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English Literature: Nineteenth Century  
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Sir Richard Burton

Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) also published his daring essay on "Pederasty" in the same year as part of the "Terminal Essay" to his translation of The Arabian Nights; the first extensive published discussion of homosexuality in English, it created a great public outcry.

Though proposing a preposterous "Sotadic Zone" theory of homosexuality, the essay is based in extensive research unlikely to have been pursued by an outsider. Burton was married, but rumors of homosexuality had followed him since his days in the Indian Army in the 1840s.

Hopkins's Poems of 1885-1888

Between 1885 and 1888, Hopkins wrote several more poems with homosexual implications: "To what serves Mortal Beauty?" where all the examples of beauty are male; "(The Soldier)," where the figure of Christ falling on a soldier's neck and kissing it seems another projection of Hopkins's own desires; the "terrible sonnet" "I wake and feel the fell of dark," whose "dead letters sent / To dearest him that lives alas! away" recalls his attachment to Dolben; "Harry Ploughman," with its praise of "Amansstrength"; and "Epithalamion," where he is unable to complete a poem celebrating his brother's marriage and devotes the draft instead to the feelings of a man watching boys bathing ("Here he feasts: lovely all is!").

A.E. Housman

The year 1885 also saw the mysterious breach between A. E. Housman (1859-1936) and Moses Jackson, with whom Housman had fallen in love with when they were both at Oxford and with whom he had shared a London flat for two years.

Starting around this time, Housman drafted many of his frank manuscript poems about Jackson, which were not published until after his death: for example, "I promise nothing: friends will part," "The world goes none the lamer," "Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all's over," "Because I liked you better," "Oh were he and I together," "Ask me no more, for fear I should reply," "He would not stay for me; and who can wonder?"

Marie Corelli (Mary Mackay)

In 1886 appeared A Romance of Two Worlds, the first book by the popular novelist Marie Corelli, the nom de plume of Mary Mackay (1855-1924), who lived with another woman, Bertha Vyver, all her life. Though biographers have made much of Corelli's apparent infatuation in middle age with the painter Arthur Severn, she wore a ring from Vyver all of her life and had constructed over a fireplace in their home a bas-relief representing their initials in a heart, above the inscription "Amor Vincit."

The love affairs in Corelli's novels of course had to be heterosexual, but lesbianism is sometimes intimated, as in the closeness of the autobiographical heroine of A Romance of Two Worlds with another women, Zara.

Pater issued a third edition of The Renaissance in 1888, restoring the controversial "Conclusion" he had cut in 1877.

Oscar Wilde

At around the same time, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) began to evoke homosexuality more openly in his work. The charming and seemingly innocent fairy tale "The Happy Prince" (1888), which Wilde actually first wrote for some Cambridge undergraduates, depicts the devotion between the bejewelled statue of the Prince and a swallow, who had renounced a female reed to serve the Prince. They die together, after the prince has had the swallow distribute all the gems of his body to the poor and asks the swallow to "kiss me on the lips, for I love you."

More nearly transparent was his story "The Portrait of Mr. W. H.," which appeared in its shorter form in Blackwood's in July 1889. (Wilde wrote an expanded and even franker version in the early 1890s, which was not published until 1921.)

Here, in a text suffused with homosexual suggestiveness, Wilde blatantly pursues the homosexual interpretation of Shakespeare's Sonnets that, as we have seen, engaged earlier homosexual writers as well. "The Portrait of Mr. W. H." created a considerable stir and gave Wilde's enemies the first potent literary weapon they could use against him.

Michael Field (Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper)

Long Ago, the first book of poems that Katherine Bradley (1846-1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913) issued under their pseudonym of Michael Field, also appeared in 1889. A collection of sixty-eight lyrics spoken by Sappho and liberally modeled on the Sapphic fragments, Long Ago offers a predominantly heterosexual portrait of Sappho, yet injects some frankly and intensely lesbian poems into that picture.

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