The Queer Syllabus is a joint project from The Rumpus and Foglifter Press that allows writers to nominate works for a new canon of queer literature. When we identify our roots, when we point to the work that shaped us as writers and as people, we demonstrate that our stories are timeless, essential, and important—and so are we. New entries will run on Thursday, September through December, and then will be collected as a living document on the Foglifter website. The Queer Syllabus is edited by Wesley O. Cohen and Marisa Siegel.
Maurice was written in the early twentieth century, but was only published after E. M. Forster’s death in the ’70s, due to its portrayal of queerness, and more shockingly, a happy ending for those so afflicted. The novel follows Maurice Hall, a decidedly ordinary, misogynistic young man of the English middle classes. At university, Maurice meets Clive Durham, a titled youth who proves a great admirer of the Greeks (wink) and a religious skeptic. Clive and Maurice enjoy a passionate, albeit chaste, relationship; upon graduation, however, Clive bends to familial pressure and secures a fiancée. Maurice, understandably distraught, seeks hypnosis to squelch his aberrant desires, but (happily for us) isn’t successful. While visiting Clive, Maurice and a groundskeeper, Alec Scudder, tumble into a significantly more physical association. In the interest of not entirely spoiling the ending, suffice it to say that they weather several storms and depart England for more auspicious climes.
Maurice‘s significance is both self-evident and impossible to overstate—our protagonist isn’t murdered, goaded to suicide, or coerced into straightness. We all know the teeth-clenching tension of consuming media with queer folks in it, waiting for inevitable consequences to befall characters we’ve come to love. Even now, over a hundred years after Maurice was written, queer storylines are most often centered around violence, pain, and rejection in a way that makes those conditions appear to be the inevitable consequences of unnatural choices. As a straightforward coming-of-age and falling-in-love story, Maurice serves as a refreshing rebuke to this cultural narrative and is beautifully written to boot.
As a young queer person, I was hungry for these stories, but ended up gravitating toward fantasy like my well-worn paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings, where any queerness (like that between my beloved Sam and Frodo) was subsumed and unspoken, and therefore safe. It wouldn’t be until much later that I’d find the rare book like The Price of Salt where the journey of queer desire ended happily, or at least with a measure of possibility.
When the manuscript for Maurice was discovered after Forster’s death, the note affixed to it read: “Publishable, but worth it?” That’s a question I feel in my gut. I’ve only recently approached tenderness and joy in my writing, years after I began grappling with queer trauma and violence. It can seem safer to articulate what the world has done to us rather than risk exposing what keeps us alive, passionately bound to each other. But, by keeping those parts of our experience hidden, we risk not leaving a record of queer life in all its incandescent beauty. So, to answer Foster, it’s absolutely worth it—let’s keep writing into these soft, sweet places and leave a richer, more expansive imaginative world for the next generation of queer readers.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
Foglifter is a queer journal and press showcasing powerful, intersectional writing that fosters queer writers and galvanizes the queer community through literary events and programming.