Women in and out: Forster, Social Purity, and Florence Barger

Moss, Gemma (2020) Women in and out: Forster, Social Purity, and Florence Barger. In: Twenty-First-Century Readings of E. M. Forster's 'Maurice'. Liverpool University Press. ISBN 9781789621808

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Women and contemporary women’s movements exerted a considerable influence on Maurice, even though admirable or developed female characters are conspicuously absent from the narrative. Maurice’s apparent disinterest in women has been read as evidence of Forster’s misogyny, which was one of the reasons the novel was roundly dismissed when it was posthumously published in 1971, as critics – self-identified feminists included – turned on Forster with highly gendered accusations of childishness and fantasy. Admittedly, Maurice is significantly different from Forster’s previous work, in which narration is often focalised through central female characters – one thinks especially of Lucy Honeychurch in A Room With A View, and Margaret Schlegel in Howards End. Forster does not need to be entirely exonerated to note that the marginal position of women in Maurice stems from more complex issues. The novel rejects not women per say, but the sexual conservatism of the social purity movement, which had a substantial social influence at the time Maurice was being written. The historical and social context of the novel’s original composition, in 1913-14, is important to appreciate how Maurice’s characterisation of women – and also its attitude towards sex and the body, which has since been lauded by feminist critics – works against contemporary social purity narratives, which argued for women’s innate and superior virtue, and connected morality with sexual restraint.

Item Type: Book Section
26 March 2020Published
Subjects: CAH19 - language and area studies > CAH19-01 - English studies > CAH19-01-01 - English studies (non-specific)
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Media and English > School of English
Depositing User: Gemma Moss
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2020 10:09
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2022 15:59
URI: https://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/id/eprint/6734

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