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Forster first conceived of his love story between two ‘ordinary affectionate men’ after visiting the openly homosexual author Edward Carpenter and his significantly younger, working-class partner, George Merrill, at their modest cottage in a hamlet south of Sheffield. Thrilled by Carpenter’s thwarting of class and sexual convention, Forster had completed a first draft of what later became Maurice by 1914. He only dared to show this (and later revised versions of the novel), however, to his intimate circle of friends and, in a letter to one of his confidants, Florence Barger, he declared the novel to be ‘unpublishable until my death and England’s’.
Until 1967 – just three years before Forster’s death – homosexuality in Britain was illegal. Forster’s sexual ‘coming of age’ was overcast by the shadow of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment (1895), a conviction that was partly fuelled by Wilde’s homosexually charged literature. While literature that addressed the subject of homosexuality had been written before and since Wilde’s condemnation, Forster’s novel challenged the realm of acceptability. In his ‘Terminal Note’ that appeared at the close of the 1960 version of the novel, Forster wrote that if his story ‘ended unhappily, with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact, all would be well’. But Forster’s ‘lovers get away unpunished and consequently recommend crime.’ Weary of writing about ‘the only subject that I can and may treat – the love of men for women and vice versa’, Forster innovated a new kind of love story, but, in doing so, made his novel ‘unpublishable’.