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literature

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English Literature: Nineteenth Century  
 
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Thomas Lovell Beddoes

During these same years, strong homosexual suggestions sometimes appear in the lyrics and dramas of Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849), the Romantic poet and physician who lived most of his life abroad, where he committed suicide in January 1849, perhaps in distress at the course of his affair with a German actor, Konrad Degen.

In "Dream-Pedlary" (1830) and "Threnody" (ca 1844-1848), Beddoes uses the elegy to express romantic male-male feeling, stating in the first that he wants to "Raise my loved longlost boy" and in the second that "The thought of him, who is no more, comes ringing / On my ear."

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Furthermore, in a May 1827 letter to his friend Thomas Forbes Kelsall, Beddoes interprets Shakespeare's Sonnets homosexually, as did several of the century's other gay male writers, calling them "deep & ardent expressions" in which Shakespeare "turned his heart inside out," revealing "the roots of a love, as firm & sacred as the foundations of the world."

Hurrell Froude, John Henry Newman, and the Oxford Movement

The 1830s and 1840s were also the years of the Oxford Movement, which had insinuations about homosexuality directed at it, especially at its two fervently unmarried leaders, Hurrell Froude (1803-1836) and John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman (1801-1890). One commentator declared, "Of the mutually feminine attachment which bound Newman and Froude together, there is no need to say more."

In his journal of the late 1820s Froude records his struggle against "vile affections" and, referring to an unnamed undergraduate private pupil, cautions himself "above all [to] watch and pray against being led out of the way by the fascination of his society."

Newman's poems of the 1830s echo similar themes ("A Blight"), but also use well-known Biblical male pairs to make suggestive homosexual statements ("David and Jonathan" and especially "James and John," with its reference to a state where "man may one with man remain").

And in his "Separation of Friends," completed in 1836 after Froude's death from consumption, Newman uses the elegy form to express homosexual feeling, apotheosizing Froude as "dearest."

"Don Leon"

Additionally, it was apparently at this time (ca 1833) that one of the most militant homosexual documents of the era was written, the long poem "Don Leon," which purports to be Byron's own account of his homosexual life but which scholars agree is the work of another, still unidentified, author who nonetheless had to be an insider to the subject.

"Don Leon" (which remained unpublished until 1866) is as much a plea for sodomy law reform and a defense of homosexuality in general as it is a record of Byron's male-male adventures--it mentions past and present homosexual scandals (Beckford, Bankes) and, continuing a common tradition among the century's gay writers, invokes Shakespeare's Sonnets as a homosexual text.

"Don Leon" also clearly sees that homosexuality's biological nonprocreativeness sets it apart existentially and culturally from heterosexuality, describing it as a love that will "Produce no other blossoms than its own."

Geraldine Jewsbury

Another revealing private homosexual document of this time is the ardent correspondence of the popular novelist Geraldine Jewsbury (1812-1880) with Jane Welsh Carlyle, which lasted from 1841, shortly after they met, until Mrs. Carlyle's death in 1866. (A selection of these letters from 1841 to 1852 was published in 1892; Jewsbury destroyed all of Mrs. Carlyle's letters to her on her deathbed.)

Apparently bisexual (she had similarly passionate correspondences with two men), Jewsbury speaks to Mrs. Carlyle in intense, and knowing, romantic terms--for example, on October 29, 1841, she declares, "I love you, my darling, more than I can express, more than I am conscious of myself. . . . I feel towards you much more like a lover than a female friend!"

Edward Leeves

Another of the century's frankest homosexual documents is also of this period. This is the recently published 1849-1850 diary of Edward Leeves (1790?-1870?), a well-to-do English expatriate in Venice about whom little else is known. The diary records Leeves's remorse at the death from cholera of Jack Brand, a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards Blues with whom he had an eight-week affair during a visit to England in the summer of 1849.

Filled with frank romantic outpourings ("I told him how I loved him," "I . . . kissed the name on the cold stone which marks [his] last abode"), the diary also reflects the absolute jeopardy identifiable homosexuals faced during the period ("I try to think that his death has removed a great danger, . . . but it is no use"). It also suggests that the Royal Guards were a regular source of homosexual contacts at this time ("What a set of fellows these Blues are! . . . Bill Thompson--a rollicking Yorkshireman of prodigious gifts").

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