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social sciences

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United Kingdom I: The Middle Ages through the Nineteenth Century  
 
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Walpole is also credited with instituting the Gothic Revival style in architecture and decoration. Collaborating with Chute and other architects, he transformed his family's Palladian mansion at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, into a fanciful version of a medieval castle. Making asymmetry a guiding principle of his design, he elaborated the original structure with extensions of various shapes and sizes, and he decorated the resulting building with turrets and traceries. Through his playful adaptations of Gothic decorative motifs, he created lavish and playful interior spaces, in which he presided over literary salons.

Walpole championed the work of his friend Thomas Gray (1716-71), whom he initially met at Eton and with whom he journeyed to Italy from 1739 to 1741. Although they quarreled for an unknown reason in 1741, Walpole and Gray reconciled after the death of their mutual close friend, Richard West, in 1742. In "Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West," Gray expressed the intensity of his emotional attachment to his friend. Through his private press, Walpole later issued many of Gray's poems, including the famous "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (published 1751), which reveals his longing for an intimate companion.

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When Gray was in his fifties, he openly declared his love to Charles-Victor de Bonstettin, a young man who had come to Cambridge to study with him. However, Bonstettin did not reciprocate Gray's feelings and returned to his native Switzerland. This rejection disconcerted Gray and intensified the melancholy of his later years.

The isolation and disgrace that an open acknowledgment of homosexual feelings could bring are eloquently indicated by the case of William Beckford (1760-1844), who chose to live in self-imposed exile in Portugal between 1784 and 1794 after newspapers reported his impassioned affair with his younger cousin, William Courtenay. Although he gained recognition for his Gothic fiction, Beckford was not received in polite society after he returned to England in 1794. Utilizing his exceptional wealth, he built Fonthill Abbey on his estate in Hampshire, surrounded by high walls. This immense, fanciful pseudo-Gothic mansion effectively served as a sublime stage set for an alternative lifestyle. He decorated this home with an impressive collection of over five hundred paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, and other leading "Old Masters."

Challenging the prevailing of the time, leading moral philosopher and legal reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) strongly advocated the decriminalization of homosexual acts in several unpublished writings. In accord with his utilitarian principles, he insisted that the punishment of sodomy was irrational and that it caused much unnecessary suffering. Although Bentham's extensive writings on homosexuality remained largely unknown until the later nineteenth century, they provide a notable precedent to protest writings of the twentieth century.

Queer Perspectives on the Lives of Women in Britain during the Eighteenth Century

Emma Donoghue has proposed that many eighteenth-century texts demonstrate an awareness of lifestyles that would be classified today as lesbian or bisexual.

Several medical and archaeological texts provided a pseudoscientific explanation for sexual acts between women, claiming that these were characteristic of female . A Treatise on Hermaphrodites (1718, attributed to Giles Jacob) posited that a female hermaphrodite could give a woman great sexual satisfaction through the skillful use of her "member."

In her popular Midwives Book (first published in 1671; reprinted four times by 1725), Jane Sharp argued that most women regarded as hermaphrodites simply had enlarged clitorises, but she suggested that they had a propensity to sexual deviance. In 1741, Dr. James Parsons recommended that an enlarged clitoris be reduced surgically if it provoked "unnatural lust."

Although most historians have maintained that romantic friendships between eighteenth-century women were chaste, Donoghue and other recent queer historians have suggested that these relationships may have had sexual aspects. Among the numerous writers who celebrated romantic friendships, Elizabeth Hands is particularly interesting because her working-class origins gave her a distinctive perspective.

Undoubtedly, the most famous female partners of the era were Eleanor Butler (1737-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831), known as the Ladies of Llangollen. Although their families initially tried to suppress their relationship, they were allowed to settle, by 1780, in a small house, Plas Newydd, in Llangollen Vale, Wales, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Despite the fact that they are known to have shared a bed, scholars continue to debate whether they had a physical relationship. Their idiosyncratic lifestyle was revealed in their attire, a combination of male and female clothing.

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