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Dickinson, Goldsworthy Lowes (1862-1932)  
 
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Intriguingly, Proctor was also Dickinson's last lover. His assessment of his relationship with "Goldie," however, seems quaintly Victorian to modern ears: "Though I was having my own love affairs with girls (into which Goldie entered with sympathy and understanding) and had no homosexual tendency, I loved him too; and since it has always come naturally to me to give expression to my affection for anyone I am fond of, I did so quite spontaneously with him." One is left wondering exactly what kind of relationship Proctor had with Dickinson.

Although clearly anchored in its time (particularly as regards the theory of a third sex, schoolboy friendships, and teacher–pupil interactions that might today be seen to border on sexual harassment and abuse of power), the Autobiography also seems very modern by virtue of what is absent: no apology for being homosexual, no real feelings of guilt or shame, no absurd attempts at conversion to heterosexuality, no disastrous visits to priests or psychiatrists, no desperate thoughts of suicide.

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No doubt, Dickinson was conflicted and tormented, but not because of his attraction to men. He seems to have been incapable of physical intercourse because he believed in something more romantic, an ideal of friendship that privileges conversation and caresses, kindness and kinship.

E. M. Forster's Biography

E. M. Forster's biography of his friend, whom he also affectionately called Goldie, is reticent as to the details of its subject's sex life. Much of this reticence is indubitably due to the fact that the book was published in 1934, when homosexuality was illegal and when more candid revelations could have had dire consequences for surviving members of Dickinson's circle. Still, careful readers of the biography would have had no trouble discerning Dickinson's homosexuality. Vague references such as "he was never drawn to women in the passionate sense, all his deepest emotions being towards men" abound.

Forster emphasizes Dickinson's life of frustration: "Much had to be sublimated, but that was a process which he expected, and which he furthered as well as he could. When he looked back, he could say with truth that his personal relationships had been enduring, though he was sometimes appalled by their austerity." Even more drastically, Forster claims that Dickinson was "almost the only man who has ever lived with whom no one has ever been in love."

Furthermore, Forster presents well the peculiarly Cambridge tradition of male romantic friendship--its privileging of personal relationships--that seems to have been a key element of Dickinson's sexuality. In a famous passage, Forster beautifully captures the elements of Cambridge bonding: "As Cambridge filled up with friends it acquired a magic quality. Body and spirit, reason and emotion, work and play, architecture and scenery, laughter and seriousness, life and art--these pairs which are elsewhere contrasted were there fused into one. People and books reinforced one another, intelligence joined hands with affection, speculation became a passion, and discussion was made profound by love."

What kind of man does Forster depict? His Goldie seems rather different from the candid and curious man of the Autobiography. It could be, as Claude Summers has suggested, that Forster's book is a thinly disguised exercise in autobiography, one that presents Dickinson in his own image.

Plato: Age and Youth

Last but not least, Dickinson's importance for the glbtq literary heritage rests in part on his role as a disseminator of Platonism, a philosophy that was often a means of expressing homosexual desire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his Autobiography, Dickinson recounts his ecstatic reaction to studying Plato's Symposium and his belief that Greek love "was a continuous and still existing fact."

Dickinson's excitement at the discovery of Platonic love was hardly unusual. It has analogues in both literature and life. In Forster's Maurice (written 1913-1914), for example, Clive Durham remembers the bewildering yet liberating effect of his Greek studies: "Never could he forget his emotion at first reading the Phaedrus. He saw there his malady described exquisitely, calmly, as a passion which we can direct, like any other, towards good or bad."

John Addington Symonds recollects in his Memoirs (composed between 1889 and 1893) a similar epiphany: "I went to bed and began to read my Cary's Plato. It so happened that I stumbled on the Phaedrus. I read on and on, till I reached the end. Then I began the Symposium; and the sun was shining on the shrubs outside the ground-floor room in which I slept, before I shut the book up . . . . Here in the Phaedrus and the Symposium--in the myth of the Soul and the speeches of Pausanias, Agathon, and Diotima--I discovered the true liber amoris at last, the revelation I had been waiting for, the consecration of a long-cherished idealism."

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