Tuesday, October 12, 2010

John M. Bowers creation takes us beyond the ending of Forster’s Maurice.

This novel is written by a Professor of English at UNLV, and that was reason enough for me to take it up. That and the rave reviews I saw made me eager to see what Bowers had made of Forster’s ending.

End of Story

John M. Bowers provocatively titled novel, End of Story (228 pages, Sunstone Press, $22.95), attempts to add several chapters—a century’s worth, more or less—to E. M. Forster’s posthumously published gay novel, Maurice (pronounced Morris), which appeared in 1971. If the novel had not been published—Forster refused to published it while its clearly happy ending remained illegal in England—it certainly had been discussed, and there were many who went on record not quite approving of the ending. Lytton Strachey, famously, gave the happy couple, the young Cambridge-educated businessman and a groundskeeper, about six weeks, and many readers are puzzled by the coupling; they wonder why Forster does not dramatize their sexual relationship more openly; and they voice concern that Forster left the couple just when he might have pursued their fate together.

Bowers takes on all these objections. Clearly devoted to Forster and the novel itself, Bowers first sets out to posit various futures for Maurice and Alec Scudder, the lovers. Considering that the novel was written in 1913, it is not unimaginable to plunge them into the misery of World War I. He posits other possible endings to the novel, but he can never overcome, or suggests that Forster could not overcome, the barrier of class that would have obtruded in almost any situation.

Then Bowers imagines an alternative couple. He calls them Martin and Alan, and he makes them the models for Forster’s couple. But they avoid World War I by staying on its margins until it gets too close to them, enjoying themselves as they are in southern Europe, and when it does get too close, they take off for America and end up in Santa Fe.

This is a wonderfully imaginative choice, and Bowers has a great time getting his characters settled there. The English class issue hardly matters in this setting, and there are things for both young men to do. Martin keeps up his stock-trading and so on by telegraph, and Alan starts working the land and taking photographs. They both flourish.

At the same time, Bowers presents another couple, Morgan and Eddy, from later in the twentieth century, who experience the gay world that emerged during the 1970s. They live in the fast lane for a while, but when they settle down together, they try to focus on creating a life for each other. Morgan happens to be the son of another Cambridge man, an American, who was a famous rower and who had his own love affair with another student, his rowing partner, when he was at Cambridge. His story connects the men to Cambridge only because of a charming scene, a garden party, in which Forster sees and admires the young American.

Morgan and Eddy travel to Santa Fe themselves and there they meet Alan, who has survived Morgan by some years, and some of the other characters of that older world. They are changed because of their experience there.

This novel is imaginative and some of the descriptions of two men in love are wonderful. Bowers is best, I think, when he imagines the older world and the earlier couples. His contemporary gay men seem a little flat, as if they are filling out a thesis rather than living as real characters. This is a shame because Bowers shows real talent as a novelist, and I hope, if he does more writing, he can find a way to give the contemporary world the depth and richness of the past he imagines.

Get a copy of End of Story at Powell's, Vroman's or Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. While, from the samples from 'End of Story' I've read online, this book seems a thoughtful (and readable) project, I must take issue with some of the assumptions made in your review. (I myself am an academic with longstanding interests in Maurice and Forster, particularly the 1987 film version.)

    1) 'This novel is written by a Professor of English at UNLV, and that was reason enough for me to take it up.' As a fellow research academic, I would be quite worried if anyone assumed my attempts as a novelist were of *automatic* interest for this reason alone! Moreover, Bowers is a specialist in medieval literature – not Forster. There are many nuances and reserves of Forster and Maurice scholarship he does not seem to draw upon (and may, even, not be acquainted with).

    2) Far from being 'a wonderfully imaginative choice', Bowers' decision to take 'Martin' and 'Alan' to the USA (and, not-so-coincidentally, to Santa Fe, home of the author and his publisher!) follows in the steps of a number of Maurice fanfic writers. (Despite Bowers' academic credentials, I think it's not unfair to place his book in this tradition: particularly as some of the best Maurice fanfic is scrupulously researched, or even written by academics.) Maurice's Russian fans have written a number of stories which relocate post-1913 Maurice/Alec to NYC. And, as deeply invested fans will tell you, Bowers' decision follows in the footsteps of a truly dreadful (vanity-published) 'sequel' to Maurice, Fred Carrier's 'Maurice and Alec in America' (2005). One objection to American Maurice/Alec fictions (deeply felt by some fans) is a tendency to combine a disregard for Forster's vision with a historical falsification that presents the US as 'the' home of gay liberty, equality and socialist progressiveness relative to 1910s-1920s Europe. (Carrier also laughably over-eggs this political agenda: Irish anarchist Alec, anyone?) I appreciate that Bowers has a more valid agenda - and he gains credit for sending 'Martin'/'Alan' to pre-WWI Europe on the Grand Tour first.

    3) "Many readers ... wonder why Forster does not dramatize [Maurice/Alec's] sexual relationship more openly..." No, we don't (a little research would work wonders here!), and indeed Bowers refers briefly to some of the reasons in his first chapter. Bowers does, however, suggest - correctly - that generations of readers would like to know more about what M/A did in bed (a question some of the fanfic attempts to answer). On this point, some of Forster's earlier drafts were, by the way, a little more explicit than the published novel.