The Immoralist – Andre Gide

TISome of us were a little apprehensive before reading this book. However, everyone in our group agreed that it was worthwhile. One said that it all ‘came together in the last thirty pages.’ We all agreed that is was well-written.

His description of places is good – you know that he’s been there. I particularly liked the descriptions of Carthage and El Djem (with their magnificent amphitheatres) and note that, one hundred years later, the only train from Sousse still arrives 1.00 a.m. so you risk not finding an hotel for the night. The return train is more convenient though ours had stones thrown at it and none of the doors closed. You are better off using a louage (shared taxi)

Both he and his father had tuberculosis which is why description of coughing up blood is so vivid. His war on tuberculosis begins with the awakening of his senses to a total receptivity to life-giving elements. The taste of good food, the tingling sensation of cold water on hot skin, the feel and touch of a palm tree, the sun on his naked body by day, and the invigorating desert air by night become the new objects of his worship. His rejection of all other claims on his life–except those which make for the indulgence of his newly-discovered self–excludes Marceline whose presence he begins to find oppressive.

The Immoralist is based on Gide’s personal experience of discovering his homosexuality while travelling as a young man in North Africa.

It was conventional to get married back then but noteworthy that he first sex with his wife two months after their wedding. That something wasn’t quite right didn’t stop him having an extra-marital affair with another woman.

The character of Menalque in The Immoralist is based on Oscar Wilde. Ménalque’s philosophy on personal property relates possessiveness to stagnation and false security and calls it the primary concern of an establishment which fears change.

Undoubtedly Gide was deeply disturbed by Wilde, and not surpris­ingly since the remarks of Gide in his letters of that time suggest that Wilde was intent on undermining the younger man’s self-identity, rooted as it was in a Protestant ethic and high bourgeois moral rigour and repression which generated a kind of conformity which Wilde scorned. Wilde wanted to encourage Gide to transgress.

Richard Ellmann suggests that ‘in effect, Wilde spiritually seduced Gide’. For Ellmann, the most important document about the ‘psychic possession of Gide by Wilde’ is those missing pages from Gide’s journal….. He is taken by Wilde to a cafe: ‘in the half-open doorway, there suddenly appeared a marvellous youth. He stood there for a time, leaning with his raised elbow against the door-jamb, and outlined on the dark background of the night’. The youth joins them; his name is Mohammed; he is a musician, a flute player. Listening to that music ‘you forgot the time, and place, and who you were’. This is not the first time Gide has experienced this sensation of forgetting. Africa increasingly attracts him in this respect; there he feels (liberated and the burden of an oppressive sense of self is dissolved: ‘I aid aside anxieties, constraints, solicitudes, and as my will evaporated, felt myself becoming porous as a beehive’ Now, as they leave the cafe, Wilde turns to Gide and asks him if he desires the musician.) Gide writes: ‘how dark the alley was! I thought my heart would fail me; and what a dreadful effort of courage it needed to answer: “yes”, and with what a choking voice!’ ……earlier courage was needed for self-discipline—now it is the strength to transgress). Wilde arranges something with their guide, rejoins Gide and then begins laughing: ‘a resounding laugh, more of triumph than of pleasure, an interminable, uncontrollable, insolent laugh . . . it was the amusement of a child and a devil’ .Gide spends the night with Mohammed: ‘my joy was unbounded, and I cannot imagine it greater, even if love had been added’. Though not his first homosexual experi­ence (probably his second), it confirmed Gide’s sexual `nature’—what, he says, was ‘normal’ for him: ‘There was nothing constrained here, nothing precipitate, nothing doubtful; there is no taste of ashes in the memory I keep.’ Even more defiantly Gide declares that, although he had achieved ‘the summit of pleasure five times’ with Mohammed, ‘I revived my ecstasy many more times, and back in my hotel room I relived its echoes until morning’ (this passage was one of those omitted from early English editions).

Michel’s puritan disdain for any signs of weakness which caused him to hide the seriousness of his condition from Marceline

He becomes indignant that he should be at the brink of death while others take life and health for granted. For the first time life becomes a precious possession whose value is only recognized when its essence is about to be snatched away. In a flash of emotional intensity Michel experiences the mystery of life and his passivity changes into an active and zealous will to live. So he breaks away from his former routine. Eager to cultivate his own immediate desires he becomes alert to those in others which are as yet unrestrained by the shackles of society’s rules. Hence Motkir’s theft of Marceline’s scissors stimulates more than idle curiosity in Michel, and is the first of many incidents where aberrant behaviour is the object of his intense fascination.

The biblical warning of Christ’s words to Peter (that young people have freedom whereas elderly people depend on others for their mobility) sound the first alarm as Michel becomes vaguely aware that absolute freedom of action is an illusion, that he is subject to the ravages of time.

Possessions become the bars of his cell in his deliberate attempt to imprison his latent restlessness and rebellion against conformity. In this context Gide inserts an observation on farm life which, on the surface, has nothing to do with Michel, but which becomes an image of Michel’s imprisonment and his attempt to foil his natural longings. At “La Morinière” Bocage, the bailiff, has enclosed the ducks at the onset of autumn winds. Human intervention and constraint frustrate natural instinct, and the ducks must comply with their northern cage. Gradually, Michel himself will grow restive in the self-made prison of his Paris apartment, and the lure of the south will become stronger.

Among the symbols of Michel’s feeling of stagnation verses spontaneity are the description of the irrigation system in Biskra and in the taming of the wild colt at “La Morinière.” The beautiful animal had been declared useless and unmanageable by his servants. Michel calls on Charles for help, and Charles tames him through quiet and gentle authority, wise restraint, and a deep respect for the animal. The once wild and useless colt becomes tame and docile:

The process of emptying the pond is another symbol: for the pond to remain useful its old contents had to be brought to the surface, its murky waters drained, and the leak repaired. Michel’s mind, like the pond, is blocked by old repressions and obstacles to his future productivity. To arrive at the bottom of his consciousness he has to bring everything to the surface and thereby heal the slow seepage which deprives him of the inner resources he needs to cope with life. Michel is so preoccupied with his liberation from restrictions outside himself that he fails to recognize the inhibiting forces within him.

Michel’s provisional moral code is comparable to the land he lets lie in disuse at “La Morinière.” He fails to recognize that his entire property is slowly deteriorating. The land and the mind which lie fallow are soon invaded by thistles and weeds and gradually lose their value. That Michel takes these neglected fields away from the farmers in order to cultivate them would indicate the possibility of regeneration, but Michel’s plans do not materialize, and his failure in meeting his responsibilities toward his land foreshadows his failure in meeting his responsibilities toward Marceline and ultimately toward himself. The gift of life cannot be wasted. Michel’s dream of absolute leisure is based on his reaction against the bondage of poverty:

Gide compared his book to the fruit of the colocynths which grow in the desert and are not without beauty, though they present only greater thirst to the one who seeks to drink their juice. The experience of life creates the desire for more life, and an unquenchable thirst is the essence of yearning. Michel’s dwelling stands in a garden which is girded by a wall. Within the enclosure stand three stunted pomegranate trees. The pomegranate, like the colocynth, does not appease thirst but creates a fiercer, deeper craving for its fruit. The fact that these trees are retarded in their growth and most likely barren illustrates symbolically that Michel’s adventure ends in sterility. Begun when he first tasted the forbidden fruit of consciousness in the gardens of Biskra, his quest has exhausted itself in the pitiful garden at Sidi–which is not the paradise he had thought to regain.

One of our members asked whether his wife might also be a symbol of Gide, of a split psyche between respectability and immorality, between the imprisoned and the free.

He no longer fancies Charles when he grows whiskers and wears a bowler hat. This confirms the difference between a pederast and a homosexual: I do not recognize the children, but the children recognize me. They have heard of my arrival and come running to meet me. Can it really be they? What a shock! What has happened? They have grown out of all knowledge — hideously. In barely two years ! It seems impossible … What fatigues, what vices, what sloth have put their ugly mark on faces that were once so bright with youth? What vile labours can so soon have stunted those beautiful young limbs? What a bankruptcy of hope! … I ask a few questions. Bachir is scullion in a café; Ashour is laboriously earning a few pennies by breaking stones on the roads; Ham­matar has lost an eye. And who would believe it? Sadek has settled down! He helps an elder brother sell loaves in the market; he looks idiotic. Agib has set up as a butcher with his father; he is getting fat; he is ugly; he is rich; he refuses to speak to his low-class compan­ions … How stupid honourable careers make people! What! Am I going to find here the same things I hated so at home? Boubakir? Married. He is not fifteen yet. It is grotesque. Not altogether though. When I see him that evening he explains that his marriage is a mere farce. He is, I expect, an utter waster; he has taken to drink and lost his looks . .. So that is all that remains, is it? That is what life has made of them? My intolerable depression makes me feel it was largely to see them that I came here. Menalque was right. Memory is an accursed invention. And Moktir? Ah Moktir has just come out of prison. He is lying low. The others will have nothing to do with him. I want to see him. He used to be the handsomest of them all. Is he to be a disappointment too? … Someone finds him out and brings him to me. No; Moktir has not failed. Even my memory had not painted him as superb as he now is. His strength, his beauty are flawless …

One can’t help but agree to: ‘I have a horror of honest folk. I may have nothing to fear from them, but I have nothing to learn either. And besides, they have nothing to say . . . Honest Swiss nation! What does their health do for them? They have neither crimes, nor history, not literature, nor arts … a hardy rose-tree, without thorns or flowers.’

I had to look up ‘Caryatid’ p. 36 = a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head.

There’s an irritating, unnecessary apostrophe ion ‘Thursday’s’ p. 97

During World War I, Gide worked for the Red Cross, then in a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, and later offered shelter to war refugees. During the 1920s, he became an advocate for the oppressed peoples of colonized regions, as well as for women’s rights and the humane treatment of criminals. In 1947 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Gide died in Paris on 19 February 1951, at the age of eighty-one. Six years later, his entire works were entered in the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books.

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Thinking Straight – Robin Reardon

TS(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is like Erzen’s study of ex-gay ministries ‘Straight to Jesus’ in story form. Indeed, the very name of the institution described is the same. The ‘treatment’ is accurate – no pop music, no fashionable clothes, no internet access etc.

However, it is a bit ‘preachy’ and I doubt that a teenage boy could deconstruct bible texts in the way Taylor does.

Each chapter begins with a biblical text, used the way a self-affirming person would read it, not the way fundamentalists rip things out of context.

One Jewish girl insightfully remarks that fundamentalists project their wrathful god on to Judaism by claiming that the Old Testament God is more vengeful. Their understanding of the New Testament contains far more vengeance and not much, if any, love.

Indeed, one of the ‘counsellors’ talks of the behaviour necessary ‘to be worthy of God’s grace’. Grace, by definition, does not need to be earned.

One reviewer thought this was a Roman Catholic setup. True, Taylor uses the term ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph’ and, later, ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God’ but the institution seems very protestant/fundamentalist in its use of Bible texts. Indeed, Charles says that Roman Catholics are heretics. Maybe the author doesn’t know about denominations.

It’s a cross between a gulag and a Trappist monastery, where they seek to break your will, where you can’t discern who is friend and who is foe, using solitary confinement and group spying. It gets a bit unrealistic towards the end when it becomes a sort of ‘Escape from Sobibor.’

There is a lot of suicide but that is regarded as a better option for someone that returning to homosexuality.

I had to look up ‘luau’. Apparently it’s ‘a traditional Hawaiian party or feast that is usually accompanied by entertainment.’

The verdict might be the words of Taylor, that ex-gay means, literally, no longer happy. (So don’t try to pray away the gay.)

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Tale of Two Summers – B. Sloan

TOTS(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

When asked ‘How did you come to write Tale of Two Summers?’, the author replied: I’d always wanted to write an epistolary novel, or book of letters. When I was informed by some students in Maryland that no one wrote letters anymore, it was suggested I do a book of blogs. Then I started thinking about the unique bond between me and my best friend from high school. Even though we’re total opposites, we’ve been friends for 20-odd years now. So I took this topic, added two first-time romances, one gay and one straight, and (as Henri might say) voila…I had my second novel,

He says of himself: I’m a writer, director and producer based in NYC. I’ve made feature films, shorts, and worked as a producer on other films/TV shows as well as web content. Also, I’ve written novels and short stories.

Two teenagers have been best friends for a very long time. One is gay. The other is straight and is away at a summer school so they write to one another almost every day and this book charts their lives, loves and feelings.

Some of the teenage slang made me feel elderly! As in:

“Re the party, that’s a big black hole of suckdom”
“Again, I’m sorry for harshing on you like that.”
“It’s been a crummy first day of you not being here in crappy old Wheaton, Maryland. If there is any place more boring on earth to spend a sweltering summer by my goddamn self, I can’t think of one . . . the sheer deadliness of our little ‘burb is really starting to bug me out.”

“On his suggestion, we headed across Veirs Mill Road into the heart of downtown Wheaton. Yes, that’s right-Wheaton! (Cue horror-movie music.) . . . Sure, downtown Bethesda’s cool and Silver Spring is even manageable, with that new minimall and movie megaplex . . . but crappy ass, nowhere-central Wheaton? I think not.”

How precocious is this?:

“… rediscover your lifelong process of channeling your flinty temper into your acting…”
“… later I got to meet Henri’s storied mother…”
“… but not in the way you construed it.”
“… I think she just says stuff like that when it fits her skewed worldview.”

Arguing in print?:

“I have to say , that is the most pathetic story I’ve ever heard.”
“Jeeeeezzzzzz – testy, testy. Give me a break and a half, okay?”
“It’s really not cute to call me a romantic dope during the biggest emotional panic of my whole entire life!”

“(remember all those birthday parties we went to there?)”
“(OK – I think I just mixed about five metaphors with that rant!)”
“(OMG – I’m starting to sound like a parent too!)”

There’s too much drugs in this book.

I am surprised that a 16-year-old doesn’t have his own house key.

And fear of commitment must be a good thing from someone so young.

Ultimately, I wish that people who get boy/girlfriends/married wouldn’t drop their best friends. You never know when you’re going to need them. Which is ‘like totally’ the moral of this book.

The author is a bit of a tease at the end, when he hints at the possibility of a sequel, which has not appeared.

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If it Die – Andre Gide

IID(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Gide has no time for notion that children are innocent. He talks about the bad things he did under the table with another boy. He is almost an apologist for the doctrine of original sin.

He loved his kaleidoscope and laments that children no longer have them. I did, much later on.

His childhood was lonely except for his mother’s governess, Anna, who always welcomed him and treated him as a humans being rather than a nuisance.

Like me, he wasn’t allowed to go to his own father’s funeral.

He asks his mother what an ‘atheist’ is and gets the reply ‘horrid and foolish’.

He observes that the French need to take sides, to belong to a particular party.

He is derided for getting full marks in school – this is often assumed to be a modern thing but, clearly, it isn’t.

Someone speaks of ‘domicilliary visits’. I have only ever heard that term once before, in 1978, from someone very pompous.

We get several boring pages about philosophy, art and poetry.

The person who had this copy before me pencilled in all sorts of ridiculous comments that made this book seem even more pompous. Some of his remarks are in French and some show that he knows little about Gide. For example, when Gide writes that he loathes virtue, the frantic scribbler adds a question mark.

Compared with other stuff that I’ve read by Gide, I found this somewhat boring.

Perhaps this comment says it all: Memoirs are never more than half sincere, however great one’s desire for truth; everything is-always more complicated than one makes out. Possibly even one gets nearer to truth in the novel

“In the name of what God or what ideal, do you forbid me to live according to my nature?…But I gradually came to wonder whether God really exacted such constraints, whether it was not impious to be in continual rebellion, whether such rebellion was not against Him.”

“but when Ali – that was my little guide’s name – led me up among the sandhills, in spite of the fatigue of walking in the sand, I followed him; we soon reached a kind of funnel or crater, the rim of which was just high enough to command the surrounding country”…”As soon as we got there, Ali flung the coat and rug down on the sloping sand; he flung himself down too, and stretched on his back”…”I was not such a simpleton as to misunderstand his invitation”…”I seized the hand he held out to me and tumbled him on to the ground.”

“I should say that if Wilde had begun to discover the secrets of his life to me, he knew nothing as yet of mine; I had taken care to give him no hint of them, either by deed or word.”…”No doubt, since my adventure at Sousse, there was not much left for the Adversary to do to complete his victory over me; but Wilde did not know this, nor that I was vanquished beforehand or, if you will”…”that I had already triumphed in my imagination and my thoughts over all my scruples.”

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Rainbow Boys – Alex Sanchez

RB(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

It’s the same old coming out story that has been told several times over, though there is up to date information at the back about help groups. It has the stereotypes, the jock, the goofy and the effeminate. The speed at which these teenagers come to terms with things is unrealistic. There’s some misinformation- that it is ‘safe’ for two HIV+ to have sex, given that there are different strands which can lead to cross infection. It’s also unrealistic that a doctor in an STI clinic would moralise.

It’s good that schools, even church schools, tend to have compulsory homophobic policies these days, so some of the stuff to which a blind eye is turned should no longer be happening.

That being said, it was a nice way to pass the time so I might get the sequel.

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The Vast Fields of Ordinary – Nick Burd

tvfoo(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is his first novel so we sort of assume that there is an element of autobiography in it. One interview has him saying: I’m gay and I grew up in Iowa, but it’s not really that autobiographical. My parents are very different than Dade’s parents. And there’s not really anything about his personality that is like mine. ….I grew up in a religious environment. The things in the library weren’t gay or lesbian oriented. My sexuality was forming in my mind in sixth, seventh, eighth grade, and I couldn’t find any young adults geared towards gay kids. When I found adult themed gay books that was kind of a big deal.

As for the ‘religious environment’, this is well described in the book as ‘crazy church.’ (Where ….:mid-hymn and twitched with the spirit. He said that it never ceased to terrify him, that he didn’t understand why anyone would want to voluntarily lose themselves in something when it seemed like life was all about trying to find yourself.)

It won the Stonewall Book Award It’s a classic coming of age novel but there have been many before. What might make this book different is that is more up to date, though the stupidly-named pop group ‘Vas Deferens’ doesn’t exist (nor does the Breathless Faggots), nor it is funny. Johnny Morgan does exist but I cannot work out why anyone would want a shrine to him in their bedroom. It deals with the awkward summer between high school and college, as do most others. The hero falls for the high school jock (who blanks him when he is with his sporty mates) but people like Patricia Nell Warren have dealt with this much better and more sexily.

I note that the hero’s mother shops before he goes to uni. and buys him five pares of jeans? That many? Is he going to bring his washing home every vacation? She also buys him a microwave and a fried. This Americanism seeks to have taken hold in the UK where students, after graduating, through all this stuff out saying ‘It was for uni.’ despite it being still perfectly serviceable.

The hero’s mum is going through a difficult phase of her life and he rightly recognises the sort of ‘crappy in self-help books’.

The invented small town of ‘Cedarville’ conjures up endless boredom. Maybe that’s why the hero ate two dinners one evening.

The best bit is the intro by e. e. cummings: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”

How’s this for a cliché?: we were kissing again, slow and deliberate like ice melting on a countertop.

Being an American book, I had to look up ‘kabobs’ = kebabs! I had to look up ‘muy caliente’. It means “very hot”’.

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Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault – Jonathan Dollimore

SD(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

This is by no means an easy read (like any book that uses ‘problematic’ as a noun) but it looks at the way literature helps people to understand and define themselves. It traces the term “perverse” back to its etymological origins in Latin and its epistemological origins in Augustine. A second theoretical section places Freud and Foucault in dialogue on the subject of perversion, followed by a section on homophobia.

The book is topped and tailed by considerations of Oscar Wilde and Andrew Gide, which was mainly why I read it.

There are some who believe that we have progressed since the Renaissance but others think that we have regressed. This is literally a matter of life and death – some think that gay people are freer now yet there I probably more gay bashing and murder than before and research into AIDS has suffered setbacks owing to stigmatisation.

The essentialist, such as Gide, sees sexual orientation as part of one’s nature so one has to be ‘true to oneself’. Others see gays as going against human nature, a perversion, something to be tamed.

The gay scene has been a haven for many, a place of acceptance in a rejecting world. Yet for others, it reinforces a sense of self-alienation in revulsion against drag queens and camp men.

If someone engages in ‘sodomy’ it’s something that can be contained, repressed or transcended. It’s deviant behaviour. But if someone sees themselves as a gay person, rather than someone who does gay things, they are seen to threaten society because they lead, or are part of, a sub culture.

Are events like Pride a liberation or a tolerated and contained act?: First there is the anthropological version which sees allegedly trans­gressive practices like carnival as not at all disturbing of dominant values but rather their guarantor—a licensed release of social tension, a kind of safety-valve effect which, far from undermining the existing order, actually contributes to its survival. Second are the psychological versions to the effect that (1) true faith paradoxically lies in honest doubt; (z) it is the sacrilegious who, most knowing the true value of the sacred, are thereby most beholden unto it, even as they seek to destroy it; (3) there is nothing so bourgeois as the desire to scandalize the bourgeoisie. A further version of this argument is Richard Sennett’s theory of ‘disobedient dependence’. Transgression, says Sennett, is perhaps the most forceful element in disobedient dependence, since it involves a defiance based on depend­ence, a rebellion not against authority but within it: ‘the transgressor disobeys but authority relates the terms’.

On the other hand: times it involves a conceptual confusion: subversion, and transgression, necessarily presuppose the law, but they do not necessarily ratify the law.

Many assumed that by showing gays to be somehow ill, this would get sympathy instead of oppression. Not so. In the Nazi period, gays become a symptom of the sickness of society which needed rooting out. For others, it needed curing.

Those who pointed to gays as a third sex or some other sort of extra category, who otherwise functioned ‘normally’ led to some saying that gays were some sort of dangerous enemy within.

If being gay isn’t nature but nurture, the result of choices, then those choices can be unmade.

The ineptitude of the Church when Oscar Wilde was in prison: Wilde’s encounters with prison chaplains make dismal, farcical reading. One chaplain suggested that Wilde ended up in prison because he had omitted to conduct morning prayers in his household; another, suspecting Wilde of masturbation, wrote to the authorities that ‘perverse sexual practices are again getting the mastery over him’; to a third Wilde complained that he could not see the sky from his cell window. The chaplain replied that his mind should not ‘dwell on the clouds, but on Him who is above the clouds’. Wilde called him a damned fool and threw him out of the cell .

Cranmer’s confession, that ‘we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep’ has consequences for the way people thought – the: neutral notion of ‘wandering’ can be charged with a terrifying negativity, and its representation includes a long and violent history; in bur own time it has been most violently active in the way the Christian legend of the forever wandering Jew was reactivated in Nazi anti-Semitism, figuring notoriously in the film Der ewige Jude, which, in the words of the film’s commentary, compares ‘the Jewish wanderings through history’ with ‘the mass migrations of an equally restless animal, the rat’…In the sixteenth century, population growth and the commercialization of agriculture had helped to produce a redundant population of landless men and women. There was real alarm at the growth in unemployment, poverty, and crime. Vagrancy, A. L. Beier shows, became one of the most pressing social problems of the age; governments were terrified of it, reacted vigorously to suppress it, initiating major new developments in state control in the process. The masterless, without a fixed place, identity, or occupation, were perceived as a threat to the state and to social order. Social and economic dislocation was often refigured as the evil of aberrant movement. Beier remarks that it is difficult for us today to recover the meaning which attached to the masterless; today’s equi­valents ‘might be anarchist, terrorist, or (in some western societies) com­munist’. Supplementing actual legislation was what William Hunt has called ‘a culture of discipline’—in effect a wider strategy of social and ideological control conceived in ethical and religious terms.

I learned some new stuff about Freud: in Three Essays, first published in 1905. He says: ‘the abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it…… city life is constantly becoming more sophisticated and more restless. The exhausted nerves seek recuperation in increased stimulation and in highly-spiced pleasures, only to become more exhausted than before.’. On this account, especially since arrival of the post-modern, we are presumably all perverts now, actual or aspiring.

For those who base their whole self-understanding on one ancient myth: At the heart of the Oedipus myth as inherited from Greek mythology is a homosexual encounter. That Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother is well known. Less so is the fact that the tragic sequence is initiated because Oedipus’ father, Laius, loved a beautiful youth, Chrysippus. Hera, the guardian of marriage, is angered by this and punishes the Thebans for not preventing that love. So the very myth which psychoanalysts appropriate to normalize heterosexuality already has homosexuality inscribed at its centre; that which normatively sanctions heterosexuality is rooted in what it would contain. Mythologically, the perverse dynamic was always already there.

John Rechy’s sexual outlaw: : ‘promiscuity, like the priesthood, requires total commitment and sacrifice’ …..’In the sex-moments pressurized into high intensity by life-crushing strictures challenged, the sexual outlaw experiences to the utmost the rush of soul, blood, cum through every channel of his being 1 into the physical and psychical discharge of the fully awakened, living, defiant body’ …….Rechy rages against oppression, and attributes extraordinary political potential to transgressive sexuality: Promiscuous homosexuals (outlaws with dual identities . . . ) are the shock troops of the sexual revolution. The streets are the battleground, the revolution is the sexhunt, a radical statement is made each time a man has sex with another on a street. . . .Cum instead of blood. Satisfied bodies instead of dead ones. Death versus orgasm. Would they bust everyone? With cum-smeared tanks would they crush all? … Rechy celebrates actually perpetuates an alienation between gay people… the supposed shock troops of the sexual revolution, will ‘tomorrow . . . go to offices and athletic fields, classrooms and construc­tion sites’ (Sexual Outlaw, 299). The perverse dynamic also suggests that the anthropologist’s boundary between the lawful and the illicit is not so much a dividing line as the visible manifestation of an overlap. Something like this is true of Rechy’s gay cruising grounds—derelict land, parks, parking lots, beaches—all public spaces and places where straight and gay both go without mixing or meeting, and where for the most part one of these groups is unaware of the other’s presence.

Ultimately, there seem to be four options:

i. Someone like Gide seeks to partake in the dominant term rather than the inferior one (‘we’re natural too’); this involves a struggle for inclusion within the very concepts which exclude the subordin­ate, a struggle which is simultaneously an appropriation and transformation of those concepts.

ii. In Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness the strategy is to transvalue the negative identity through (e.g.) assimilation with other more positive ones, medical, cultural, religious, and literary.

In Rubyfruit Jungle the effect is to reverse the respective dominant subordinate locations within the binary (‘we’re natural/superior; you’re unnatural/inferior’).

A different strategy is to destabilize, subvert, and displace the binary through inversion, or a turning back upon, a transgressive reinscription within, the dominant, to destroy at base the categor­ies responsible for one’s exclusion—as in Wilde’s transgressive aesthetic.

Those who advocate same-sex marriage seem to be in camp i. Those of us who oppose it, partly informed by feminist principles, would be in camp iv.

What causes homophobia: whereas once it was the homosexual who was viewed as sick, now it might be the heterosexual who is charged with pathology: ‘Whereas once the homosexual was identified by a long series of character traits, it is now possible to identify the traits of the homophobe: authoritarian, cognitively restricted, with gender anxieties’. Most provocatively, those gender anxieties are found to harbour a repressed homosexuality.

Britain fears the enemy within: In the UK in 1983 there was a by-election in Bermondsey, London. Its run-up included a homophobic attack on one of the candidates, Peter Tatchell, whose political ‘extremism’ was regarded as inseparable from his sexual ‘deviance’. It was largely mobilized by sections of the press, to a degree then unprecedented, but which heralded the onset of the intensified homophobia which has characterized that country ever since……there have been numerous similar press-provoked scandals in which the homosexual has kept turning up where he or she should not, especially at the ‘respectable’ centre of things: in MI5, the Houses of Parliament, as parliamentary candidate, school­teacher, council employee, prison chaplain, vicar, guard to the Queen Mother, film star, circuit judge, to cite only some (and some whose lives have been destroyed by homophobic media harassment). The same press represents homosexuals as the corrupters of public morals, of children, the family, and even the armed forces….

These enemies are seen as subversive: Himmler launched his attack on homosexuals on the basis that they, like the Jews, were involved in a conspiracy to undermine the German race. Such associations of sexual deviance and political threat a long history sedimented into our language and culture. The term ‘, for example, derives from the religious as well as sexual nonconformi­ty of an eleventh-century Bulgarian sect which practised the Manichaean heresy and refused to propagate the species; the OED tells is that it was later applied to other heretics, to whom abominable practices were also ascribed.

Are gays fearful of the other? Wilde’s anecdote about Narcissus and the river as related by Gide: When Narcissus died, the flowers of the field asked the river for some drops of water to weep for him. ‘Oh!’ answered the river, ‘if all my drops of water were tears, I should not have enough to weep for Narcissus myself. I loved him!’ ‘Oh!’ replied the flowers of the field, ‘how could you not have loved Narcissus? He was beautiful’. ‘Was he beautiful?’ said the river. ‘And who could know better than you? Each day, leaning over your bank, he beheld his beauty in your water . .Wilde paused for a moment . . .’If I loved him’, replied the river, ‘it was because, when he leaned over my water, I saw the reflection of my waters in his eyes.’

Cross-dressing gets some comment. I liked especially that man who fears than if a boy dresses as a girl this might bring out his (the viewer’s) latent homosexuality.

The cover is a photograph by Nigerian born Rotimi Fani-Kayode. It is entitled ‘Station of the Cross’ and I assume it is the one where ‘Jesus meets his mother’ since it depicts a young, probably gay, man and a nun (Holy Mother church?). The artist wrote: “My identity has been constructed from my own sense of otherness, whether cultural, racial or sexual. The three aspects are not separate within me. Photography is the tool by which I feel most confident in expressing myself. It is photography therefore — Black, African, homosexual photography — which I must use not just as an instrument, but as a weapon if I am to resist attacks on my integrity and, indeed, my existence on my own terms.”

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Corydon – André Gide

Corydon(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

This book consists of four Socratic dialogues on homosexuality. Its name comes from Virgil’s pederastic character Corydon. Parts of the text were separately privately printed from 1911 to 1920, and the whole book appeared in its French original in France in May 1924 and in the United States in 1950.

An old school friend visits Corydon, who has become a doctor. He is very slow on the uptake but I suppose that give the author the excuse to go into great detail.

Corydon marshals a range of evidence from naturalists, historians, poets, and philosophers (many from the classics, of which I have virtually no knowledge or interest) to support his contention that homosexuality has pervaded the most culturally and artistically advanced civilizations, that homosexuality is natural, or better not unnatural, and that it pervaded the most culturally and artistically advanced civilizations such as Periclean Greece, Renaissance Italy and Elizabethan England. Gide argues this is reflected by writers and artists from Homer and Virgil to Titian and Shakespeare in their depictions of male-male relationships, such as Achilles and Patroclus, as homosexual rather than as platonic as other critics insist. Gide uses this evidence to insist that homosexuality is more fundamental and natural than exclusive heterosexuality, which he believes is merely a union constructed by society.

He explains that he was going to marry but: “I loved her too much to realize clearly that I didn’t desire her at all……Yet the few experiments I then attempted in a brothel certainly proved to me that I wasn’t impotent; but at the same time they afforded convincing proof . . .saw that I was capable of pleasure; I supposed myself incapable, strictly speaking, of desire……My fiancee had a brother, a few years younger than she, whom I of ten saw and who felt the deepest friendship for me.”

This brother later committed suicide because of his unrequited love for Corydon.
Of the so-called experts: The doctors who usually write about the subject treat only uranists who are ashamed of themselves—pathetic inverts, sick men. They’re the only ones who consult doctors. As a doctor myself, those are the ones who come to me for treatment too; but as a man, I come across others, who are neither pathetic nor sickly—those are the ones I want to deal with.” “Yes, with the normal pederasts!”

We get lots of information about female animals being on heat and how males can’t help themselves when they smell; the odour. But human males can choose and the female has to wear make up to attract. Males have more semen that is needed for reproductive purposes so isn’t it natural for them to sow their seed all over the place?: Napoleon – “Woman is given to man to bear him children. Yet one woman could not suffice man for this purpose; she cannot be his wife when she is suckling; she cannot be his wife when she is sick; she ceases to be his wife when she can no longer give him children; man, whom nature besets neither by age nor by any of these disadvantage

Then the quotation from Pascal: I am very much afraid that this nature is itself merely a first form of custom, just as custom is a second nature.”

Anti-Semitism dismisses some words of Leon Blum: The Jews are past masters in the art of disintegrating our most cherished, our most venerable institutions—the very ones that are the pillars and foundations of our Western civilization, for the sake of who knows what license and laxity of morals which are fortunately re­pugnant to our good sense and our Latin instinct for social values.

He appeals to great times which show the present day to be one of ignorance: I do not believe it is going too far to say, on the contrary, that the periods of great artistic flowering—the Greeks in the age of Pericles, the Romans in the age of Augustus, the British in the age of Shakespeare, the Italians in the time of the Remiss French in the Renaissance and then under 1.01 the Persians in the century of Hafiz, etc.—have very times when pederasty asserted itself most a and, I was going to say, most officially. I would a so far as to say that only the periods or regions uranism are also the periods or regions without art.

The interviewer counters all this classicism with: “Christianity, thank God, has risen above such a thing, sweeping away, cleansing, sweetening, and subli­mating all that; strengthening the family, consecrating marriage, and, beyond that, advocating chastity.

In the current climate, Corydon would probably be arrested for saying: “I am also saying that an older man can understand an adolescent boy’s troubles better than a woman can,”My friends insist that this little book is of the kind which will do me the greatest harm,”

The problem is that homosexuality is confused with abuse. Its opponents do that often but its advocates should be more careful in what they say.

Gide wrote of the book: Some say that it’s outdated, but the debates contained within it still rage today – is it nature or nurture? So what if animals indulge? Aren’t humans endowed with a higher nature?


Be faithful to that which exists within yourself.

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.

It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.

Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.

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The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde by Nick Stafford.

RTOOW(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

This radio play is based on the book “Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess” by Merlin Holland (Oscar’s grandson).

Wilde naturally assumes that he can take on the man who invented the rules of boxing and win. His replies are amusing but also arrogant, as if he is looking down his nose at lesser mortals such as the judge, the barristers and the jury. Some see Wilde as a hero but many were appalled at the futility of such remarks in the face of his ever-increasingly inevitable fate.

Although Wilde has been adopted as a gay hero, he was unwaveringly adamant in his denial of his own homosexuality. It is a harsh and sad reflection of the ignorance of the times. The repetition of the charge of ‘sodomy’ is owing to the fact that the term ‘homosexuality’ did not exist at this point, and Wilde’s trial was one factor in its appearance in the English language.

In 1895, Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, delivered a note to the Albemarle Club addressed to “Oscar Wilde posing as somdomite.” (sic) With Bosie’s encouragement, Wilde sued the Marquess for libel. He not only lost but he was tried twice for “gross indecency” and sent to prison with two years’ hard labor. With this publication of the uncensored trial transcripts, readers can for the first time in more than a century hear Wilde at his most articulate and brilliant. The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde documents an alarmingly swift fall from grace; it is also a supremely moving testament to the right to live, work, and love as one’s heart dictates. I have drawn heavily, below, from a transcript of the trial here but it’s worth reading the whole document.

Queensberry’s letters to Bosie, which are quite hateful – I have received your postcard, which I presume is from you, but as the writing is utterly unreadable [true] to me have been unable to make out hardly one sentence….My friend I am staying with has made out some of your letter, and wished to read it to me, but I declined to hear a word.  However,  according to his advice I shall keep it as a specimen, and also as a  protection in case I ever feel tempted to give you the thrashing you really deserve.

From another letter to Bosie: If you are my son, it is only confirming proof to me, if I needed any, how right I was to face every horror and misery I have done rather than run the risk of bringing more creatures into the world like yourself, and that was the entire and only reason of my breaking with your mother as a wife, so intensely was I dissatisfied with her as the mother of you children, and particularly yourself, whom, when quite a baby, I cried over you the bitterest tears a man ever shed, that I had brought such a creature into this world, and unwittingly had committed such a crime.

Having once got the original letter into his possession, Mr. Wilde kept it.  Now, here is the letter itself:

My Own Boy,

Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should have been made no less for music of song than for madness of kisses.  Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry.  I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days.
Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury?  Do go there to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like.  It is a lovely place–it only lacks you; but go to-Salisbury first.
Always, with undying love,

The words of that letter, gentlemen, may appear extravagant to those in the habit of writing commercial correspondence (Laughter), or those ordinary letters which the necessities of life force upon one every day; but Mr. Wilde is a poet, and the letter is considered by him as a prose sonnet, and one of which he is in no way ashamed and is prepared to produce anywhere as the expression of true poetic feeling, and with no relation whatever to the hateful and repulsive suggestions put to it in the plea in this case.

In December, 1894, was published a certain immoral work in the form of The Chameleon, relating to the practices of persons of unnatural habits; and that Mr. Wilde had joined in procuring the publication of The Chameleon, with his name on it, as the principal contributor, under the title of “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young.”  Those are two very gross allegations.  I defy my learned friend to suggest from these contributions anything hostile to the character of Mr. Wilde.  The Chameleon was numbered Volume I, Number I; it was published by Messrs.  Gay & Bird, of 5 Chandos Street; and only one hundred copies were to be printed.  Mr. Wilde did contribute “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” and on the first three pages there is a certain number of epigrammatical statements such as those which many of us have enjoyed when being entertained by such a play as A Woman of No Importance.  They give brilliancy and effect to dialogue and they even supply wisdom in a witty form.  Mr. Wilde is not responsible for the rest of the magazine.  It was edited by an Oxford man, who asked Mr. Wilde to contribute.  Directly Mr. Wilde saw the magazine he noticed there was a story in it called  “The Priest and the Acolyte,” which is a disgrace to literature, which it is amazing that anybody wrote and still more amazing that anybody allowed to be published under his name.  Directly Mr. Wilde saw that disgraceful and abominable story he communicated with the editor, he indignantly insisted on the copies being suppressed and the magazine was withdrawn.  It is strange indeed, then, to find that publication put upon the particulars as justifying the charge against Mr. Wilde.

W–I felt that this was the man who wanted money from me.  I said, “I suppose you have come about my beautiful letter to Lord Alfred Douglas.  If you had not been so foolish as to send a copy of it to Mr. Beerbohm Tree, I would gladly have paid you a very large sum of money for the letter, as I consider it to be a work of art.”  He said, “A very curious construction can be put on that letter.”  I said in reply, “Art is rarely intelligible to the criminal classes.”  He said, “A man offered me £6o for it.”  I said to him, “If you take my advice you will go to that man and sell my letter to him for £6o.  I myself have never received so large a sum for any prose work of that length; but I am glad to find that there is some one in England who considers a letter of mine worth £6o.”‘  He was somewhat taken aback by my manner, perhaps, and said, “The man is out of town.”  I replied, “He is sure to come back,” and I advised him to get the £6o.  He then changed his manner a little, saying that he had not a single penny, and that he had been on many occasions trying to find me.  I said that I could not guarantee his cab expenses, but that I would gladly give him half-a-sovereign.  He took the money and went away.

Charles Gill (prosecuting): What is “the love that dare not speak its name?”

Wilde: ” ‘The love that dare not speak its name’ in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it”.

Carson: Did you ever kiss him?
Wilde: Oh, no, never in my life; he was a peculiarly plain boy.

Carson: He was what?
Wilde: I said I thought him unfortunately – his appearance was so very unfortunately – very ugly – I mean – I pitied him for it.
Carson: Very ugly?
Wilde: Yes.
Carson: Do you say that in support of your statement that you never kissed him?

 Re – The Preface to the Picture of Dorian Gray:

Those who find the ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

 C–It is suggested that you are responsible for the publication of the magazine The Chameleon, on the front page of which some aphorisms of yours appear.  Beyond sending that contribution, had you anything to do with the preparation or publication of that magazine?

W–No; nothing whatever.

C–Until you saw this number of The Chameleon, did you know anything about the story “The Priest and the Acolyte”?

W–Nothing at all.

C–Upon seeing that story in print, did you communicate with the editor?

W–The editor came to see me at the Cafe Royal to speak to me about it.

C–Did you approve of the story of “The Priest and the Acolyte”?

W–I thought it bad and indecent, and I strongly disapproved of it.

C– Was that disapproval expressed to the editor?


Edward Carson–You stated that your age was thirty-nine.  I think you are over forty.  You were born on 16th October, 1854?
Oscar Wilde–I have no wish to pose as being young.  I am thirty-nine or forty.  You have my certificate and that settles the matter.
C–But being born in 1854 makes you more than forty?
W–Ah!  Very well
C–What age is Lord Alfred Douglas?
W–Lord Alfred Douglas is about twenty-four, and was between twenty and twenty-one years of age when I first knew him.  Down to the time of the interview in Tite Street, Lord Queensberry was friendly.  I did not receive a letter on 3rd April in which Lord Queensberry desired that my acquaintance with his son should cease.  After the interview I had no doubt that such was Lord Queensberry’s desire.  Notwithstanding Lord  Queensberry’s protest, my intimacy with Lord Alfred Douglas has continued down to the present moment.
C– You have stayed with him at many places?
C–At Oxford?  Brighton on several occasions?  Worthing?
C–And in various hotels in London?
W–Yes; at one in Albemarle Street, and in Dover Street, and at the Savoy.
C–Did you ever take rooms yourself in addition to your house in Tite Street?
W–Yes; at 10 and 11 St. James’s Place.  I kept the rooms from the month of October, 1893, to the end of March, 1894.  Lord Alfred Douglas has stayed in those chambers, which are not far from Piccadilly.  I have been abroad with him several times and even lately to Monte Carlo.  With reference to the writings which have been mentioned, it was not at Brighton, in 20 King’s Road, that I wrote my article for The Chameleon.  I observed that there were also contributions from Lord Alfred Douglas, but these were not written at Brighton.  I have seen them.  I thought them exceedingly beautiful poems.  One was “In Praise of Shame” and the other “Two Loves.”
C– These loves.  They were two boys?
C– One boy calls his love “true love,” and the other boy calls his love “shame”?
C– Did you think that made any improper suggestion?
W–No, none whatever.
C– You read “The Priest and the Acolyte”?
C– You have no doubt whatever that that was an improper story?
W–From the literary point of view it was highly improper.  It is impossible for a man of literature to judge it otherwise; by literature, meaning treatment, selection of subject, and the like.  I thought the treatment rotten and the subject rotten.
C–You are of opinion, I believe, that there is no such thing as an immoral book?
C–May I take it that you think “The Priest and the Acolyte” was not immoral?
W–It was worse; it was badly written.
C–Was not the story that of a priest who fell in love with a boy who served him at the altar, and was discovered by the rector in the priest’s room, and a scandal arose?
W–I have read it only once, in last November, and nothing will induce me to read it again.  I don’t care for it.  It doesn’t interest me…
C–Do you think the story blasphemous?
W–I think it violated every artistic canon of beauty.
C– I wish to know whether you thought the story blasphemous?
W–The story filled me with disgust.  The end was wrong.
C–Answer the question, sir.  Did you or did you not consider the story blasphemous?
W–I thought it disgusting.
C–I am satisfied with that.  You know that when the priest in the story administers poison to the boy, he uses the words of the sacrament of the Church of England?
W–That I entirely forgot.
C–Do you consider that blasphemous?
W–I think it is horrible.  “Blasphemous” is not a word of mine.

[Carson then read from “The Priest and the Acolyte.”]:

Just before the consecration the priest took a tiny phial from the pocket of his cassock, blessed it, and poured the contents into the chalice.
When the time came for him to receive from the chalice, he raised it to his lips, but did not taste of it.
He administered the sacred wafer to the child, and then he took his hand; he turned towards him; but when he saw the light in the beautiful face he turned again to the crucifix with a low moan.  For one instant his courage failed him; then he turned to the little fellow again, and held the chalice to his lips:
“The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

C–Do you approve of those words?
W—I think them disgusting, perfect twaddle….I strongly objected to the whole story.  I took no steps to express disapproval of The Chameleon because I think it would have been beneath my dignity as a man of letters to associate myself with an Oxford undergraduate’s productions.  I am aware that the magazine may have been circulated among the undergraduates of Oxford.  I do not believe that any book or work of art ever had any effect whatever on morality.
C–Am I right in saying that you do not consider the effect in creating morality or immorality?
W—Certainly, I do not.
C–So far as your works are concerned, you pose as not being concerned about morality or immorality?
W—I do not know whether you use the word “pose” in any particular sense.
C–It is a favorite word of your own?
W—Is it?  I have no pose in this matter.  In writing a play or a book, I am concerned entirely with literature—that is, with art.  I aim not at doing good or evil, but in trying to make a thing that will have some quality of beauty.
C–Listen, sir.  Here is one of the “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young” which you contributed: “Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.”  You think that true?
W—I rarely think that anything I write is true.
C–Did you say “rarely”?
W–I said “rarely.” I might have said “never”—not true in the actual sense of the word.
C–“Religions die when they arc proved to be true.”  Is that true?
W—Yes; I hold that.  It is a suggestion towards a philosophy of the absorption of religions by science, but it is too big a question to go into now.
C–Do you think that was a safe axiom to put forward for the philosophy of the young?
W–Most stimulating.
C–“If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out”?
W—That is a pleasing paradox, but I do not set very high store on it as an axiom.
C– Is it good for the young?
W—Anything is good that stimulates thought in whatever age.
C–Whether moral or immoral?
W—There is no such thing as morality or immorality in thought.  There is immoral emotion.
C–“Pleasure is thc only thing one should live for”?
W—I think that the realization of oneself is the prime aim of life, and to realize oneself through pleasure is finer than to do so through pain.  I am, on that point, entirely on the side of the ancients—the Greeks.  It is a pagan idea.
C–“A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes in it”?
W—Perfectly.  That would be my metaphysical definition of truth; something so personal that the same truth could never be appreciated by two minds.
C–“The condition of perfection is idleness: the aim of perfection is youth”?
W—Oh, yes; I think so.  Half of it is true.  The life of contemplation is the highest life, and so recognized by the philosopher.
C–“There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession”?
W—I should think that the young have enough sense of humor.
C–You think that is humorous?
W—I think it is an amusing paradox, an amusing play on words….
C–This is in your introduction to Dorian Gray: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.  Books are well written, or badly written.”  That expresses your view?
W—My view on art, yes.
C–Then, I take it, that no matter how immoral a book may be, if it is well written, it is, in your opinion, a good book?
W—Yes, if it were well written so as to produce a sense of beauty, which is the highest sense of which a human being can be capable.  If it were badly written, it would produce a sense of disgust.
C–Then a well-written book putting forward perverted moral views may be a good book?
W—No work of art ever puts forward views.  Views belong to people who are not artists.
C–A perverted novel might be a good book?
W–I don’t know what you mean by a “perverted” novel.
C–Then I will suggest Dorian Gray as open to the interpretation of being such a novel?
W–That could only be to brutes and illiterates.  The views of Philistines on art are incalculably stupid.
C–An illiterate person reading Dorian Gray might consider it such a novel?
W—The views of illiterates on art are unaccountable.  I am concerned only with my view of art.  I don’t care twopence what other people think of it.
C–The majority of persons would come under your definition of Philistines and illiterates?
W—I have found wonderful exceptions.
C–Do you think that the majority of people live up to the position you are giving us?
W—I am afraid they are not cultivated enough.
C–Not cultivated enough to draw the distinction between a good book and a bad book?
W—Certainly not.
C–The affection and love of the artist of Dorian Gray might lead an ordinary individual to believe that it might have a certain tendency?
W—I have no knowledge of the views of ordinary individuals.
C–You did not prevent the ordinary individual from buying your book?
W—I have never discouraged him.

Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have in itself all the passion of the romantic spirit, all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek.  The harmony of soul and body—how much that is!  We in our madness have separated the two, and have invented a realism that is bestial, an ideality that is void.  Harry! Harry!  if you only knew what Dorian Gray is to me!  You remember that landscape of mine, for which Agnew offered me such a huge price, but which I would not part with?  It is one of the best things I have ever done.  And why is it so?  Because, while I was painting it, Dorian Gray sat beside me.”
“Basil, this is quite wonderful!  I must see Dorian Gray.”

C–Now I ask you, Mr. Wilde, do you consider that that description of the feeling of one man towards a youth just grown up was a proper or an improper feeling?
W—I think it is the most perfect description of what an artist would feel on meeting a beautiful personality that was in some way necessary to his art and life.
C–You think that is a feeling a young man should have towards another?
W—Yes, as an artist.

You must not be angry with me, Dorian, for what I have told you. As I said to Harry, once, you are made to be worshipped.”

C—Do you mean to say that that passage describes the natural feeling of one man towards another?
W—It would be the influence produced by a beautiful personality.
C–A beautiful person?
W—I said a “beautiful personality.”  You can describe it as you like.  Dorian Gray’s was a most remarkable personality.
C–May I take it that you, as an artist, have never known the feeling described here?
W—I have never allowed any personality to dominate my art.
C–Then you have never known the feeling you described?
W—No.  It is a work of fiction.
C–So far as you are concerned you have no experience as to its being a natural feeling?
W—I think it is perfectly natural for any artist to admire intensely and love a young man.  It is an incident in the life of almost every artist.
C–But let us go over it phrase by phrase.  “I quite admit that I adored you madly.” What do you say to that?  Have you ever adored a young man madly?
W—No, not madly; I prefer love-that is a higher form.
C–Never mind about that.  Let us keep down to the level we are at now?
W—I have never given adoration to anybody except myself. (Loud laughter.)
C–I suppose you think that a very smart thing?
W—Not at all.
C–Then you have never had that feeling?
W—No.  The whole idea was borrowed from Shakespeare, I regret to say—yes, from Shakespeare’s sonnets.
C–I believe you have written an article to show that Shakespeare’s sonnets were suggestive of unnatural vice?
W—On the contrary I have written an article to show that they are not.”  I objected to such a perversion being put upon Shakespeare.
C–“I have adored you extravagantly”?—Do you mean financially?
W–Oh, yes, financially!
C–Do you think we are talking about finance?
W—I don’t know what you are talking about.
C–Don’t you?  Well, I hope I shall make myself very plain before I have done.  “I was jealous of every one to whom you spoke.”  Have you ever been jealous of a young man?
W—Never in my life.
C–“I wanted to have you all to myself.”  Did you ever have that feeling?
W—No; I should consider it an intense nuisance, an intense bore.
C–“I grew afraid that the world would know of my idolatry.”  Why should he grow afraid that the world should know of it?
W–Because there are people in the world who cannot understand the intense devotion, affection, and admiration that an artist can feel for a wonderful and beautiful personality.  These are the conditions under which we live.  I regret them.
C–These unfortunate people, that have not the high understanding that you have, might put it down to something wrong?
W–Undoubtedly; to any point they chose.  I am not concerned with the ignorance of others….

Why is your friendship so fateful to young men?  There was that wretched boy in the Guards who committed suicide.  You were his great friend.  There was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave England with a tarnished name.  You and he were inseparable.  What about Adrian Singleton, and his dreadful end?  What about Lord Kent’s only son, and his career?  I met his father yesterday in St. James Street.  He seemed broken with shame and sorrow.  What about the young Duke of Perth?  What sort of life has he got now?  What gentleman would associate with him?  Dorian, Dorian, your reputation is infamous. . . .”

C—Does not this passage suggest a charge of unnatural vice?
W—It describes Dorian Gray as a man of very corrupt influence, though there is no statement as to the nature of the influence.  But as a matter of fact I do not think that one person influences another, nor do I think there is any bad influence in the world.
C–A man never corrupts a youth?
W—I think not.
C–Nothing could corrupt him?
W—If you are talking of separate ages.
C–No, sir, I am talking common sense.
W–I do not think one person influences another.
C–You don’t think that flattering a young man, making love to him, in fact, would be likely to corrupt him?
C–Where was Lord Alfred Douglas staying when you wrote that letter to him?
W—At the Savoy; and I was at Babbacombe, near Torquay.
C–It was a letter in answer to something he had sent you?
W—Yes, a poem.
C–Why should a man of your age address a boy nearly twenty years younger as “My own boy”?
W—I was fond of him.  I have always been fond of him.
C–Do you adore him?
W—No, but I have always liked him.  I think it is a beautiful letter.  It is a poem.  I was not writing an ordinary letter.  You might as well cross-examine me as to whether King Lear or a sonnet of Shakespeare was proper.
C–Apart from art, Mr. Wilde?
W—I cannot answer apart from art.
C–Suppose a man who was not an artist had written this letter, would you say it was a proper letter?
W—A man who was not. an artist could not have written that letter.
W—Because nobody but an artist could write it.  He certainly could not write the language unless he were a man of letters.
C–I can suggest, for the sake of your reputation, that there is nothing very wonderful in this “red rose-leaf lips of yours”?
W—A great deal depends on the way it is read.
C–“Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry.”  Is that a beautiful phrase?
W—Not as you read it, Mr. Carson.  You read it very badly.
C–I do not profess to be an artist; and when I hear you give evidence, I am glad I am not—
Sir Edward Clarke—I don’t think my friend should talk like that.  (To witness)  Pray, do not criticize my friend’s reading again.
C—Is that not an exceptional letter?
W—It is unique, I should say.
C–Was that the ordinary way in which you carried on your correspondence?
W—No; but I have often written to Lord Alfred Douglas, though I never wrote to another young man in the same way.
C–Have you often written letters in the same style as this?
W—I don’t repeat myself in style.
C–Here is another letter which I believe you also wrote to Lord Alfred Douglas.  Will you read it?
W—No; I decline.  I don’t see why I should.
C–Then I will.

C–Did you ever kiss him?
W–Oh, dear no.  He was a peculiarly plain boy.  He was, unfortunately, extremely ugly.  I pitied him for it.
C–Was that the reason why you did not kiss him?
W–Oh, Mr. Carson, you are pertinently insolent.
C–Did you say that in support of your statement that you never kissed him?
W–No.  It is a childish question.
C–Did you ever put that forward as a reason why you never kissed the boy?
W–Not at all.
C–Why, sir, did you mention that this boy was extremely ugly?
W—For this reason.  If I were asked why I did not kiss a door-mat, I should say because I do not like to kiss door-mats.  I do not know why I mentioned that he was ugly, except that I was stung by the insolent question you put to me and the way you have insulted me throughout this hearing.  Am I to be cross-examined because I do not like it?
C–Why did you mention his ugliness?
W–It is ridiculous to imagine that any such thing could have occurred under any circumstances.
C–Then why did you mention his ugliness, I ask you?
W–Perhaps you insulted me by an insulting question.
C–Was that a reason why you should say the boy was ugly?–
[The witness began several answers almost inarticulately, and none of them he finished.  Carson’s repeated sharply: “Why?  Why?  Why did you add that?” At last the witness answered]:
W–You sting me and insult me and try to unnerve me; and at times one says things flippantly when one ought to speak more seriously.  I admit it.
C–Then you said it flippantly?
W–Oh, yes, it was a flippant answer. No indecencies ever took place between myself and Grainger.  I went down in June, 1893, to stay at a cottage at Goring.  I brought over Grainger as under-butler.  He had asked me to get him a situation.  I never on any occasion asked him to come into my bedroom.  I don’t know where the butler I had then is now.
C–Did you know a masseur at the Savoy named Antonio Migge?
W–Yes.  He used occasionally to massage me in the morning.  I stayed at the Savoy in March, 1893, but never on that occasion brought boys into my bedroom there.
C–Did you ever bring boys into your rooms at the hotel in Paris?
C–Or into your sitting-room?
W–What do you mean by boys?
C–Boys of eighteen or twenty?
W–Oh, yes; many called to see me.
C–Did any of them come late at night-twelve or one o’clock-and stay till four in the moming?
W–Certainly not.
C–Is it not true that there has been a scandal at the Savoy Hotel?
W—None whatever….

Justice Wills: Oscar Wilde and Alfred Taylor, the crime of which you have been convicted is so bad that one has to put stern restraint upon one’s self to prevent one’s self from describing, in language which I would rather not use, the sentiments which must rise in the breast of every man of honor who has heard the details of these two horrible trials.  That the jury has arrived at a correct verdict in this case I cannot persuade myself to entertain a shadow of a doubt; and I hope, at all events, that those who sometimes imagine that a judge is half-hearted in the cause of decency and morality because he takes care no prejudice shall enter into the case, may see that it is consistent at least with the utmost sense of indignation at the horrible charges brought home to both of you.

It is no use for me to address you.  People who can do these things must be dead to all sense of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them.  It is the worst case I have ever tried.  that you, Taylor, kept a kind of male brothel it is impossible to doubt.  And that you, Wilde, have been the center of a circle of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind among young men, it is equally impossible to doubt.

I shall, under the circumstances, be expected to pass the severest sentence that the law allows.  In my judgment it it totally inadequate for a case such as this.  The sentence of the Court is that each of you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years.

[Cries of “Oh! Oh!” and “Shame!”]

Wilde–And I?  May I say nothing, my Lord?


A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

A poet can survive everything but a misprint.

We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.

On George Bernard Shaw: An excellent man: he has no enemies, and none of his friends like him.

Hard work is simply the refuge of people who have nothing whatever to do.

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.

Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.

Truth, in the matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.

The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.

I can resist everything except temptation. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere’s Fan)

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere’s Fan)

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere’s Fan)

What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us. (Lady Windermere)

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. (Mr Dumby)

The English country gentleman galloping after a fox — the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. (Lord Illingworth)

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.

Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

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Barbara Pym & Anglo-Catholicism – Tim Burnett

S Gabriel's(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

The rarefied world of Anglo-Catholicism is well-served by authors liker Compton Mackenzie, Rose McCauley and Pym. I have read most of their stuff and it reminds me of a little world that I inhabited in my (misspent) youth.

Of Pym: The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things, she decided, wondering how many writers and philosophers had said this before her, the trivial pleasures like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.

To understand this little world, she purchased The Ritual Reason Why. All well and good but it was hardly Anglo-Catholicism. It set out to explained what middle of the road and high C of E churches did. If you want more meaty stuff you want ‘Behind Rite and Ceremony’.

So: She was always a great stickler for accuracy, and I think one of the reasons why clergy enjoy her novels is that she does get things right. – I want to ask ‘right’ by whose standards?

Of S. Gabriel’s Warwick Square (which is still going strong), under a pseudonym: What I am leading up to is that when Barbara came to Pimlico she was already well into churchgoing (as you might say), and in London there were plenty of churches to choose from, but her experience had led her, for whatever reason, into wanting something higher, with more ritual, than the ones she was used to — and here was St Gabriel’s right on her doorstep…..There were two churches in the district, but I had chosen St Mary’s rather than All Souls’, not only because it was nearer, but because it was ‘High’. I am afraid my poor father and mother would not have approved at all and I could imagine my mother, her lips pursed, shaking her head and breathing in a frightened whisper, ‘Incense.’ But perhaps it was only natural that I should want to rebel against my upbringing, even if only in such a harmless way.

Its priest: isn’t married and as he’s about forty I dare say he won’t now. I seemed to have spent so much time lately in talking about the celibacy of the clergy in general and Julian Malory in particular that I was a little tired of the subject.

Does she not get it that most of them were gay? Or is she having a laugh?

The same thing goes for the altar boys: `Well’, hesitates Mildred, remembering Teddy Lemon, the Master of Ceremonies, with his rough curly hair and anxious face, and his troop of well-drilled, tough-looking little boys, `they are very nice good boys, but perhaps you should go to a Kensington church if you want to see glamorous acolytes.’

On incense, as though comparing it with blends of tea that you can get from Harrods: `High Mass — with music and incense? Oh, I should like that. I hope it is the best quality incense? I believe it varies.’

‘ Yes, I’ve seen advertisements,’ [Mildred] admitted, ‘and they have different names. Lambeth is very expensive, but Pax is quite cheap. It seems as if it ought to be the other way round.’ ….It was dark and warm inside the church and there was a strong smell of incense. I began to wonder idly whether it was the cheaper brands that smelt stronger, like shag tobacco or inferior tea, but I was sure that Father Thames would have only the very best. I noticed a few professional details, candles burning before the rather brightly coloured statue of our patron saint, a violet stole flung carelessly over one of the confessionals which had curtains of purple brocade. This one had Father Thames’s name above it; those of the assistant priests looked somehow inferior, perhaps because the curtains were not of such good quality material — there could surely not be all that much difference in the quality of the spiritual advice. see

High Mass is the equivalent of grand opera in that everything is sung no spoken parts: The procession round the church with lighted candles reminded her of a scene from an Italian opera — Tosca, I suppose. There was something daring and Romish about the whole thing which added to one’s enjoyment. It should have been followed by a reception in some magnificent palazzo, where we would drink splendid Italian wines with names like Asti Spumante, Lachryma Christi and Soave di Verona. That it seemed to go equally well with the tea and sandwiches and cakes in the church hall was perhaps a tribute to the true catholicity of the Church of England.

Of Notting Hill it was said: Now we on earth have union with Lambeth, not with Rome,
Although the wags and cynics may question our true home;
But Folk Masses and Bingo can’t possibly depose
The works of Byrd and Tallis, or Cranmer’s stately prose

Would she, now. Have preferred Grest St. Bartholemuews: I get the impression that the strand of High Church Anglicanism to which the Rector adheres is that called “Affirming Catholicism”, which accepts liberal theology and the ordination of women, and has progressive attitudes towards homosexuality.

A debate that we still have in our enclave: Ceremonial is important at St Luke’s. Mr Coleman, the Master of Ceremonies, says to Wilmet “I don’t know if you noticed … but Bob nearly forgot to remove the Paschal Candle and I didn’t spot it for some time. Just imagine, me not noticing a thing like that!” Wilmet replies, rather frivolously, “I’m afraid I never remember exactly when it should be removed… I always think it looks so pretty there with the flowers round it that I wish it could stay.” “But that would be liturgically incorrect, Mrs Forsyth”, replies Mr Coleman seriously. “It should be removed after the Gospel on Ascension Day.”

Well that’s as may be – those of us who have always followed the Western Church wait until after Benediction at Pentecost.

Another of our debates which are past their sell-by date: At the same event Sir Denbigh Grote, a retired ambassador, commenting on the crowd of women surrounding Julian Malory, wonders “whether it would really be proper to admit women to holy Orders. Is it likely that a woman would be surrounded by men at a parish gathering and would it be seemly if she were?” Miss Prideaux, an elderly former governess, supposes that “one visualizes rather plain-looking middle-aged and elderly women taking Orders”, to which Sir Denbigh asks “Surrounded by men of the same type or perhaps not surrounded at all?” He then goes on to ask Mary Beamish what she thinks. “Oh, I don’t think women should be admitted to Holy Orders”, says Mary. “Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but it wouldn’t seem right to me.”

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