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literature

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Brooke, Rupert (1887-1915)  

The English poet Rupert Brooke was bisexual, reflecting his sexuality in both his letters and his poetry.

Rupert Brooke was born on August 3, 1887, and died at the age of twenty-seven while on his way to fight at Gallipoli. Because his death followed shortly after the publication of five sonnets extolling the virtues of patriotic sacrifice, Brooke's tragic early death (and, no doubt, his good looks) became inextricably linked in the public mind with his sonnets glorifying war, and a national hero was born--one bearing little resemblance to the actual man.

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To maintain the patriotic legend, Brooke's first literary executor, Geoffrey Keynes, spent a lifetime trying to downplay Brooke's attraction to men. However, until December 1907, when Brooke was twenty years old, he never--in his personal relationships or in his letters--exhibited any attraction to the opposite sex.

When Keynes edited a collection of Brooke's letters, even he felt compelled to allow into print some of them from Brooke's schoolboy days describing crushes on other boys--two in particular--although their names (Charles Lascelles and Michael Sadleir) were deleted by Keynes. Brooke's love for these two boys was deeply felt (particularly in the case of Lascelles), but it was not until the age of twenty-two that he engaged in sex with another man, Denham Russell Smith, the younger brother of a friend.

In July 1912, a few days following Smith's death from an infection, Brooke described his seduction of Smith in surprising detail in a letter to James Strachey. It is the only account that Brooke ever wrote detailing his own sex act with another person, although he did acknowledge in another letter to Strachey that he had consummated an affair with their mutual friend Katherine Cox.

There is considerable evidence in Brooke's writing of his attraction to men aside from his declarations of affection for Lascelles and Sadleir and his seduction of Denham Russell Smith. He once, for example, referred to his friend Jacques Raverat as one of the few men in England with whom he had never been in love. In another instance, as he was training for war Brooke wrote in a letter, "Occasionally I'm faintly shaken by a suspicion that I might find incredible beauty in the washing place, with rows of naked, superb men, bathing in a September sun."

Brooke was apparently bisexual, however, rather than homosexual, for his torturous relationships with women have been well documented. In one of his personal notebooks he shows a strong identification with Shakespeare because of the latter's love of both sexes: "The truth is that some great men are and womanizers."

Throughout his life, Brooke had close friends who were homosexual, and usually in love with him. As a schoolboy at Rugby, he was befriended by the aesthetic poet John Lucas-Lucas. At Cambridge, his best friend was James Strachey, who worshiped him. Even after suffering a nervous breakdown and denouncing Bloomsbury in 1912, Brooke only replaced one set of homosexual friends with another. His best friend at the end of his life was Edward Marsh, who was as much in love with him as Strachey had been.

Brooke makes abundant references to same-sex affection in his letters to James Strachey, which were kept out of print by Brooke's executors until 1998 for that very reason. Accounts of his schoolboy crushes can be found in the early sections of The Letters of Rupert Brooke, edited (and bowdlerized) by Keynes. There are also a considerable number of descriptions of male beauty in Brooke's collection of travel articles, Letters from America (1916).

The poetry for which Brooke is most famous tends to involve impersonal matters, but his earliest poems, which seem more autobiographical in nature, were almost certainly written for the primary love of his youth (and, some critics have claimed, the real love of his life), Charles Lascelles. These include "God Give," "It is Well," "Dedication," "The Path of Dreams," "The Return," "In January," "In the End," "Vanitas," "The Beginning," "Song," "Pine Trees and Sky: Evening," "Failure," and "Choriambics I and II."

Keith Hale

     

 
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    Bibliography
   

Caesar, Adrian. Taking It Like a Man: Suffering, Sexuality and the War Poets: Brooke, Sassoon, Owen, Graves. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1993.

Hale, Keith, ed. Friends and Apostles: The Correspondence of James Strachey, 1905-1914. London: Yale University Press, 1998.

Hassall, Christopher. Rupert Brooke: A Biography. London: Faber & Faber, 1964.

Lehmann, John. The Strange Destiny of Rupert Brooke. New York: Holt, 1980.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Hale, Keith  
    Entry Title: Brooke, Rupert  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 21, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/brooke_r.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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