Sunday, March 7, 2010

Class Discrimination in The Well of Loneliness and Maurice

Two of the novels we read this quarter offer important images of class and how it can affect a homosexual character. In Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, the main character Stephen Gordon presents an image of development of class. The other novel, E.M. Forster’s Maurice, shows class and the homosexual in two characters, Clive Dunham and Maurice Hall. In Forster’s novel, not only homosexuality is the method of discrimination, but class is as well. Each of these three characters goes through a process of their own. With Stephen the process is not even one that she knows is present; with Clive, class is more important than his inversion; and with Maurice, class lines are conquered for the sake of love.

The Well offers the first character. Stephen Gordon was born into the upper class of British society. In the opening lines of the book, it is shown that the family to be discussed is wealthy. Their home has “dignity and pride without ostentation, self –assurance without arrogance” (Hall 11). Stephen’s parents include Lady Anna and Sir Phillip. Their titles alone show their places in the upper tier of British social class.

The process through which class develops within someone can be easily seen in the growth of Stephen. The negative effects of the social construction are evident in her aging. At the age of 7, Stephen develops “strange” feelings for a servant named Collins. Even though Collins is of a lower class, Stephen, being a child, still has not learned socially of the construction to see this as negative. Collins has knee problems, which greatly affects Stephen. At one point Stephen even cleans the floor on her knees for the purpose of “getting a housemaid’s knee” because she “wanted to share” the “suffering” of Collins (Hall 23). This displays the way that children are far less in tune with the pressures of society. As adults, it is just taken as fact that servants are of a lower order, but as a child Stephen is empathetic towards the suffering her servant.

As Stephen grows older, her development of class distinction is noticed through her interactions with another family servant by the name of Miss Puddleton. Stephen learns to call Miss Puddleton by the nickname of Puddle. Stephen's transition out of childhood is seen in her relations with Puddle after being betrayed by her love interest Angela Crossby to her mother. After Lady Anna learns of Stephen’s love for women, she thinks of her upper class image first, asking Stephen to leave Morton in a dignified manner so that society would not learn of Stephen’s “perversion.” Puddle tells Stephen that she will be going with her and hints towards her own inversion. Here it can be distinctively discovered that Stephen is no longer the innocent child that ignores class lines. Even with Puddle’s somewhat blatant statement of “all that you’re suffering in this moment, I’ve suffered” Stephen ignores Puddle as being similar to her. She never acknowledges Puddle as her equal, so cannot believe that Puddle has suffered the same as she has (Hall 205). To Stephen Puddle is a servant, and being that, she is not able to have feelings for Puddle, or ever put her on the same level of other women that Stephen deems important. Since Stephen is not able to see Puddle as an equal, she cannot even begin to see her in a romantic light. Stephen developed class distinctions as she aged, and even though her ignorance towards Puddle was not on purpose, it was because of the societal importance of class. Class became more important than her inversion here, because when someone that could help her and possibly love her reaches out, it goes by unnoticed due to class.

Within Maurice, two distinct images arise that display the importance of place in society. The two main characters, Clive Durham and Maurice Hall choose different paths based on the importance of society to them. Raised to become the heir to his family’s estate, Clive for a short time is able to have love, and this love is with Maurice. Eventually though, Clive ends his relationship with Maurice stating that he loves women, “You who loved men, will hence-forward love women” (Forster 118). Clive is making himself love women instead of men, because he wants to hold his place in society. When Maurice visits the Durham’s estate in the country (Penge), it is evident that his mother is breeding him to take control (Forster 95). With the pressure of responsibility to his family, Clive gave up not only his love for Maurice, but his entire attraction for men (arguably). He convinced himself of an attraction for woman in order to live the life that had been predestined for him by British society. Stephen’s behavior was not purposeful, but based on the social construct of society, Clive, however went a step further and not only denied himself one possible love, like Stephen, but love altogether in giving up on satisfaction in romance for societal benefit. Again, the rules of societal class held more important than the sexual "abnormality" that Clive displayed.

Another example of the importance of class to Clive over the importance of homosexuality is in Clive’s distaste is made evident when he learns that Maurice had not only given into his inversion, but slept with one of his servants. “Intimacy with any social inferior was unthinkable to him” (Forster 242). This again shows how important class was to Clive. The aspect that shocked him most was not that Maurice had relations with a man, but a gamekeeper. When Maurice refers to him as Alec, Clive does not even know whom Maurice is discussing, showing his internal belief of supremacy over those of lesser means than he. Above all importance is his place in society, and nothing will conquer that for Clive.

Maurice Hall conveys an image that appears the same at first, but has an ending far different from both of the previous characters. Also growing up in Upper Class England, Maurice was well educated and the heir to the family estate. After the premature passing of his father, Maurice becomes the man of the house, and throughout the novel makes it quite evident that he is the “lord of his castle.” Maurice is expected to take over the family estate, but the pressure is not as evident and as strong as the pressure placed upon the wealthier Clive. The difference between Maurice and the previous two characters, though, is most evident in the sacrifice he makes at the end of the novel.

Maurice's progression towards difference is seen in his love for a servant, even though he holds class more important at first. While visiting Clive, Maurice falls in love, and sleeps with a servant named Alec. At first, Maurice is afraid that the servant will “out” him and that he will be forced to either pay the man off, or society will learn of his “perversion.” Maurice consistently tells himself, “I must belong to my class, that’s fixed” and “I must stick to my class” (Forster 215). Alec does in fact threaten to tell of Maurice’s sexuality, and gets angered over being treated poorly by him. “I will not be treated as your servant, and I don’t care if the world knows it” (Forster 216). This leads to a meeting between the two in the British Museum. Alec is more outspoken than other lower class characters, and states that he is “as good as” Maurice. At this point, Maurice does not know that he has anything to gain and says, “I don’t find you are!” (Forster 225). Maurice still believes that class is the most important thing to maintain, based on his previous discussions with Clive.

Maurice's views of Alec being lower are not rock solid though. During their encounter, it becomes known that Maurice and Alec are in love with each other. After finally finding love, Maurice discovers that he is willing to give up his place in society to be with Alec. “They must live outside class, without relations or money; they must work and stick to eachother till death” (Forster 239). Ending the novel somewhat fantastically, Forster has Alec and Maurice going together to live away from society, the only place that not only the love between two men can exist, but the love between two people from “different worlds.”

These three characters give a perfect insight to how sometimes homosexuality is not the most abnormal characteristic of an invert. In upper class British society of the early 20th century, class often conquered inversion. With Stephen, it is shown that class created a blind spot in her judgment, since she was not even able to see that Puddle was reaching out to her. Clive has he most evident importance for class, displayed in his many statements, and his overall choice to maintain his place in society, rather than loving the sex that he was born to love. Lastly, Maurice shows us that sometimes class lines can be broken, but only outside the bounds of society. Maurice and Alec were forced to live in the Greenwood not only because of the gender they loved, but because of their polar differences in class. Obstacles arise in life every day, but these characters show us that there are obstacles that there are tougher barriers to overcome than those of sexuality.

1 comment:

  1. Ted,

    Really interesting entry! My paper was also in relation to social class in Maurice, but our arguments were very different. I left out Clive in my paper, and I focused on the relationship between Alec and Maurice. However, your discussion on Clive as well as Stephen from The Well of Loneliness, made for a very interesting paper!