elements of this book, the use of such a plot device is not out of place in the slightest (i.e. references to spirits and Diggory Venn’s allusion to A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Puck.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles continues to speak of the darker side of woman’s nature (according Hardy, that is), though without the embittered portrayal of the author that we have seen in previous works.  A rather overtly sexual book, Tess of the d’Urbervilles superficially victimizes its main character by placing her in one heinous situation after another (a tragedy in the truest sense), suggesting that the “powers that be” have rallied against her and doomed her to suffer.  Despite this pathetic portrayal, Hardy still manages to paint her as a passive protagonist, sowing destruction and pain through her irresistible beauty and kind nature.  Interestingly enough, he manages hint at her questionable nature by using the color red to suggest this angelic creature is not as pure and innocent and we may think her to be.  At a May Dance in the beginning of the book, we see Tess amongst a brood of other young girls, all dressed in white with ribbons in their hair.  Unlike her comrades who wear white ribbons, Tess prefers red (the color of passion and seduction).  We also see multiple references to her red mouth, which Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare find irresistible (though at one point her yawn seems to reveal the inner mouth of a snake).  In contrast to earlier works, we don’t see Tess given to acts of deliberate cruelty or treachery.  She is not a force that “rips” or “tears” at the fabric of order; she is the very essence of chaos itself, affecting those around her (i.e. enthralling men to their doom like sailors responding to a siren’s call).  Criticized for that very reason—Tess’ passivity—one must understand that this analysis is an oversimplification.  After Tess’ marriage to Angel, we see them spending the night in the d’Urberville mansion where portraits of the d’Urberville women (long lost relations to Tess) decorate the walls.  These reflections from the past share similar physical traits with her, appearing shrewd and conniving (again, taking on the visage of a woman ‘unsexed”).  With this mirror imagery and the destructive effect Tess’ beauty, we are led to believe that her very innate nature (and perhaps that of all women per Hardy) is to blame for all the wickedness that has befallen her.  Ultimately, we see Tess’ despair pushed to its brink after the surprising return of her husband (who deserted her) from Brazil, resulting in the murder of Alec d’Urberville—her rapist, father of her dead illegitimate child, and current lover.  Though sweet and timid, we see her passions have made her capable of taking human life.  Such drastic action suggests a questionable character, though one cannot really claim that the killing of her lover was done out of malice, but rather desperation.  No, Hardy manages to demonize her in a very different way.  He elevates her femininity to that of an almost “otherworldly” origin, making her not a woman, but a seductive and dangerous nature spirit.

Lastly, Jude the Obscure’s Sue Bridehead appears to bring us “full circle” in Hardy’s skewed view on women.  Almost a culmination of his previous female protagonists, Sue is described as an independent, intelligent, and challenging woman who criticizes social norms and religion without the slightest hesitation.  Though similar to Bathsheba and Eustacia in terms of abrasiveness, her cruelty is not one that is mainly tangible: it is psychological (perhaps more destructive).  This isn’t to say she doesn’t act in hurtful ways, as she has a sexless affair with Jude (her cousin) while married to someone else and then leaves her husband to live with him.  Sue continually “walks the fence” with Jude, however, spurning his love (never marrying him) for the sake of never being possessed, but seducing him in order to continue receiving his adoration.  Again, Hardy creates a female that can stand toe-to-toe with any man.  Though touted as a “feminist” character, Hardy begins to allude to one that is actually unnatural (at least in his eyes).  This is obscurely demonstrated by the death of her two infant children at the hands of Jude’s young child with his previous wife Arabella, which Sue later calls God’s way of punishing her for her abominable life.  Sue’s character is so contrary to any norm of femininity that one gets the impression that her reproducing is against nature’s plan.  Ironically, she shares much in common with Arabella (her rival), who also leaves her husband to better her life and cares little about the damage she inflicts while pursuing her own interests.  An even deeper comparison can be made in looking at the suicidal actions of Arabella’s child, who suffers from a serious, adult-like pathos at a very young age.  We see Arabella is also somehow “unfit” to create life (an unnatural act) in the natural scheme of things after her son (an unnatural creation) kills himself, after hanging Sue’s two children in their bedroom.  One thing one will notice in Hardy’s works is that women who have borne children always seem to manage to retain a sense of their femininity—no matter how overbearing they may be.  Ultimately, they know their “place” in this world. His female protagonists, however, are always (or become) childless, suggesting their dominant and destructive natures diminish—if not destroy—their ability to nurture life.

Hardy’s view on women was undoubtedly painted by his chaotic relationship with is own wife.  It would be wrong to say that Hardy’s bitterness was extended to all women, as not all of his female characters demonstrated the sort of guile and moral instability that his female protagonists do.  We can make an assumption that strong, independent women terrified him, causing him to demonize them in the pages of his books and—always—bringing them to their “just” ends, whether it be through their ultimate submission to a husband or through their pain and suffering (even death).  I would even go as far as to say that he admired them in a sense, as they demonstrated the strength and ferocity that he himself lacked.  After all, aren’t the characters in a book reflective of the different parts of the writer, himself?  The parts we love.  The parts we hate. The parts we wish were our own.  In painting a picture of a contemptible shrew was he not celebrating her power and agency?  In destroying her was he not acting out a retaliatory fantasy by overcoming a force of nature that in life caused him so much despair?  Despite his motivations, Hardy did more good for women than anything to detract from them.  He celebrated their power by working through his own pain in the pages of his books for the entire world to see.

Thank You, Mr. Forster, for Taking Us to Hell and Back!

In deciding which book to blog about first, there really was no need for any sort of mental gymnastics to come to a determination.  For some 20 years now one book has remained in the forefront as a core-shaker—a literary touchstone—for this wayward bibliophile–Maurice by E. M. Forster.

Waxing nostalgic, I am flooded with the fondest memories of sitting in a college student union in South Texas, compulsively smoking Marlboro Lights and downing Coke by the gallon, as I ferociously finger page after page of J. D. Salinger, Raymond Carver, and Milan Kundera to the tune of The Counting Crows’ “She Talks to Angels”.  At the pinnacle of my career, as budding English major, I was knocking out 2-3 novels a week: an ambitious demonstration of intent I must say.  Living as a gay man in a rather small and conservative town in South Texas, the idea of being reflected in any literary figure—large or small—was too fantastical for me to even dream to be true.  Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series got me through some rough times; however, it smacked more of pop culture to me and—if anything—celebrated a lifestyle that was in no shape, way, or form a reflection of my own reality .

I believe it was my friend Betty, the vegetarian, alterno-goth, bisexual, that introduced me to E. M. Forster (well, the Merchant Ivory films anyway), though if I remember correctly the motivation behind her tutelage had more to do with her obsessive love for Helena Bonham Carter, rather than anything having to do with literary relevance.  Pity.  I want to say our first cinematic jaunt into the Edwardian era was “A Room with a View.”  Apart from my developing HUGE craving for a Julian Sands and Rupert Graves “sandwich”, I found Forster’s social satire and perspective on elitism intriguing.  This, of course, prompted an immediate pilgrimage to my local Waldenbooks (the only bookstore in a 30 mile area) to do some private investigation of my own.  Upon working my way through a very limited fiction section (70% of new titles were burnt upon arrival), I came across Forster’s works and proceeded to look through the titles, hoping to be inspired.  It was then that I came across Maurice.  It was an odd name for a book, at least in comparison to the other titles on the shelf.  Looking at the back cover, I came to realize that the main character—the book’s namesake—was a gay man and the story was indeed about him and his struggle to find happiness.  Having embarked on a similar journey—usually with the assistance of alcohol—I was compelled to make an immediate purchase.  I ran to the checkout counter, threw down $5.95 plus tax (remember when books were $5.95?) and sped home for some immediate alone time with Maurice.

Maurice took about two days to read (not shabby given the fact that the English don’t speak American…damn it!).  Needless to say, I was done for!  I was beyond hooked.  Forster’s use of characterization and allusion ensnared me, initially: the latter playing a vital role in my interpretation of this work.  Like a mad man, I devoured page after page in a frenzied dash to the last, breaking only to buy cigarettes and underline relevant passages (in pencil), while simultaneously jotting down corresponding page numbers on the inside of the front book cover for later reference: a habit that—sadly—I abandoned years ago.

As I mentioned, Forster’s use of allusion connected me to his work at the time—and still to this day.  I was mad for anything Classical.  From blatant references to Latin and Greek language, architecture, and geography to thinly veiled references to culture (i.e. “the unspeakable vice of the Greeks” = homosexuality) and mythology, Forster added relevance and validity to the work with the precision of a true marksman and solidified the viability and fidelity of the characters as concrete, while tending to the intellectual needs of his audience.  The characterization found, therein, was equally notable, especially as seen with our main characters Maurice and his paramour, Clive.  Through these two, Forster captures the kind of splintering of self so common among those who are grappling with internal sexual conflict.  Forster not only captured, splendidly, the crippling confusion of coming to terms with one’s own “deviant” internal desires and drives (undoubtedly based upon his personal struggles as a gay man in an overtly oppressive society), but the self-loathing that always seems to follow in all too close proximity.  It is, perhaps, through this hatred “turned inward” that we come vis-à-vis with the “uglier sides” of Maurice and Clive, making otherwise potentially pleasant characters unlikable in the shadow of their own pathos.

So, how many times have I read Maurice?  I would have to estimate somewhere between 10 and 15 times over the past 20 years, though a more pertinent question may be, “Why do I keep reading it?”  Well, that is simple enough: the story is never ever quite the same upon each revisit (maybe this is true of any truly fine literary work).  Maurice has a story to tell that only lets you in “just so far” until you are ready for it to envelop you further.  The key to unlocking its occult meaning lies in one’s ability to connect the dots between all of one’s previous understandings of the work, all previous literary readings, and all of one’s life experiences:  a complicated process, true, but well worth the effort.  If it weren’t we would just be dealing with words on a page, after all.  Regardless, that is what my 20 yr love affair with Maurice has been like.  Exquisitely complicated.

It wasn’t until my last perusal through the book’s pages that the story literally “opened up” like a slumbering lotus, exposing—at least for now—its hidden truth.  Maurice isn’t as narrative a story as we might think, but one that is—at its core—allegorical in nature (much due to Forster’s clever use of classical allusion).  Taking all this into consideration, along with my penchant for Early American Literature (and respective themes—namely alienation and isolation), and my “train wreck” of a love life, I came to understand the book’s message a bit more intimately.  Maurice isn’t just about a lovelorn gay boy’s journey of self-discovery or even a search for true happiness.  It is about the alienation and desolation of gay men—or anyone who dares to rail against the constraints of social conformity—that forever sets them apart from society.

Utilizing “the ultimate alienation” of death, through symbolism and imagery, Forster takes us—like Charon, the ferryman—on a expedition through a necropolis within the Asphodel Meadows, a region within Hades where your “everyday” shade walks about in eternal indifference (under the clever guise of Edwardian London and its citizens).  Cambridge takes on a mausoleum-like countenance with its deathly quiet halls and somber masonry, while buildings and character’s homes—the true centers of civilization—are represented as almost crypt-like with a sufficient amount of decay and ruin to drive the idea home for even the most devout naysayer.  Two instances come to mind that support this assessment, being the skull-like figures cast upon Maurice’s bedroom walls by the moonlight reflecting from his mirror in Chapter 2; and the imagery of Clive’s mother “floating” about the bottom floor of her decrepit estate without an ounce of human expression or warmth, save the instant she perceives Maurice is watching her, resulting in a creepily insincere smile.  Such ghostly apparitions and macabre settings can only serve to reinforce the idea of a death of self—and society through conforming to popular norms and morays.  In truth, London (and beyond)
become a sort of land of the dead where we encounter the pallid remains (shells) of individuals and the tombs that encase them.  I am reminded of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.  It is through this gloomy landscape that we see the correlation of a gay man’s life, as a journey through the Afterlife (a life apart from the norm), though not one of a Christian making; but that of the Greeks:  a place that serves to separate—not necessarily as a punishment—the worlds of the living and the dead (those who belong and those who are outcast), as well as the shades who inhabit it.

At one point we see the introduction of Dickie, the nephew of Dr. Barry, who is temporarily staying at Maurice’s home.  Compared to “Ganymede,” a mortal boy from Greek mythology, who possessed unearthly beauty, we see a momentary stay in Maurice’s mourning for his failed love affair with Clive, resulting from his voluntary surrender to a societally-imposed death of self.  Through this encounter, Forster suggests the navigation—symbolically— of two Stygian bodies of water:  Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness, and its counterpart, Mnemosyne, the Pool of Memory. The waters of Lethe (oblivion) erase all traces of mortal pain (and joy): an act necessary to endure a permanent “life apart” in the Undergloom. However, just as one may forget all worldly memory through Lethe’s waters, one can restore what was lost through drinking the waters of Mnemosyne. This obscure allusion is a complex
representation of Maurice’s internal conflict, which also serves as a turning point for the character, foreshadowing events to come. Through his desired love-making with Dickie, Maurice seeks to forget his pain over the loss of Clive, while simultaneously remembering the vitality of life through submitting to his baser passions.  We also see here that Maurice’s transition into his self-imposed death is not as far gone as he would like to think: a spark of life (passion) remains within him that promises to save him from a hellish existence in the Undergloom.

As Maurice’s desire to conform rages on, we see a gradual transformation from life to death (symbolically).  Though there is no significant discovery of physical changes during this process, Forster does punctuate the unnaturalness of his desire to belong (i.e. embracing heterosexuality) with a certain characteristics of physical vileness.  In Maurice’s attempts to seduce Ms. Gladys Olcott, we see he is quickly thwarted, as the target of his false affections is repulsed by his pallor and cold, clammy hand (suggesting it be similar to that of a corpse).  Moreover, as his appearance—while always athletic and healthy—does change from one reflecting the vigor and ruddiness of his pastoral origins to one that is sharp and refined like one of a city-dweller.  Such a transformation
enlightens the reader that he has traversed from one part of Hades’ landscape to another.  Though Maurice’s hometown is not immune to the social norms of the time, its rural environment is quite indicative of the internal qualities of its inhabitants: those of Nature, God, and goodness.  Any deviation from this would indicate a swing in ones innate moral direction.  No, the transformations that we see are primarily mental—spiritually, dare I say—as we see our main character rely less and less upon his desires and passions to live his life, deferring—instead—to the expectations of his station, which were set forth by family and society.  This is best exemplified in his attempts to restructure his life after Clive by introducing a strict regimen of exercise and social appointments.  We see less of Maurice in these soulless machinations than we do an animated corpse that acts without thought or reason, programmed by a force greater than him that operates outside the realm of his own spirit.

Transformations aren’t limited to those that are ultimately morbid.  The introduction of Scutter into the plot, the Durham’s gamekeeper, heralds a re-kindling of passion (life) within Maurice.  Though not evident at first, we are given a glimpse as to the potential of this relationship when we find Maurice and Scutter walking through the gardens of Penge, the Durham’s estate.  Normally, a stretch of land that leans more towards decay and fruitlessness, we now see a verdant expanse of fertile abundance, punctuated by the overt symbolism of male sexuality—pollen— present in the air and on Maurice’s hair and clothes.

Through his love affair with Scutter, Maurice comes to grips with is internal conflict and self-loathing, realizing that he wants to feel and think independently from society’s dictates and live life, sexually and emotionally.  Having tasted death and then life, again, his spirit is reawakened and is brought to place of reconciliation that prevents it from ever returning to the desolation of his past, regardless of the sacrifices that will be demanded.  No longer wishing to live a life of indifference and quiet submission (in the Asphodel Meadows) nor one of torture and unnatural assimilation (in Tartarus), Maurice chooses happiness (in the Elysian Fields) through choosing freedom.  Though this point in the plot would normally suggest a conclusion, we actually see a new level of alienation happening between Maurice (a gay man) and Clive (a—socially—straight man).  Though there had always been distance between these two characters throughout their relationship (mostly due to Clive’s self-hatred) we now see a chasm formed by Maurice’s declaration of love for Scutter.  Before, no matter how distant, these two were always comrades.  Now, we see them speaking to each other from different planes of existence:  Maurice from the verdant green of the Durham’s lawn (Heaven) and Clive from the cold stone balcony of his estate (Hell).  This assumption is well supported in the original epilogue of the novel that never made the final publication of the book (but can be found in some modern editions), where we see Ada riding along a road with her husband.  She sees two men in the woods, cutting lumber, feeling a familiarity with one but being unable to recognize it. In truth, she is looking upon Maurice (with Scutter); however, she cannot see clearly through the veils that separate their two worlds, indifference and happiness.  Despite this “happy ending,” we are faced with an irony that brings the Forster’s message “full circle”.  Even in the happiest of circumstances, where outcasts find fulfillment in life and love, they will remain eternally separated from the living (society) by a veil of alienation that can never be crossed: an underworld of society’s making (some might even say sanctioned by God).  Ironically, “the living” are in some ways less alive—mentally and/or emotionally—than our main character is—socially.  In a nutshell, life is Hell.  Where one chooses to reside within its murky depths is entirely up to the individual.

So, Maurice remains—and always will—a piece of literature that I will always return to for personal nourishment.  This book has captivated me for the singular reason that its soul—imbued by Forster’s own—speaks to mine.  It is a rare occurrence, but there are times when spirits reach across time, speaking the same language, and connect.  I see myself—or parts of myself, at least—between the book’s covers, understanding my aspects more and more—year after year—with the flip of every page.

Hello world!

Welcome!  The Booky Man is currenly under construction so please make sure you visit us again soon.

So what is The Booky Man you ask?  Well, I thought this would be a perfect venue to share my love of books and start some discussions with my fellow bibliophiles out there!

As I have a penchant for dead writers, you can bet I have a always have “an oldie but a goodie” handy.  Well, you would be right.  But TBM is more than tossing around plots and disecting characters.  I feel that all the great literature of old out there has valuable lessons that we can learn from–even today.  Times and moraes may change, but human nature doesn’t…and that is why we love the characters so.  I won’t do too much in terms of synopsis…that is what reading the book is for.  No, I will give you just enough to HOPEFULLY have your interest piqued and grab a copy for yourself, but more importantly, maybe we’ll discover some parts of ourselves that we never knew existed.

See you soon!