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Dickinson, Goldsworthy Lowes (1862-1932)  
 
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In the chapter on the individual--the most relevant for glbtq concerns--Dickinson quotes the famous allegory of the charioteer in Plato's Phaedrus, a locus classicus for homoerotic love, and adds that "the ultimate harmony is achieved, not by the complete eradication of desire, but by its due subordination to the higher principle. Even Plato, the most ascetic of the Greeks, is a Greek first and an ascetic afterwards." Dickinson's interpretation of Platonic love, then, is a liberal one that rejects the narrow view that equates Platonism with asceticism or abstinence.

Then Dickinson alludes to Socrates's homoerotic attraction and allure: "Young men and boys followed and hung on his lips wherever he went . . . . His relation to his young disciples was that of a lover and a friend; and the stimulus given by his dialectics to their keen and eager minds was supplemented and reinforced by the appeal to their admiration and love of his sweet and virile personality."

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After discussing the role of women in Greek society, Dickinson notes that "romance" took the form of "passionate friendship between men," which he illustrates by citing the Theban Sacred Band, an army of male lovers; several legendary homoerotic couples: Achilles and Patroclus, Pylades and Orestes, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Solon and Peisistratus, Socrates and Alcibiades, Epaminondas and Pelopidas; and the entire speech of Diotima in the Symposium, the source par excellence for Platonic love.

Dickinson reaches a remarkably candid conclusion about Platonic love and homoerotic desire: "That there was another side to the matter goes without saying. This passion, like any other, has its depths, as well as its heights." Dickinson's candor here is especially noteworthy considering that he published The Greek Way of Life only one year after Oscar Wilde had been sent to prison for homosexual liaisons or "gross indecency." (Moreover, he insists on the significance of homoeroticism in Platonic thought even as he quotes the Benjamin Jowett translations of Plato, which considerably tone down the physical in Plato's erotic dialogues.) In The Greek Way of Life, Dickinson opens a fascinating window to Greek homoeroticism.

Private Life: Autobiography

Composed in middle age, but not published until some forty years after his death, Dickinson's Autobiography turns "to the curious, passionate, unhappy, ecstatic story of my love and loves." Even as he relates the story, however, Dickinson signals his wariness as to the reaction of his readers: "I do so with the feeling that those who read, if they are what is called normal men, will not understand, and if they are homosexual, likely enough will find it absurd." The Autobiography remains our most valuable source of information on Dickinson's (sex) life; it matters to glbtq culture for its explicitness and its "modern" outlook.

Dickinson describes how he had numerable crushes on attractive students and how he fell in love with several men, including the Bloomsbury art critic Roger Fry, the undergraduates Ferdinand Schiller and Oscar Eckhard, and the much younger Peter Savary. (According to Paul Robinson, one could add J. R. Ackerley, author of My Father and Myself, but Dickinson does not mention him in his memoir.) Judging from pictures, all these men were extremely good-looking.

In most (if not all) cases, however, it seems that Dickinson never consummated his love affairs. Paul Robinson summarizes Dickinson's adult sexual life as "an intensely romantic attachment, passionate kisses and warm embraces (with a hint of fetishism), followed by relief through masturbation." Another complication, of course, arose from the increasing difference in age between him and his objects of affection, who were also often mostly heterosexual.

Some passages of the Autobiography verge on the pornographic. Dickinson admits to a fetish for shiny leather boots and for sado-masochistic pleasure: "My earliest remembrance of sexual feeling was connected with boots . . . . At night, when I had gone to bed, I used to steal out to my father's dressing room, and excite myself over his boots." He found being trodden on especially arousing.

The editor of the 1973 publication of the Autobiography, Dennis Proctor, offers a revealing introduction to the volume, based on an expurgated manuscript entitled "A chapter in my autobiography--Privatissimum." According to Proctor, Dickinson apparently subscribed to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs' theory of the third sex ("a woman's soul trapped in a man's body"). In the excised chapter, he wrote: "My dream is always to be dominated, not to dominate. I have, so far, a woman's soul; and the only thing for which I should like to be a woman is that I might experience the dominating and aggressive love of a man."

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