What a Difference a Book Can Make
When I look back over the years (something I’m not often tempted to do now I’m 40 – there’re too many of them!) I find that milestones, at least the emotional/mental ones are often marked by books, movies, music.
I rediscovered one of these markers again the other day. It’s a movie, Maurice, based on the book by E.M. Forster by the same name. I was fifteen or sixteen when I found this movie, staying for some reason at my brother’s flat and bored one night while he was out. There was a fantastic video store within walking distance to where he lived and this is where I carried the movie home from.
I remember sitting on the couch watching it, lit from the inside by a fantastic feeling of recognition. Maurice (according to the blurb on the back of the dvd case – I have my own copy now) is set in ‘pre-World War 1 England and studies a theme few period pieces dare mention – a young man’s struggle with his homosexuality. It is a coming of age for two young men who meet at Cambridge and fall in love. Maurice (James Wilby) and Clive (a very young and pretty Hugh Grant) struggle with the desires of their hearts and the rigid dogma of British class society’.
It’s also one of the few books/movies of its type and time that has a happy ending. Watching this movie was for me, probably the first real time I had seen anything that resembled my own struggles. I grew up not knowing anything about being lesbian, bisexual, homosexual. I knew no one of these ‘persuasions’ and it was even a while before I found the right words for it. So to see on the television screen people dealing with the sort of forbidden love (if I’d discovered anything about it I knew that it was forbidden – you should have seen the look of relief on my mother’s face the first time I let my friend arrange a double date for me with a boy in her class), to see this in colour, played out in front of me, was a revelation. It didn’t matter to me that these were a couple of men, I recognised myself anyway. It didn’t matter that the movie was set far before I was born. From what I knew, things hadn’t changed all that much anyway. Outside in my real world the Homosexual Law Reform Bill was beginning to get debate, and what debate it was – full page spreads in the newspapers by Christian groups damning the bill as against God’s will for family and country.
But there in that room, I finally felt recognised and validated.
I’ve read E.M. Forster’s book since then, and indeed everything else he wrote. He’s one of my favourite authors now. I recently read a biography that suggested that perhaps Forster eventually quit writing novels because he grew frustrated at not being able to portray in them life and love as he really knew them. His book Maurice wasn’t published until after his death, at his request.
I’m luckier that he was. I can write my own books, portraying in them women who love as I do, and I can get them out into the world with a few clicks of a computer button and add them to the growing and thriving store of our own stories.
What books/movies made a difference to you when you were growing up?