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United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  

After his affair with Strachey, Grant developed a relationship with Keynes, which lasted until 1912. After many years as an active homosexual, Keynes fell in love with and married dancer Lydia Lopokova in 1925. From 1913 until 1961, Grant shared a house with Clive and Vanessa Bell. Though openly homosexual, Grant was seduced on one occasion in 1918 by Vanessa Bell, who became pregnant with his daughter, Angelica.

The fluidity of gender and sexual categories manifested in these relationships was explored in the writings of Virginia Woolf. Dedicated to Vita Sackville-West, with whom Woolf developed a passionate relationship, Orlando narrates the life of a character who changes from man to woman over the course of three hundred years from Queen Elizabeth's reign to the time of the publication of the book (1928). After becoming a woman, Orlando continues to dress as a man, though s/he marries and gives birth to a child. In Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Woolf dealt with the life of a married woman who recollects her lesbian love.

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During the years of his most intense involvement with Bloomsbury, Duncan Grant most often publicly exhibited abstract works, and, in 1913, with Bloomsbury critic Roger Fry, he founded the Omega Circle, which emphasized the importance of good design in objects used in everyday life. However, throughout his career, Grant also produced figurative sketches and paintings.

Grant's private drawings were his most graphic works, but he exploited major public commissions as opportunities to glorify the strength and beauty of the male body, as he did, for example, in his murals Football and Bathing (1911) for the dining hall of the Borough Polytechnic in South London. The Byzantine stylizations of the figures and background may have made the homoeroticism palatable. Although the Spectator praised Grant's evocation of the joys of athleticism, the Times worried that the murals could have a degenerate influence on working-class youths. During the 1950s, in murals created for a chantry in Lincoln Cathedral, he based the handsome, bare-chested figure of Christ on his young lover, Paul Roche.

World War I: Queer Men in Battle

Strongly contradictory attitudes toward homosexuality were revealed during the Great War. On the battlefront, brutal conditions helped to bring out protective and romantic feelings between men that would have been condemned in other contexts. The homoeroticism that infused the experiences of many soldiers on the battlefront was glorified in poetry by Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and others who served in the war.

Despite their intensity, most of the erotic impulses felt by the soldiers may not have been realized physically. Certainly, the lack of privacy must have hindered engagement in sexual acts. The military code mandated prison sentences for homosexual acts that ranged from a minimum of ten years to life for anal intercourse and two years for oral sex. During the war, 22 officers and approximately 270 soldiers were court-martialed for .

The Black Book

On the home front, the British public became obsessed with the perceived threat of homosexuality to national security. Working to enflame mass hysteria, Independent politician Noel Pemberton Billing claimed in an article published on January 26, 1918 in his newspaper Imperialist (subsequently renamed Vigilante) that the Germans had knowledge of a Black Book with the names of 47,000 British male and female homosexuals. According to Pemberton, the Germans planned to use that source to obtain sensitive military information from homosexuals in high positions.

In an article published in February 1918, Billing further maintained that several thousand of the people in the Black Book were members of the private Independent Theatre Society, which was planning to stage Oscar Wilde's banned Salome. Fearing that she was, at least implicitly, exposed as a lesbian, prominent Canadian actress Maud Allen, who planned to star in the production, sued Billing for libel. During the highly publicized trial, held in May, Allen was given little opportunity to present her case. Instead, under the direction of homophobic Justice Darling, attention was focused primarily upon testimony of defense witnesses who claimed to have read copies of the Black Book. It is indicative of the mood of the times that it took the jury less than an hour to exonerate Billing of the charge of libel.

Women during the Great War

The outbreak of World War I provided women with opportunities that were not available to them in peacetime. Thus, in 1914, Mary Allen (1898-1964) helped to found the first police force for women in Britain, the Women Police Volunteers. Among the many other lesbians who made significant contributions to the war effort, Barbara Lowther and Norah Desmond Hackett established in 1917 a corps of volunteer ambulance drivers in France. Their correspondence from the 1930s reveals that they were lovers while they undertook this adventurous initiative.

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