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Bartlett, Neil (b. 1958)  

Neil Bartlett was born in England in 1958, and is a theater director, performer, writer, and translator. He is now director of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London. As a performance artist, he devised and acted in Sarrasine, a work of musical theater from Balzac's story, and A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep (1989), inspired by the life of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Simeon Solomon, who persisted in painting and loving boys despite poverty and neglect following his arrest for having sex with a man.

Drawing on Solomon's 1871 prose poem of the same name, the latter show, which was a solo performance by Bartlett, dramatizes a young man's journey from fear to revelation guided by allegorical figures of his soul. Bartlett has said that the show's "central images of an isolated, naked, shaved, haunted and very sexual male body were all derived from Solomon's paintings."

In his performance pieces, Bartlett seeks to create a gay theater that utilizes gay images and language, not just characters. A concern with theater language is also evident in his translations of French classic plays by Racine and Molière. He is drawn to the strict verse forms, grand speech, and popular idioms of these apparently remote plays as ways of expressing and analyzing extreme emotions.

In the book Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde (1988), Bartlett uses autobiography, reflection, fantasy, and imaginative recreation in order to think about Wilde's writing and life in late nineteenth-century London. He searches for traces of lives almost lost from sight, looking with a scholarly passion for clues in literary texts, especially Wilde's works, but also police reports, newspapers, dictionaries, and medical books, in order to reimagine gay lives in nineteenth-century London, and what they share with his life in the 1980s.

What emerges is evidence of a gay subculture twenty years before the Wilde trial, and, more generally, a questioning of the processes of invention and creativity by which gay selves and history have been made.

The novel Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (1990) concerns archetypal figures, Boy, O (the Older Man), Father, and Madame, who runs the Bar where the action is centered. The story follows Boy's first appearance in the Bar, his meeting, courtship and marriage with O, and the couple's taking care of Father until his death. Although the characters and the action are virtually allegorical, the setting suggests an imaginary city like contemporary London, while time-shifts to other periods give a sense of gay history and culture permeating the present.

The narrative sometimes becomes theatrical performance or moments of fantasy, which are reworkings from Wilde, Frederick Rolfe, or Jean Genet, or echoes from films or musicals. Bartlett said that the novel represents the standard narrative of romance--attraction, courtship, marriage, child. Its major reworkings are of the rituals of The Book of Common Prayer into equivalent gay ceremonies.

Bartlett's work always involves "reinventing the past as a way of articulating the present," and finding artistic forms and language that are vivid, passionate, and intelligent.

Lawrence Normand


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literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Twentieth-Century

Homosexuality, both male and female, has a rich, divergent, and increasingly open expression in the literature of the twentieth century.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Gay Male

Since World War II, the gay male novel has progressively flourished in England and especially in America.

literature >> Balzac, Honoré de

One of the masters of French nineteenth-century fiction, Balzac provocatively includes both lesbian and gay male characters in his novels.

literature >> Genet, Jean

Jean Genet's work has left a powerful legacy to post-modernity and remains a provocation to questions of gay identity.

literature >> Rolfe, Frederick William

Frederick William Rolfe (Baron Corvo) is important for the gay literary heritage because of his distinctive decadent prose style, his outrageous decadent lifestyle, and his unashamed celebration of eroticized male friendships in his works.

arts >> Solomon, Simeon

Known for his association with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetic Movement, British artist Simeon Solomon created homoerotic works and suffered as a victim of late nineteenth-century English homophobia.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Burton, Peter. "Neil Bartlett." Talking To... Exeter: Third House, 1991. 1-8.


    Citation Information
    Author: Normand, Lawrence  
    Entry Title: Bartlett, Neil  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 26, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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