October 31, 2008
Posted by Erastes under history
A Lounge used to mean “gossip shop” which was probably ye olde Starbucks, as there were more coffee houses in the 18th century in London than there are now, apparently.
And this useless but fascinating snippet of information is just the sort of thing you’ll get more of at our brand new lounge – or Yahoo Chat Group, if you will – SPEAK ITS NAME - which opens its doors today.
All day – for we have writer/members all over the world – we’ll be chatting, sharing snippets, answering questions, writing flashfic on demand (or just because we want to), and announcing giveaways and competitions. There will be lots to read, lots to chat about, and lots to WIN.
Tamara Allen : Alex Beecroft : Martin Brandt : Charlie Cochrane
Emma Collingwood : Katherine Cross : Erastes
Ann Herendeen : Kalita Kasar : Kiernan Kelly
Syd McGingley : Parhelion : Mark R Probst : Lee Rowan
Ruth Sims : J M Snyder : Julia Talbot
E L van Hine : Emily Veinglory : Stevie Woods
So pop along, join in and perhaps we can even tempt you to try writing gay historicals too. Because men+brass buttons? There’s just nothing like it.
October 28, 2008
‘I never knew a woman brought to sea in a ship that some mischief did not befall the vessel‘
Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood
That ladette of the Royal Navy (movie “Carry On Jack”)
It usually starts with the question “… and what are you writing about?”
I’ll reply “historical gay romance” to keep it short. Actually, I write historical adventure with supernatural elements and gay romance. However, “romance” is all people hear, and they immediately wrinkle their noses. They think of the novelettes about handsome rich doctors and beautiful poor nurses you can buy at the newsagents. Or of a 800 page novel with a cover showing a half-naked damsel in distress, kneeling in front of Fabio with a torn shirt. To them, romance is icky. It’s not intellectual. It’s written by women wearing fedoras and read by women with no career or too much time at hand. Romance is the equivalent to stepping barefoot on a slug.
Once they learn that my stories are set in the 18th century and the main characters are serving in the Royal Navy, things get pear shaped. Accusations of “supporting imperialism and war crimes” are thrown around. The 18th century, so I’ve been told, can’t be used as background for any romance because it was a brutish age full of injustice, and placing a loving couple right in the middle of it would be far too frivolous.
Darn it, there go Aimée and Jaguar.
October 26, 2008
What’s better? Historical Accuracy or Feminism? There’s only one way to find out! FIGHT!
No, seriously. Emma Collingwood will be discussing the subject in The Boy’s Club on Tuesday.
And on Thursday we’ll be reminding, and announcing the Great Hallowe’en Launch of our brand new yahoo chat group SPEAK ITS NAME.
It all kicks off, breeches ripping, buttons flying, cravats untangling – on Friday 31st October (my birthday, cough cough). Loads of The Macaronis will be there to answer your questions – and other great stuff yet to be announced – So join up you know you want to. We’ll be approving all members on Thursday ready for the big chat.
Macaroni – (n) comfort food for historians and lovers of gay fiction
October 23, 2008
Biopics, whether you love them or hate them, are here to stay. Often inaccurate (never!), usually sanitised, they’re a mixed pleasure at best. What I find annoying is where the leading character bears no physical resemblance to the original.
was nothing like Cole Porter,
nor was Cary Grant
(could you find two men more dissimilar?)
although Nikolas Grace
would have been ideal. I want my people to look how they should.
So with that in mind, I have a few suggestions for biopics and suitable casting:
‘The Onlie Begetter (possibly)’, a life of the Earl of Southampton
starring Jamie Bamber
in his best Archie Kennedy mode.
‘Licence my roving hands’, with John Donne
portrayed by Ioan Gruffudd.
(Donne was of Welsh descent so the accent shouldn’t cause too much consternation.)
‘The Iron Butterfly’, a wonderful musical based on the life of Jeanette Macdonald,
although more recent pictures suggest
that she might be more suited to the role of Mae West.
‘The Perfect Ten’ – alas, this film will never be made as the man I had in mind for the divine Jonny Wilkinson
was the equally lovely Heath Ledger
Maybe they’ll do a biopic of Heath and let Jonny play the part?
October 21, 2008
Many Australians, and in fact many people the world over, are under the mistaken impression that “Terra Australis Incognita” was used to refer to Australia. In fact, the term terra australis goes back much further than the discovery of New Holland (Australia).
The concept that the Indian Ocean must be enclosed by a large, unknown land in the south which acted as a counter balance to the land mass of the north, was first posited by Aristotle and expanded upon later by Ptolemy (1st century AD). Cartographers argued that Aristotle’s theory was logical, and insisted that the south land must exist. Although explorative expeditions reduced the amount of area the great continent was meant to cover over time, it was still thought that New Zealand was certainly a part of the continent, as were Africa and Australia.
In 1615, Jacob le Maire and Willhelm Schouten rounded Cape Horn and proved that the southern land was in fact separated from South America, and Abel Tasman’s 1642 circumnavigation of New Holland proved that Australia was not a part of the mythical continent. Finally, Captain James Cook made a circumnavigation of the globe on a high, southerly latitude, proving that if such a continent did exist, it must lie well within the polar regions and could not possibly extend into temperate zones as previously thought.
The romantic in me, inspired me to take terra australis incognita as the title of this post, and I must beg forgiveness if it was misleading. I would love to believe that Australia is the ‘unknown land’ referred to in the old myth, but alas it is not so.
That doesn’t mean to say, however, that Australia is not a land of mystery and intrigue in her own right. In her short and often violent history since her discovery and settlement, there are a wealth of inspirational stories to be told.
From a ‘Macaroni’ perspective, Australia offers an abundance of opportunities for m/m historical stories just begging to be told. From the outset Australia’s male population greatly exceeded the female population, a situation that was not remedied for many years.
Australia’s history abounds with stories – true ones – of deep bonds of love and affection between male partners.
One such record, discovered in the archives office of Tasmania, has become known as the ‘Dear Lover’ letter. It was written by a male convict facing execution, to his male lover and is a remarkable document, not only in its content, but in the fact that it survived.
I hope you won’t forget me when I am far away and all my bones is mouldered away. I have not closed an eye since I have lost sight of you. Your precious sight was always a welcome and loving charming spectacle. Dear Jack, I value death nothing but it is in leaving you my dear behind and no one to look after you….
Your true and loving
Records from the Norfolk Island Penal settlement “speak of some 100-150 [same sex] couples who consorted together and were referred to as husband and wife.” (Robert French Historian/Archivist – The Hidden History of Homosexual Australia DVD distributed by Madman 2004)
There is evidence of lesbian activity in the records of the Tasmanian Women’s Factory. One such record relates to an incident in 1842 when superintendent John Hutchinson went to investigate a disturbance at around 8pm. Looking in at a window, he identified five women – Ellen Arnold, Elisabeth Armstrong, Frances Hutchinson, Eliza Smith and Mary Deverena – who were:
“dancing perfectly naked, and making obscene attitudes towards each other, they were also singing and shouting and making use of most disgusting language. There was a sixth woman but I could not positively swear to her, the disgusting attitudes towards each other were in imitation of men and women together.”
In the 1830’s, The Mouldsworth Inquiry into the colonies discussed the question of whether the colonies would be granted self-government. This inquiry turned up so much evidence of homosexual activity that the chief justice of the time called Australia a Sodom in the South Pacific. (The Hidden History of Homosexual Australia DVD distributed by Madman 2004)
Although caution in the evaluation of evidence from the report is advisable due to the fact that the reason for the inquiry was an attempt to stop convicts from being sent to Australia, it is also reasonable to think that because Australia was a penal colony, such activities could and did occur.
The stories I have referred to in this article are not even the tip of the iceberg of Australia’s homosexual history. From bushrangers to men of influence to ‘passing women,’ there is bound to be a story to suit every taste buried somewhere in the archives of this young, but unique southern land.
October 19, 2008
Good Day to you, gentle readers.
This week we offer the following delights:
On Tuesday Margaret Leigh explores Terra Australis Incognita
And on Thursday, Charlie Cochrane asks: Who should play Who?
Do make a note in your diary – or add a Livejournal feed – so you never miss a post!
October 16, 2008
I’m sure you’ve already discovered this site – and for any historical writer it’s an essential bookmark and a huge wealth of resource. When I first found it it only had cases in a range of about 100 years, but it expands – and now there are cases from the 1670s to the 1910s. it’s a very easy site to navigate too, and has a lot more information than first appears.
When researching Standish I found so much that I didn’t know – the offence that Ambrose is accused of – that of “consenting to an assault of sodomitical intent” sounds incredible to our modern ears, but it’s true – the person having the sodomy perpetrated upon him, could be charged and could be found as guilty as the person performing the act.
Assault with Sodomitical Intent
This charge was levelled in cases of attempted or actual anal intercourse where it was thought impossible (or undesirable) to prove that penetration and ejaculation had actually occurred. This offence was a misdemeanour. See also: Sodomy. Prosecutions for this offence become markedly more common from the 1840s.
What I found interesting was that the burden of proof – penetration AND ejaculation had to be attested to by two witnesses – which would have made it more difficult to prove. However people often lied, I’m sure – leading to more hangings than were necessary, perhaps.
Anal or oral intercourse between a man and another man, woman, or beast. In order to obtain a conviction, it was necessary to prove that both penetration and ejaculation had occurred, and two witnesses were required to prove the crime. Both the “active” and “passive” partner could be found guilty of this offence. But due to the difficulty of proving this actual penetration and ejaculation many men were prosecuted with the reduced charge of assault with sodomitical intent. Details of sodomy prosecutions were censored from the Proceedings from the 1780s onwards. For more information on the gay communities of London see the Homosexuality pages.
Don’t forget that a “lenient punishment” such as pillorying or imprisonment (usually in Newgate, as that prison was attached to the Old Bailey by an underground corridor) were hardly lenient at all, and could both of them mean a death sentence. Unlike Hollywood and the BBC portrayals of the Pillory, people didn’t always throw rotten fruit and vegetables to the general amusement of all. Rocks were often used, faeces and “cannonballs” of mud and stones. People died in the Pillory – John Waller (perjurer) was stoned to death – and the six convicted members of the Vere Street Coterie (men arrested at the White Swan, a Molly House, in 1810 – had to have the protection of 200 armed constables to prevent the crowds from killing them in the pillory.
And a sentence, even a small one, for a stay in Newgate depended very much on your financial circumstances. The prisons of days before the reforms instigated by Elizabeth Fry and Dickens during the mid 1800’s were dreadful places. You had to pay an (unofficial) fee upon entrance to the warders – food wasn’t provided as a matter of course, you had to buy it – so if you didn’t have money you were in danger of starving to death. Before you could be released you not only had to pay your fine (difficult if you were in prison and not earning money) but again, another strictly unofficial “release fee” to the warders. If you couldn’t pay this – you didn’t get out, simple as that. Of course if you had money, or a way to earn money within the prison walls, or kind friends and relations – anything was for sale inside the jail itself. Including a a cleaner or a maid, alcohol (Newgate had two bars) and sex of any type.
Here’s a small selection of cases: (more…)
October 13, 2008
Posted by eroticromance under history
I am writing this post is partly to provide information, and partly to solicit it. For as much as I feel I have a creditable shelf full of Victorian reference books, I could always use a few more. I will start with five books specifically on the subject of homosexuality in the Victorian period–my own focus being late in that period and on into the Edwardian era.
Victorian homosexuality is generally a topic you have to cobble together information about, from sundry and scattered sources. The information available leans heavily towards the UK (especially London) and certain celebrated upper-class artsists. However in 2003 Graham Robb provided the first creditable general reference covering the US and UK in ‘Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Ninetheenth Century’. Robb is a biography writer and his style chops together memoir and statistics with his own idionsyncratic assumptions–so it pays to read this book in a strong-minded way rather than take it as gospel. Nevertheless, Robb provides a starting block of more specific research that was, until recently, conspicuously missing.
From here the reader has many directions to go. However for this era I would suggest starting with an appreciation of the role of religion, not only because it is insidiously importnt but also because many novelists lazily stereotype Victorian religious beleifs. I absolutely adore Frederick Roden’s ‘Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture’ which has an amazing depth and breadth of information about how religion and homosexuality (including lesbianism) intersect during this period in the US and UK. That said it retails for an insane cover price of over US$100.
From there I would suggest delving into some of the important cultural movements that have implications for sexuality and masculinity. There are an awful lot of options here but ‘Masculine Desire: the Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism’ by Richard Dellamora is a favorite of mine.
At some point it pays to get specific about place and time. For example if a writer is planning to use London as a setting, s/he will need to realise that its history is very well known and documented–so it pays to work out some of the landmarks and use them to get a more specific understanding of the local culture. For example on of the major turning points in London was the exposure of a house of male prostitution in 1889. One of the better books describing both the events of the prosecution and ts implications is ‘The Cleveland Street Scandal’ by H. Montgomery Hyde. Another approach would be to pick up biographies of known gay figures from that time and place, which in the case of London, would offer enough reading material for a lifetime.
Finally, one obvious way to pick up the aesthetics and language of some of the homosexual cultures of the era is to read the literature. On of the better collections is ‘Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: the Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in England from 1748 to 1914′ edited by Mark Mitchell and David Leavitt.
My two cautions would be to also make sure you research general lifestyle issues for your chosen period and place. For example, food, fashion, politics, symbolism, servants, crime etc etc. Als do not necessarily let youself be drawn into the best documented areas–in fact writing characters from rural area, lower classes and countries other than the US and UK may offer more artistic license than trying to shoehorn a story into the known events at major cities and universities. If you venture into less research areas however you will need to go back to the tried and true method of scouring general reference books and biographies for relevant information as specialist books of ‘homosexual history’ have yet to be written for many countries–let alone books that focus on the Vistorian period or any specific region.
And as I mentioned at the beginning–if there are any books on this subject that you would particulalrly recommend, please let me know. Hell, on of these days I may even stop reading about Victorian homosexuality and… oh… maybe write a novel?
October 12, 2008
This week we have a bit of a research theme for the rendition of readers of redoubtable romances.
On Tuesday, Emily Veinglory will be sharing some resources for Victorian m/m writers.
On Thursday we’ll be exposing some of the seedier sex cases at the Old Bailey.
Come one, come all!
October 9, 2008
Posted by Erastes under history
Thirteen Things about Gay Love Poetry
Children of the future age,
Reading this indignant page,
Know that in a former time,
Love, sweet Love, was thought a crime!
William Blake (1757-1827)
1. The Song of Songs, Now widely acknowledged to be a homoerotic poem:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
2. Shakespeare, notably the infamous (and very witty) Sonnet 20:
A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion:
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes, and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman were thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.
3. Abu Nuwas (756-815): I Die of Love
I die of love for him, perfect in every way,
Lost in the strains of wafting music.
My eyes are fixed upon his delightful body
And I do not wonder at his beauty.
His waist is a sapling, his face a moon,
And loveliness rolls off his rosy cheek
I die of love for you, but keep this secret:
The tie that binds us is an unbreakable rope.
How much time did your creation take, O angel?
So what! All I want is to sing your praises.
4. Michelangelo: In the 1530s, Michelangelo was sustaining a relationship with his much younger model Febo di Poggio. He calls Febo “that little blackmailer,” because Febo adopted Michelangelo as “my honorary father” and steadily demanded money, clothes, and love-gifts from him. On a page containing financial calculations, Michelangelo wrote:
Here with his beautiful eyes he promised me solace,
And with those very eyes he tried to take it away from me.
Their passion raged through 1533-34, but ended when Michelangelo discovered that the mignon had “betrayed” him, perhaps by actually stealing money or drawings from his sugar-daddy. The artist felt humiliated by his subservience to the model.
Several poems pun upon the boy’s name. “Febo” equals Phoebus, and poggio is the Italian word for “hill”–and suggest physical consummation:
Blithe bird, excelling us by fortune’s sway,
Of Phoebus’ thine the prize of lucent notion,
Sweeter yet the boon of winged promotion
To the hill whence I topple and decay!
But such a topple was sweet:
Easily could I soar, with such a happy fate,
When Phoebus brightened up the heights.
His feathers were wings and the hill the stair.
Phoebus was a lantern to my feet.
5. Walt Whitman: Perhaps less love for a single man, but love for the rough-trade he would immerse himself in. Whitman’s notebooks of this period are filled with descriptions of bus drivers, ferry-boat men, and other “rude, illiterate” men that he met
…I share the midnight orgies of young men . . .
I pick out some low person for my dearest friend,
He shal be lawless, rude, illiterate, he shall be condemned by others for deeds done,
I will play a part no longer, why should I exile myself from my companions?
And more romantically. . .
When I Heard at the Close of the Day From “Leaves of Grass“
…And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover, was on his way coming, O then I was happy;
O then each breath tasted sweeter—and all that day my food nourish’d me more—and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy—and with the next, at evening, came my friend;
And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands, as directed to me, whispering, to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that night I was happy.
6. Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas: Famous for being linked to Oscar Wilde and his poem “Two Loves“ gives us one of the most famous lines in gay poetry.
I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.
Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.
7. W H Auden’s “Funeral Blues,” famously famous in Four Weddings & a Funeral:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
8. Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. In Gaveston’s first speech he reads Edward’s letter to him, and he remarks upon it:
‘My father is deceased. Come Gaveston,
And share the kingdom with thy dearest friend.’
Ah, words that make me surfeit with delight!
What greater bliss can hap to Gaveston
Than live and be the favourite of a King!
Sweet prince, I come! These, these thy amorous lines
Might have enforced me to have swum from France,
And, like Leander, gasped upon the sand,
So thou wouldst smile, and take me in thine arms.
9. Sir Philip Sidney‘s “My True-Love Hath My Heart” from Arcadia:
My true-love hath my heart, and I have his, By just exchange one for the other given..
10. Hafiz, circa 1320-1389:
With looks disheveled, flushed in a sweat of drunkenness His shirt torn open, a song on his lips and wine cup in his hand With eyes looking for trouble, lips softly complaining So at midnight last night he came and sat at my pillow. . . .”
11. Byron’s Don Leon (attributed):
How oft, beneath the arbour’s mystic shade, My boyish vows of constancy were made! There on the grass as we recumbent lay, Not coy wast thou, nor I averse to play; And in that hour thy virtue’s sole defence Was not thy coldness, but my innocence.
12. Muhammad al-Nawaji bin Hasan bin Ali bin Othman (1383?-1455) wrote For a Beautiful Black Boy:
Aroused, he exhales
The intense perfume of his musk.
The sight of his face, lit by a ray of light
13. Byron’s The Cornelian. Byron became obsessed with a choirboy, John Edleston (spelled “Eddleston” by Byron), whom Byron met as a student at Cambridge and with whom he was deeply in love (see The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, ed. Byrne R. S. Fone, p. 219) and the poem is about a stone that Edleston once gave the poet.
He offer’d it with downcast look,
As fearful that I might refuse it;
I told him, when the gift I took,
My only fear should be, to lose it.
This pledge attentively I view’d,
And sparkling as I held it near,
Methought one drop the stone bedew’d,
And, ever since, I’ve lov’d a tear.
Please share your own favourites?
October 7, 2008
The Language of fans.
No, I don’t mean OMGWTFBBQ! Or ‘squee’! Though I’m sure a post on the language of media fans in the 21st Century would be invaluable to the historical novelists of the future. No, I’m talking about the kind of fan you use to cool your face, particularly in the ballrooms of Regency novels, and the suggestion that they were used to convey coded messages through a well known repertoire of gestures.
Since I’m concentrating on the language of fans, I’ll pass over the other uses of fans throughout most of history by cunningly referring you to this handy website: Life was a Breeze with Fans
So… Googling on ’18th Century fans’ will inevitably turn up a number of sites like this
http://www.ideco.com/fans/language.htm or this http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/riley/200/fans.html
which give long lists of different fan positions and the different meanings which are to be attached to each. This struck me as extremely cool. But the lists were sometimes quite different from each other – sometimes dangerously contradictory. It’s a bit of a disaster to drop your fan, meaning ‘let us be friends’, only to discover you’ve really said ‘I am yours forever’. Suppose your right arm gets tired? Then you only have the choice of getting really hot or saying ‘do not flirt with that woman’ to your entire acquaintance.
This led me to wonder how much truth there was in the idea of a formalized language of fans at all. Sadly, a bit more digging brought to light the news that the well known language as practiced in Georgian ballrooms was actually an invention of a 19th Century fan maker named Duvelleroy. He printed out a sheet of instructions and enclosed them with his fans as a marketing gimmick. See this exhibition of the language in use in the delightfully named ‘Fan Slang’ page of the royal collection.
For people who are determined that there must have been an earlier version of this language in existence, some hope is held out by the fact that Duvelleroy is said to have adapted (and vastly expanded) an original German version of a pre-existing Spanish guide.
Liza Picard, whose ‘Dr. Johnson’s London’ seems to me to be a very reliable guide, mentions fan language, and gives a much shorter list of meanings, which comprises just fifteen gestures, including ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘hush, we are being overheard’. I wondered where she had got this from – whether this was the original pre-Duvelleroy list – but sadly there doesn’t seem to be a reference in the back of the book or a footnote to give her references.
So I thought I’d see what the people of the period have to say. Here is Addison in 1711 with a tongue in cheek proposal to set up a new academy of the fan for genteel young ladies:
Mr Spectator – women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them
I’ve linked that because it’s long and well worth reading in its entirety. But clearly Addison, in mocking the use of the fan to express its bearer’s emotions, has no idea at all that it might be used for sending coded messages. I’m inclined to think that if it had been so used at the time, he would have known about it.
It wouldn’t have been a very good language if none of the men you used it with recognized its existence. I’ve actually got a scene in False Colors where Mrs. Deane is attempting to tell the hero, John, that he is being indiscreet, and that the two of them will be good friends. But sadly John is entirely ignorant of the existence of fan language and doesn’t even notice that she’s trying to say something. If Addison is to be believed that may not be too off the mark!
Fans could be used for other communication, however – all sorts of information could be painted on the backs of them. This site has some lovely pictures of a fan with samples of botanical classification, another with dance steps, and another with a calendar of saints days marked on. They could also be used to demonstrate political leanings or patriotism – for example this fan commemorating the Battle of the Nile.
Of course there’s nothing to prevent there having been the occasional informal use of a fan to send pre-arranged signals – in fact it seems unlikely that that wouldn’t have occasionally happened among groups of friends or a certain ‘set’. But still, on balance I would be wary about including too much general knowledge of any ‘language of the fan’ before the 19th Century. I don’t think it was the popular phenomenon that some websites would have you believe.
October 5, 2008
Bah for the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness! It’s pissing it down in Norforlk, UK. Hope it’s nicer where you are.
This week we are playful and poetic for your perfect perspicacity!
On Tuesday, Alex Beecroft gets all girly and coy and shares with you the language of fans.
On Thursday we wax lyrical over some of the most tender gay poetry known to man. Men. whatever.
Hope you enjoy, and we’ll see you during the week.
October 2, 2008
Between 1905 and 1924, E M Forster published five novels, three of which – ‘A Room With a View’, ‘Howards End’ and ‘A Passage to India’ – are rightly regarded as classics. He also produced one of the most acclaimed gay historical novels. ‘Maurice’, finished in 1914, wasn’t published until after the author’s death, so it doesn’t come under my remit here. I want to explore if there were any indications of Forster’s sexuality in the books which appeared in his lifetime.
What I don’t want to do is play “hunt the closet gay character”. I once saw, in an introduction to ‘The Longest Journey’, the proposition that Rickie Elliot’s congenital lameness is perhaps a metaphor for homosexuality. Only Forster himself could answer that. What I’m looking for are little touches, scenes and characterisation, which reflect Forster’s inclinations, themselves largely unexplored at the time he was writing, according to his biographer. It was possible that the man was still sexually inexperienced when ‘Maurice’ was written.
It has to be said that, with one strange and notable exception, there isn’t a lot to show for my search.
There are the occasional touches of homoeroticism, instances of men sublimely happy in the company and contact of other men. For example, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’, Philip Herriton is pulled up into a box at the opera, a box full of enthusiastic Italian men.
“Philip would have a spasm of terror at the muddle he had made. But the spasm would pass and again he would be enchanted by the kind, cheerful voices, the laughter that was never vapid, and the light caress of the arm across his back.”
Now, it’s hardly Alan Hollingshurst, is it, but this novel was published in the days when love really couldn’t speak its name, when Oscar Wilde’s trials were as close in the memory as George Michael’s coming out is in ours.
There are two instances in Forster’s books of a male friendship where one man takes umbrage at the other’s interest in women and subsequent marriage. Stuart Ansell in the ‘The Longest Journey’ even refuses to say that Rickie’s friend Agnes exists and when the pair marry, cuts himself off from them, not even answering Rickie’s letters. Similarly in ‘A Room with a View’, Mr Beebe is grieved and turns away from friendship with George Emerson when it’s plain he’s going to marry Lucy. “…he no longer interests me.” I wonder if Forster saw either of these characters as in the closet (as they would have had to be at the time) and suffering from unrequited, unrequitable, love.
When ‘Howard’s End’ was published in 1910, The Chicago Tribune thought the author was a woman. Forster was supposed to have no knowledge of sex between men and women at the time and may well have still been sexually inexperienced himself. Katherine Mansfield wrote that she was puzzled about how Helen Schlegel got pregnant, if it was “by Leonard Bast or by his fatal forgotten umbrella”. But eight years earlier he’d written the most remarkable – for our purposes – short story, ‘The Story of a Panic’.
Fourteen year old Eustace is holidaying with his aunts in Ravello. He gets lost in the woods and something (it’s never clear what – an encounter with Pan perhaps) happens to him which leaves him unnaturally happy, changed in character, and walking “with difficulty, almost with pain”. As they return to the hotel, he’s desperate to find Gennaro, one of the waiters, into whose arms he leaps, quite literally. I won’t spoil the rest of the story, there’s enough so far to be getting on with.
The interpretation which springs to mind, although Forster said he didn’t consciously mean anything like this, is a disturbing one. The waiter’s having a relationship with the boy, and they have an assignation, presumably sexual, in the woods. If the author was speaking the truth, then it seems an extraordinary working out of his sub-conscious, hidden desires. Could he really have been so naive that he couldn’t see what other people did? P N Furbank says that prior to writing Maurice, Forster ‘had been seeking relief by writing facetious stories on a homosexual theme’. The Story of a Panic must have been one of these – it’s certainly the most overtly suggestive of the short stories I’ve come across, although there’s said to be one I’ve yet to track down about a baby being created from two men’s seed.
Is there more? I’m sure there is, bits and pieces I’ve missed, stories I’ve yet to turn up. It’s certainly fascinating reading these books with the benefit of hindsight and with knowledge, that most of Forster’s readers lacked, of the man’s true nature.