One of the books that had a big impact on me as a young man and on my sexual identity was “Maurice”, written by E.M. Foster, only published after his death in 1971. Ivory Merchant turned it in a beautiful film, that was re-released in 2017 to celebrate its 30th birthday. It tells the love between Maurice (James Wilby) and Clive (Hugh Grant). It was true love, but in the end Clive opts for a (heterosexual) marriage and prefers to live in a lie. Maurice will find lasting love with Alec (Rupert Graves), a staff member of Clive’s household. The story is set in early 20th century when homosexuality was still considered a crime. Remember Oscar Wilde. The book covers other themes such as class, which makes the context of showing real emotions only more complex. The film captures this subtly.
Accepting being gay, or not is a recurrent theme in literature. Recently André Aciman covered it in his coming of age book “Call me by your name”. The scene when Elio (Timothée Chalamet) gets a call from Oliver, back in the US and married, is heartbreaking. By the way, the screenplay for this film was written by James Ivory, who directed “Maurice”.
It feels to me that gay love always has to end sadly in these books and films, for at least one of its protagonists.
And yet, it occurs to me now that we can never run with our lies indefinitely. Sooner or later we are forced to confront their darkness. We can choose the when, not the if. And the longer we wait, the more painful and uncertain it will be.
I rarely rate books five stars on Goodreads – three stars is my average – but the debut novel of Tomasz Jedrowski is touching and very well written. Jedrowski was born to Polish parents and studied both at Cambridge and the Université de Paris. The novel is set in the early 1980s against the violent decline of communism in Poland. Ludwik and Janusz lead a secret love life. The system doesn’t accept homosexuality and so the choice is to life the system or to be expelled by it. Janusz flirts with the system and the girls all the time to get the benefits from a communist regime. Ludwik will do that only once, and it will be to ultimately run away from hypocrisy, including Janusz. Both will find happiness in a new ways, but their true love – this gay love – is broken. I really recommend the book and I am sure it will be turned into a film. Will James Ivory still be around ?
Last point : although set 40 years ago, it is horrifying that Poland seems to be reviving that era, where the system doesn’t accept true love between people of the same gender.
“Swimming in the Dark”, Tomasz Jedrowski, Bloomsbury, 2020, multiple translations.