Publishable – but worth it?
‘Publishable – but worth it?’ are the words of E M Forster, inscribed on the cover of the typescript of his novel, Maurice.1
Completed in 1914, Maurice depicts the turmoil of middle-class Englishman, Maurice Hall, who falls in love with another man at a time (1912) when to do so risked everything. “I’m an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort.”2
Maurice was one of the first gay books I read. And at seventeen, with no language to express my longing, to find the words that spoke of it meant everything to me. Maurice Hall’s turmoil was my turmoil, his fear of discovery my fear, his internal questioning my questioning, and, above all, his wish for ‘a friend’ my own heartfelt desire:-
“The second dream is more difficult to convey. Nothing happened. He scarcely saw a face, scarcely heard a voice say, ‘That is your friend’, and then it was over, having filled him with beauty and taught him tenderness. He could die for such a friend, he would allow such a friend to die for him; they would make any sacrifice for each other, and count the world nothing, neither death nor distance nor crossness could part them, because ‘this is my friend’.”3
Okay, so it’s a little intense, but that intensity reached out, especially to a teenager who thought no one else was gay. It made no difference to me that the characters were men, what mattered to me was that Forster was describing an emotional, and importantly, physical love between two people of the same sex. Love is genderless after all. The feelings we express transcend everything.
So the thought that Forster questioned the merit of publishing Maurice fills with me horror. It was eventually published in 1971, after Forster’s death, as he’d requested. But by 1960, Forster worried whether Maurice had become dated,4 its sentiments out of touch with the, arguably, progressive modern world.
I want so much to tell him, ‘Mr Forster, never doubt the continued resonance and importance of Maurice, never question whether it should have been published. Please understand how much it has meant to so many and that many more are still waiting for the ‘Happier Year’ you dedicated Maurice to.’
After all, what would happen if those who wrote LGBT literature began to question whether they should publish their work, whether there was a market, whether there was a need? What if there were no LGBT books? Would we just accept it, as we do with so many things we know in our hearts we should challenge?
Or, would we be brave and write what’s in our hearts, despite everything and everyone, claim our sexuality, underpin our identity, and gather at book festivals, shoulder to shoulder with those who share our passion to celebrate the diverse nature of our LGBT world?
You bet we would. I look forward to meeting you at the Bold Strokes Books UK book festival in June.5
Oh and Mr Forster, when I stand and look out at the audience who’ve travelled from all over I’ll be thinking of you, my heart full of pride at how ‘worth it’, it all is.
E M Forster (1 January 1879 – 7 June 1970)
- p10, Introduction, by P N Furbank, Maurice, by E M Forster, 1972, 20, edition, Penguin Books
- p139, Maurice, by E M Forster, 1972, 20, edition, Penguin Books
- p26, Maurice, by E M Forster, 1972, 20, edition, Penguin Books
- p221, Terminal note, Maurice, by E M Forster, 1972, 20, edition, Penguin Books