Love as a Social Revolution in ‘Maurice’ vs ‘Pride and Prejudice’
Both Maurice by E.M Forster and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen are the stories of revolutionary love, capable of inspiring moral improvement and moral compromise within relationships. Specifically, it is the stories of Maurice and Alec and Lizzy and Darcy that are able to inhabit such a revolutionary space because they are so deeply rooted against the hegemonies of their time. Maurice was a character originally written at a time when homosexuality still had not been decriminalized in Britain, the novel itself was published posthumously because Forster feared for his life. Lizzie utilized her agency and choice in order to find love at a time in British society when women were expected to be completely and absolutely subservient to the men around them. According to literary critic Northrop Frye successful romance at the end of the novel signals a “movement from one kind of society to another” where “the new society crystallize[s] around the hero.” However, it is imperative to note that to Frye, “romance” is defined as “works concerned primarily with an idealized world,” and Maurice was not written into this ‘idealized world’ because he was gay, and Forster, despite giving him a happy ending, was careful not to idealize his characters. Forster focuses the novel on Maurice discovering his sexuality, rather than the consequences that could potentially come of that decision, meaning that Maurice’s relationship with Alec, although it provides some social commentary at the end of the novel through a conversation with Clive, is not centered on the social reactions to Maurice’s homosexuality. Instead, it is a very individual journey he experiences with one or two close friends. Due to the literary limitations placed on Forster at the time the novel was written, Maurice and Alec, although evidently still happy, are unable to change the fabric of the world around them, while Lizzy and Darcy, still relatively heteronormative, can be considered “successful” under Frye’s definition.
The first part of Frye’s definition pertains to the ability of a successful union to change one or both of the people involved, and clearly, Maurice, Lizzie, and Darcy all undergo major shifts of society within themselves. After her original rejection of Darcy, Lizzie receives a letter from him explaining his past and his decisions. She immediately begins to contemplate her “prejudice[s]”, and attempts to mature in order to understand why she believed she had “every reason in the world to think ill of [him].” (141, 134). Without Darcy, Lizzie would have lost the opportunity to realize her judgement was flawed, and that her own ego barred her from truly being able to observe those around her. Moreover, without Lizzie’s initial rejection, Darcy would not have realized his intrinsic fault: pride. In order to be with the one he loves, he must recognize both his solipsism and egotistical nature, therefore; insuring that both of them must undergo moral compromise for the better. Instead of realizing his flaws, Maurice must discover himself in order to have a successful relationship with Alec. The entire novel is the story of Maurice understanding himself, and only in the end, when he is truly happy with who he is, is Maurice able to begin his relationship with Alec. He is finally cognizant why “could not himself relate” to diagrams of heterosexual sex drawn in the sand. He “understood” his “secret life”, it was the “dreams” at the beginning of the novel: “part brutal, part ideal.” All three characters genuinely transitioned into superior versions of themselves, and without their relationships, Maurice, Lizzie, and Darcy would not have been able to change themselves.
Lizzie and Darcy, unlike Maurice and Alec, are able to change the social fabric of the society they inhabit, truly creating a revolutionary love between them. Their love is not just revolutionary in its own right, but it has the power to revolutionize others, most notably Georgina and Jane. Lizzie’s relationship with Darcy “astonish[es]” Georgina because she had never before seen a “woman…take liberties with her husband,”; what was once a foreign concept in patriarchal Britain, now was in her own home, and because of Lizzie’s influence, Georgina would grow up knowing the strength of her agency as a woman. (265). Moreover, Darcy and Lizzie’s marriage is what allows for the marriage between Jane and Bingley, and Jane’s newfound opinions and view of herself reflect upon many of Lizzie’s actions, and illustrate once again Lizzie and Darcy’s ability to change the world around them. Furthermore, Lizzie’s resolute determination to marry for love changes the social fabric in itself. She unapologetically refuses to conform to the patriarchal hegemony surrounding her, rejecting two proposals in the process and awaiting for a partner who is ready to be her equal, not just her husband. Her determination inspires the female characters of the novel, while her rejections teach the men how to behave and treat the women in their own lives; therefore, truly revising the definition of the social order in her society.
While Maurice the novel changes the fabric of British society, Maurice the character does not have the opportunity to revolutionize his own society as a result of his sexuality, so, although under Frye’s definition Maurice and Alec are not ‘successful’, the two characters evidently are. In his lifelong struggle to understand his sexuality, Maurice is often trapped within liminal spaces, forever tormented between his internal and external selves, desperately seeking another human with whom he can truly be himself. Alec is the only person Maurice has ever truly opened up to; he has finally inhabited “the darkness where he can be free,” and found freedom in another person. In the initial stage of their relationship, Maurice vulnerably asks Alec if he had “ ever dream[ed] [he] had a friend…Someone to last your whole life and you his.” Maurice had not yet realized that Alec was that friend, and that they would spend their “whole life” together. The novel ends with the pair resolving to spend the rest of their lives with one another regardless of the barriers obstructing them; they disappear from society together, choosing to spend the rest of their days in the greenwood. Maurice realizes he’s no longer “afraid or ashamed” because “the forests and the night were on his side”, the “greenwood” offers a space of freedom similar to the forests Shakespeare’s characters would once fall in love in, utterly seperated from society and court. In order for Maurice and Alec to have upholded Frye’s theories, the lovers would have had to attempt some form of public recognition, say by announcing to the public or perhaps Cambridge or by living together within society. However, Forster could not have possibly written such an ending to his novel without completely losing his characters and his main themes, and of course, his determination for a happy ending. In fact, it’s the book itself that upholds Frye’s definitions. Maurice, specifically at the time it was written, destroys heteronormative barriers and clearly provides social commentary on British society in the 1910’s.
Both Forster and Austen were revolutionary writers of their time, years ahead of the societies they lived in, and predicting the future decades before they took place. Furthermore, both authors wrote truly beautiful romances centered around characters who were forced to evolve and change in order to have successful relationships. One relevant question, here, is, “Can love change the world in which our characters inhabit? In other words, can love be a social revolution in its own right?” In line with Frye’s definition of a successful relationship, a social revolution requires inspired mutual improvement in self and in society. And, through the careful analysis of both Pride and Prejudice and Maurice, it has been determined that the answer to that question is yes. Love is a social revolution, and while it clearly was for Lizzie and Darcy, it also was subtly a revolution in its own right for Maurice and Alec, through the publication of the book itself and its dedication to a happier year.
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