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literature

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English Literature: Nineteenth Century  
 
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In contrast, nineteenth-century English homosexual writing shows a clear sense of homosexual difference, and a related sense of a distinct homosexual oppression, existing among writers from the very start of the age, senses that, if we are meant to take the "new-inventionist" view of homosexuality strictly, could not have emerged in England until the years 1885 to 1892 (the dates of the Labouchere Amendment criminalizing "gross indecency between males" separately for the first time and of the first English translation of Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, the book that started the new widespread sexology).

There is certainly more homosexual literature in the later 1800s in England, but, as evident here, there is significant earlier nineteenth-century homosexual writing as well, and the "bursts" in amount and relative frankness later in the age start well before 1885-1892.

Sponsor Message.

The social changes cited by new-inventionists certainly affected the homosexual situation in many ways and may be crucial in the history of sexuality in other respects. But nineteenth-century English homosexual literature prompts us to look for the origins of modern homosexual consciousness and expressiveness less in the social-history factors currently favored by academics and more in a complex of both broader and more concrete elements.

First, the increase in English homosexual writing right at the start of the nineteenth century identifies the years around 1800 as one of the most pivotal periods in homosexual history and suggests that the ideological revolutions of the Enlightenment and the Romantic Movement were crucial spurs to a relatively greater homosexual self-acceptance and expressiveness at that time.

Among the key concepts of those movements that would have weakened the constraints on homosexuality and imparted a greater sense of possibility to homosexuals themselves were the new valuing of individual sensibility and of social and personal equality and the new "spiritualizing" or "de-materializing" of Nature, a "spiritualizing" that loosened the connection between Nature and the notion of physical production and instead legitimized as "natural" in themselves the exchange of passionate feelings and the forging of harmonious intimate bonds without any necessary material "result."

These concepts would have accentuated and given more positive meaning to homosexuality's minority status, to the anatomical and gender-role "sameness" inherent in its relationships, and to its innate nonbiological procreativeness.

For instance, without the new "spiritualizing" of Nature, the "Don Leon" poet could probably not have so aggressively proclaimed homosexuality's "no other blossoms than its own" nor Symonds defended its "immaterial breed."

The other point suggested by nineteenth-century English homosexual literature is that homosexual writing itself was pivotal in the acceleration of modern homosexual consciousness and expressiveness.

As mentioned, not all the writers in the era's homosexual literary tradition knew of one another's work. But, unconnected as they chiefly are to the large-scale social shifts emphasized by new-inventionists, the decade-by-decade "bursts" in homosexual literature in the second half of the century seem stimulated mainly by the breakthroughs in accessible homosexual writing in the years immediately preceding them--for example, by the models of Tennyson and Johnson/Cory in the 1850s, of Whitman and Swinburne in the 1860s, of Symonds and Pater in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s, and of Wilde in the 1890s (before as well as after his scandal)--as if available homosexual speech itself spurred progressively more homosexual speech in the age.

The new-inventionist view of homosexual history assumes a "non- homosexuality," or, contradictorily, an "empty" homosexuality, until the phenomenon is created "top-down" by large-scale social changes.

In contrast, the example of nineteenth-century English homosexual literature suggests more of an "inward-out" pattern to homosexual history. Its persistence, unity, and later quickening implies that homosexual consciousness is always latent in the distinct texture of individual homosexual experience (though perhaps with a special pointedness under heterosexual cultural domination) and only needs enabling conditions like the ones I have just sketched to know and declare itself.

Joseph Cady

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   Related Entries
  
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social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom I: The Middle Ages through the Nineteenth Century

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literature >> Butler, Samuel

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literature >> Byron, George Gordon, Lord

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literature >> Housman, A. E.

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literature >> Kipling, Rudyard

Rudyard Kipling, England's "Laureate of Empire," fashioned himself as the conscience of the English-speaking world, but the great love of his life was a young man who spurned him and whose sister he married after his friend's sudden death.

social sciences >> The Labouchère Amendment

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literature >> Lee, Vernon

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literature >> Lister, Anne

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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.

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Edith Somerville and Violet Martin, who published as Somerville and Ross, were both life and literary partners.

literature >> Strachey, Lytton

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literature >> Swinburne, Algernon Charles

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literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.

literature >> Tennyson, Alfred Lord

Although he was sexually attracted to women, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote poetry suffused with homoeroticism, including the most beautiful homoerotic elegy in the English language.

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The 1810 conviction of London's Vere Street Coterie led to the most brutal public punishment of homosexuals in British history.

literature >> Verlaine, Paul

The poetry of Paul Verlaine celebrates both heterosexual and homosexual activity, including lesbian relationships.

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.

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.


    Bibliography
   

Cady, Joseph. "John Addington Symonds's Memoirs and Official Mappings of Victorian Homosexuality." Victorian Newsletter 81 (Spring 1992): 47-51.

Collis, Maurice. Somerville and Ross. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.

Croft-Cooke, Rupert. Feasting with Panthers: A New Consideration of Some Late Victorian Writers. London: W. H. Allen, 1967.

Crompton, Louis. Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Dellamora, Richard. Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Faber, Geoffrey. Oxford Apostles: A Character Study of the Oxford Movement. London: Faber and Faber, 1933.

Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: Morrow, 1981.

Graves, Richard Perceval. A. E. Housman: The Scholar-Poet. New York: Scribner's, 1980.

Grosskurth, Phyllis. The Woeful Victorian: A Biography of John Addington Symonds. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Gunn, Peter. Vernon Lee. Violet Paget, 1856-1935. London: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Hilliard, David. "Unenglish and Unmanly: Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality." Victorian Studies 25 (1982): 181-210.

Hyde, H. Montgomery. The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.

Martin, Robert Bernard. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life. New York: Putnam's, 1991.

_____. Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

_____. With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward Fitzgerald. New York: Atheneum, 1985.

McKenzie, K. A. Edith Simcox and George Eliot. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Masters, Brian. Now Barabbas Was a Rotter: The Extraordinary Life of Marie Corelli. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978.

Mavor, Elizabeth. The Ladies of Llangollen: A Study in Romantic Friendship. New York: Penguin Books, 1973.

Newsome, David. On the Edge of Paradise: A. C. Benson, the Diarist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Noakes, Vivien. Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.

Reade, Brian, ed. Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900. New York: Coward-McCann, 1971.

Ricks, Christopher. Tennyson. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

Sedgwick, Eve K. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Sturgeon, Mary. Michael Field. London: George G. Harrap, 1922. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Weeks, Jeffrey. Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain, from the Nineteenth Century to the Present. London: Quartet Books, 1977.

Woods, Gregory. A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Cady, Joseph  
    Entry Title: English Literature: Nineteenth Century  
    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 19, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/eng_lit2_19c.html  
    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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