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Symonds, John Addington (1840-1893)  
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Consequently, in the second British printing later in 1897, Symonds was removed as coauthor and identified in the text only as "Z" (a "friend" to whom Ellis is "more especially indebted"), the appendix on Ulrichs was retained (but now authored by "Z"), and A Problem in Greek Ethics was deleted.

Symonds was never listed again on the title page of Sexual Inversion, which eventually became Part Two of Volume II of Ellis's collected Studies in the Psychology of Sex.

Symonds's Reputation

These events could be a parable of Symonds's reputation in the decades after his death. Surreptitious reprints of A Problem in Modern Ethics and A Problem in Greek Ethics appeared in England in 1901 and 1896, respectively, and a reprint of A Problem in Greek Ethics appeared in Holland in 1908, suggesting continued interest in Symonds's work among an underground of homosexual readers.

Discreet biographies by Horatio Brown (1895) and Van Wyck Brooks (1914) were also published. But Symonds's standing faded in the first half of the twentieth century.

Interest in him began to revive only in the 1960s, with Phyllis Grosskurth's then pathbreaking biography (1964), the first to discuss any Victorian homosexual frankly; and Herbert M. Schueller and Robert L. Peters's invaluable three-volume collection of Symonds's letters (1967-1969). It has swelled with the emergence of gay studies.


Symonds was aware of his "persistent passion for the male sex" from his earliest erotic recollections, but his pioneering homosexual work was not accomplished without considerable strain against, and concession to, the "social law" of his time, which "regarded this love as abominable and unnatural."

Among these strains and concessions were his unwitting precipitation of the homosexual scandal that drove Charles John Vaughan from the headmastership of Harrow in 1859; his 1864 marriage and eventual fathering of four children; his persistent health crises, leading to a diagnosis of tuberculosis in 1865 and a move to the Swiss Alps in 1877; his 1868 mental breakdown and contemplation of suicide.

But those developments must be seen together with positive milestones like his mettle in writing to William Johnson (later Cory) in 1859 after reading Ionica and "exposing the state of my feelings and asking his advice"; his relationships with Willie Dyer, Alfred Brooke, Norman Moor (with whom he had his first experience of sexual intercourse with another male, at the age of twenty-nine), and Angelo Fusato; his monumental, seven-volume, Renaissance in Italy (1875-1886), the first full-scale study of the subject in English, which gained him his greatest professional recognition.

Symonds's work poses an interesting challenge to the currently dominant argument in gay studies that homosexuality and homosexuals are late nineteenth-century "inventions," functions chiefly of that period's new "medicalization of homosexuality," with its coining of the actual terminology of "homosexuality."

But in his Memoirs, Symonds clearly presents himself as someone with a de facto homosexual orientation and a definite sense of social difference because of it long before the new sexological literature that started to burgeon in the late 1880s.

That literature was available at the time of his Memoirs, however, so Symonds could have been influenced by it as he wrote the book. But in the Memoirs chapters concerned most analytically with his sexual development and awareness, Symonds inserted statements in the manuscript indicating that he had not yet read the new sexologists when he wrote them.

Perhaps even more significant, the new terminology of "homosexuality" is completely absent from Symonds's self-portrait in the Memoirs. His favorite terminology for his orientation there are either earlier categorical language like "masculine love" or extended descriptive phrases that amount to direct de facto denotations of the subject, like "passion between males" or "a man's love for a man."

We need to look elsewhere to explain Symonds's early and persistent search for "men constituted like me" and for positive images of homosexuality and his status as the first and foremost nineteenth-century British homosexual writer to "put the facts on record . . . so that fellow-sufferers . . . should feel that they are not alone."

Joseph Cady

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Cady, Joseph. "'What Cannot Be': John Addington Symonds's Memoirs and Official Mappings of Victorian Homosexuality." Victorian Newsletter 81 (Spring 1992): 47-51.

Ellis, Havelock, and John Addington Symonds. Sexual Inversion. London: Wilson and Macmillan, 1897. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

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

Kemble, John, ed. John Addington Symonds: Culture and the Demon Desire. New York: St. Martin's, 2000.

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

Schueller, Herbert M., and Robert L. Peters, eds. The Letters of John Addington Symonds. 3 vols. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967-1969.


    Citation Information
    Author: Cady, Joseph  
    Entry Title: Symonds, John Addington  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 14, 2005  
    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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