Queer Fiction

People in Fiction: While England Sleeps

while england sleepsDavid Leavitt’s 1993 novel, While England Sleeps, is an ambitious inter-generational, cross-class, multi-national story about love and loss.

Set in England in the 1930s, it is narrated by Brian Botsford, a young man from a privileged background who wants to be a writer. Brian meets a young working-class man, Edward, who is employed on the Underground, itself the subject of a play Brian is writing. The two strike up a passionate relationship, living together in Brian’s small, one-bed flat.

Edward is a likable character, self-educated and deeply committed to the Communist Party ideas (it was at a CP meeting Brian and Edward first met). He carries the Manifesto with him everywhere, reading it often, determined to understand every word. He possesses an innocence which is wholly appealing in his belief that the world can become a better place, and he accepts his sexuality and his desire for Brian with an easy enthusiasm which Brian cannot reciprocate. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Fiction, Queer Blogging

People in Fiction: Maurice

E. M. Forster von Dora Carrington, 1924-25

E.M. Forster. Wikimedia Commons

Following his death in 1970, a manuscript was discovered in E.M. Forster’s house with a brief note scrawled on the cover: “Publishable, but worth it?” Somebody evidently believed it was, because the following year Maurice was published.

Written in 1913 and dedicated “to a happier year”, Maurice is the tale of the protagonist’s coming of age as a queer man at a time when England criminalised same-sex relationships. Much like Laurie in the later Charioteer by Renault (written after Maurice, but published earlier), Maurice is torn between the spiritual affections of his university love, and the carnal nature of his love’s gamekeeper. And if that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Forster showed the manuscript to his close friend D.H. Lawrence, who suggested that as Maurice could never be published for the scandal it would cause, he could reinterpret the story with a heterosexual couple, and thus Lady Chatterley’s Lover was born. (That Forster didn’t object is evident in his appearance as a defence witness for the Lady Chatterley obscenity trial.) Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Fiction, Queer Blogging

People in Fiction: Ancient and Modern Pederasty

“Bathers at San Niccolò” Wikimedia Commons

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.” A letter from Newcastle to the attorney general calls on the state to prosecute one Thomas Cannon (son of the Dean of Lincoln; grandson of the Bishop of Norwich and Ely; and one-time close friend/maybe lover of Cleland) as the author of said pamphlet. The third letter was written by Cannon’s mother to Newcastle, begging that the charges against him be dropped.

The pamphlet remains lost to this day. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Fiction, Queer Blogging

People in Fiction: Zeus and Ganymede

Ganymede Leochares Vatican Inv2445

“Ganymede carried off by the eagle.” Marble, Roman copy after bronze original, ~325BC. Wikimedia Commons

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.

Tros was so grief-stricken with the loss of his son that even Zeus was moved to pity, sending the messenger god Hermes to inform the man of Ganymede’s fate, and compensated him with a pair of the god’s own horses, said to be able to run on thunder and race over water. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Fiction, Queer Blogging

People in Fiction: Fanny Hill

Fanny Hill 1906 image01

Wikimedia Commons

We’re going back a little in time from the Labouchere Amendment, to 1748 and the perhaps surprising choice of an erotic novel told through the eyes of a female prostitute.

Female prostitution and homosexuality have long been linked in British law (Labouchere’s Amendment was to an Act concerned with the former, after all, and the Wolfenden Committee was convened in the 1950s to look at both issues).

Written by John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, better known as Fanny Hill, is the first-person account of the eponymous character’s journey from her arrival in London as an orphaned innocent, through her employment at a brothel, her introduction to sex at the hands of another female prostitute, her first experience with a man, her subsequent life as a prostitute, and her eventual reunion with the young nobleman who took her virginity, whom she marries and saves from financial ruin and disgrace with the money she’s earned. She ends the novel a respectable lady, her wanton past behind her (although her marriage all the happier for her experience!). Not, one would think, a novel particularly relevant to queer history. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Fiction, Queer Blogging