People in History: Havelock Ellis
One of the earliest and most influential of the English sexologists was the unlikely figure of Havelock Ellis. Born to a family of sea captains, Ellis emigrated to Australia at sixteen, and spent the next four years working as a teacher (not very successfully: when his first employer discovered his complete lack of qualifications to do the job, he was dismissed; he ended up running the next school he worked at after the master unexpectedly died, but was swiftly replaced). Despite his failures, he reported in his autobiography that in Australia “I gained health of body, I attained peace of soul, my life task was revealed to me, I was able to decide on a professional vocation, I became an artist in literature.” (more…)
The History of Homosexuality: Sexology
Pretty much everything we know and think we understand today about human sexuality has its origins in the science of sexology, which emerged in Europe in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. While books about sex have existed through the ages, they generally took manual form — like the Kama Sutra — and were concerned only with the act of sex, and how to have it. (more…)
People in Fiction: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde’s only novel, Dorian Gray was published first by Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890, and then as a revised and lengthened book in 1891.
The tale is a unique blend of comedy of manners, love story, acerbic social commentary, supernatural suspense, and artists’ manifesto. The premise is simple: the dandyish Lord Henry Wotton sits in on his friend, Basil Hallward, painting the beautiful young Dorian Gray. Dorian, a little vain and spoilt, sees the finished picture and curses it because it will always remain young and beautiful while he must age. He wishes he could change places and have the portrait age in his stead, which is, of course, what happens. (more…)
People in History: Lord Byron
George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), sixth Baron Bryon, was a Romantic poet today best remembered for his long works Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and one of history’s most famous libertines.
Byron was born in London (or maybe Dover) to an unconventional family, Bryon inherited his title at only ten years old. He came from a long line of intemperate and notorious figures: his father “Mad Jack” Bryon was known as a cruel and vicious husband, who ran up staggering debts; his paternal grandfather, “Foulweather Jack” Bryon was the younger brother of the fifth baron, Bryon’s great-uncle, who in turn was commonly known as “the Wicked Lord.” His mother Catherine was an alcoholic and “a woman without judgment or self-command”; her father committed suicide in 1779. (more…)
The History of Homosexuality: Fops, Coxcombs, Libertines, and Dandies
Although we’ve already discussed that “homosexuality” as a concept didn’t exist prior to the 1860s, queer men have been noted across all countries and societies since the dawn of recorded time. Often, those men migrated towards each other, forming their own subcultures. While the idea that a person’s sexual orientation predisposes them to conform to a certain overall type is relatively recent (and ludicrous: there is no single “gay experience,” although the notion has a pleasing homogeneity which has been effectively used in recent years to win emancipation in the West), there were still various stereotypes through the ages of how queerfolk were supposed to act. (more…)
People in Fiction: Ancient and Modern Pederasty
The last page of The Gentleman’s Magazine comprised a “Register of Books” published the previous month. The April 1749 issue listed the text “Pederasty investigated and exemplified, 1s.” No author or publisher was listed.
Three other references to the text — full title, Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d — were discovered by eighteenth century scholars in the following years: a letter from John Cleland (of Fanny Hill fame) written to the Duke of Newcastle’s law clerk, accusing the “son of a Dean and grandson of a Bishop” of being the author of “a pamphlet evidently in defence of sodomy.” (more…)
People in History: The Burney Collection
As part of my Master’s dissertation, I examined instances of the word “sodomy” in the Burney Collection, a database of seventeenth and eighteenth-century newspaper archives named for its curator, the Rev. Charles Burney. My studies focused on the years 1730-1770, and left me with a wealth of short, fascinating articles which I’ve kept hold of ever since, looking for the right time and place to share them.
Mother Clap’s molly house — a tavern for sodomites — was raided in February 1726, resulting in the arrest of forty men. Over subsequent months of the same year, more molly houses were raided. Despite the taverns having rooms with beds available to their patrons, none of the men arrested had been caught in compromising positions (although more than a handful were discovered with their breeches undone), and most were released without charge. (more…)
The History of Homosexuality: The Napoleonic Code
The Napoleonic Code is the name for a new code of law introduced in France under Napoleon I in 1804, the purpose of which was to replace the patchwork of feudal laws which had previously existed and unify the French legal system under a more democratic form of rule. Most notably, the code prohibited birthright privileges, specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified candidates, and established freedom of religion.(more…)
People in Fiction: Zeus and Ganymede
One of the most enduring of the Greek myths concerns Ganymede, the son of Tros, a great king for whom Troy and the Trojans are named. Tros had three sons, all perfect, but Ganymede was said to be the most beautiful boy who had ever lived. One day, while still a youth, Ganymede was resting in a meadow on Mount Ida when Zeus, king of the gods, saw him and fell instantly in love.
Summoning a great storm, Zeus transformed into an eagle and swept from the skies, seized the boy, and carried him off to the heavens. There, he made Ganymede immortal and gave him a position as cupbearer to the gods, supplanting his daughter Hebe, who had previously held the title. (more…)