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Sturgis, Howard Overing (1855-1920)  

Howard Overing Sturgis is best known for two homosexual novels, Tim: A Story of Eton and Belchamber.

The son of wealthy expatriate Americans, Sturgis spent his life in England surrounded by privilege and ease. Affable and witty, he was a favorite with Henry James, Edith Wharton, and A. C. Benson, and the subject of a memorable sketch by E. M. Forster.

Sturgis was a popular host known for his biting tongue and gift for mimicry. James, a frequent guest at Qu'Acre, Sturgis's estate, once gushed to "Howdie," "You are indeed as a missing mother to me, & I, babi-like, ... gurgle back my gratitude."

Sturgis maintained a lifelong relationship with a much younger man, William Haynes-Smith, familiarly known as "the Babe."

George Santayana, distantly related, said that:

[Sturgis] became, save for the accident of sex, which was not yet a serious encumbrance, a perfect young lady of the Victorian type. He ... instinctively embraced the proper liberal humanitarian principles in politics and history.... He learned to sew, to embroider, to knit, and to do crochet.... He would emit little frightened cries, if the cab he was in turned too fast round a corner; and in crossing a muddy road he would pick up the edge of his short covert-coat, as the ladies in those days picked up their trailing skirts.... Howard attracted affection, and however astonished one might be at first, or even scornful, one was always won over in the end.

Sturgis wrote three novels: Tim: A Story of Eton (1891), All That Was Possible (1894), and Belchamber (1904). The first and last betray a clear homosexual dynamic.

Tim was published anonymously, dedicated to the "love that surpasses the love of women." Edward Prime-Stevenson labeled Tim "a minute study of psychic between two school-lads," a sympathetic but tragic depiction of a sensitive child in British public school.

Belchamber, dedicated to Haynes-Smith, is a drama of family, duty, and marriage among the British upper classes. The heir to a powerful estate managed in his minority by his strong-willed widowed mother, Sainty abhors sports and boys' play, preferring embroidery and books. He marries from a sense of duty rather than passionate attachment and soon discovers that his wife finds him repugnant.

When she later presents him with a son, he gradually comes to accept the child as his own, becoming an enthusiastic parent in contrast to his wife's near-abandonment of the child. The baby's sudden death allows Sainty a chance for hollow revenge on his wife.

Tim had sold well, but the lukewarm reception of Belchamber, along with withering criticism from Henry James, caused Sturgis to abandon writing altogether except for a few unpublished short stories. Elmer Borklund notes recurrent themes--the plight of the sensitive outsider and the revenge that society takes on anyone who fails to "fit in."

Sturgis deliberately overturns the gender codes of his day in presenting a domestic model of homosexuality--the sensitive male whose sexuality is submerged in social dynamics and family duty.

According to Leon Edel, Belchamber records "with great accuracy the natural history of a passive male," although Fred Kaplan exasperatedly notes that "it is difficult to tell whether the elements are the result of innocent, unconscious confusions or are self-consciously subversive." It is Sturgis's gift as a writer that he simultaneously accomplishes both.

James J. Gifford


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Austen, Roger. Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977.

Benson, A. C. Memories and Friends. London: John Murray, 1924.

Borklund, Elmer. "Howard Sturgis, Henry James, and Belchamber." Modern Philology 58 (1961): 255-269.

Edel, Leon. Henry James: The Master: 1901-1916. New York: Avon, 1972.

Forster, E. M. "Howard Overing Sturgis." Abinger Harvest. London: Edward Arnold, 1936. 121-129.

Harris, Alan. Introduction. Belchamber. By Howard Overing Sturgis. London: Duckworth, 1965. v-xvii.

Kaplan, Fred. Henry James: The Imagination of Genius. New York: William Morrow, 1992.

Mayne, Xavier [Edward Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson]. The Intersexes. 1908. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Santayana, George. Persons and Places: Fragments of Autobiography. William G. Holzberger and Herman J Saatkamp, Jr., eds. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986.

Seymour, Miranda. A Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and His Literary Circle 1895-1915. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

Wharton, Edith. A Backward Glance. New York: Scribner, 1985.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gifford, James J.  
    Entry Title: Sturgis, Howard Overing  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 23, 2002  
    Web Address  
    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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