E. M. Forster: A New Life by Wendy Moffat

EMFANLThis is a well-researched book with a detailed bibliography. Forster’s character is filled out as the book progresses. Some thought it a little turgid and stodgy, dry and uninteresting. Though it offered new insights you didn’t get a strong feeling of what he was like.  It’s gossipy in places, which leaves a sour taste.

Moffat’s book is a timely reminder of the struggles that gay men – some remembered like Forster, many forgotten in the tide of civilisation – endured for us who came later, who must be thanked for the liberties we take for granted today.

However, the author focuses on his sexuality rather than is achievement There are so many other dimensions to his life and he was one of the greatest novelists of the early Twentieth Century.

His childhood was stifling, bought up in an all-women household and smothered with rules. As a sort of escape, he had a strong interior life and was reading by age four though never formally taught to do so.

He has an encounter with as paedophile which didn’t seem to do him any harm but which confirmed what he already knew about his sexual orientation.

Then, as now, there were very ‘out’ homosexuals who despised Morgan’s hesitant celibacy, regarding it as cowardice and who were not interested in the aetiology of homosexuality.

He wrote to A J. Ackerley 1,100 times in 50 years.

The author is more sympathetic to Morgan than is Damon Galgut, though the latter has an imaginative telling of his visit to the Barbarar caves compared with Moffat’s dull prose.

Forster was right not to assume that liberal Germany wouldn’t change tack. This should be a warning to all who think ‘things can only get better.’

I was surprised that a doctor blamed prostate trouble on frequent masturbation, though there is some modern research that backs this up – but if masturbation more than once a week by young men increases the likelihood of prostate cancer, it’s a surprise than more men don’t get it – though masturbation is good for the over 50s in this respect..

Reference is made to paintings by Cadmus which scandalised the US navy.

Cadmus The Fleet

Cadmus YMCA

And this painting includes a portrait of Forster:

Paul Cadmus, What I Believe

It’s interesting that so many people from the world of arts and literature knew each other – a small world. He met Edward carpenter, who was a prophetic figure while Forster didn’t have it in him to be such.

I had to look up bies = an evil spirit and bézique = literally “correspondence” or “association”, referring to a card game. Also ‘cleats’=  shoes.

 Quotations:

 Within weeks of meeting Morgan, Hugh boldly announced he was an atheist, and proceeded to separate Morgan from the last remnants of his faith. To HOM it was clear that not only was church practice hypocrisy, but the very concept of Christ was humbug. Along with John Maynard Keynes, who would become perhaps the greatest economist of the century, HOM led a public attack under the banner of secularism on the college’s sponsorship of a Christian mission in the slums of East London. Like many undergradu­ate political protests, the atheists’ “sincere and bellicose” display verged on comedy. They sent a representative to present a petition of grievances timed to interrupt prayers at High Table. Just as the provost intoned, “In the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,” there was a scuffle; the rude emissary was escorted out of the hall, and a don piped up loudly: “Would you mind pass­ing the potatoes?” The renegades won the day; it was decided that college work with the London poor could be done through a secular organization.

Under Hugh Meredith’s influence, Morgan lost his faith “quietly and quickly.”

The idea of a god becoming a man to help man is overwhelming to anyone possessed of a heart. Even at that age I was aware that this world needs help. But I had never much sense of sin, and when I real­ised that the main aim of the Incarnation was not to stop war or pain or poverty, I became less interested and ended by scrapping it.

“saner than anyone else I know … He’s strong because he doesn’t try to be a stiff-lipped stoic like the rest of us, and so he’ll never crack.”

 “When I am 85 how annoyed I am with Society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges, the self-consciousness that might have been avoided.

He was right that the legal changes came painfully slowly. In July 1967, when Morgan was eighty-eight, the Sexual Offenses Act was finally passed. Sex between men who desired each other, were alone in a house, and over twenty-one was legalized—provided that neither of the men was in the armed forces or the merchant navy. And, in a final fillip, the new law applied only to men living in England and Wales.

 ‘He wanted intimacy, love, and domesticity akin to marriage’.

“He delicately ascertained the perfect needful thing, and made it occur with a minimum of fuss.” He had “a gift for friendship”

“began a campaign to have sex of some kind with someone”

For more than fifty years Forster entered political fights from the position of the underdog. Almost every week one could read a pithy and pointed letter to the editor in his inimitable voice. He protested against fascism, against censorship, against communism, against “Jew-Consciousness,” against the British occupation of Egypt and India, against racism and jingoism and anything that smelled of John Bull. Morgan’s public voice wasn’t stentorian. He raised it, tremulously, often alone, against the edifice of conformity. As self-proclaimed gay men, Isherwood and Lehmann adopted the American neologism adopted by the men who resisted police harassment at the Stonewall Inn in Sheridan Square, the men who embraced gay liberation, who eschewed the medical term homosexual, which had marked them for decades as a “species.”

The previous July, just after he arrived at King’s for his residency, Lancaster found himself alone in an octagonal room where a tiny black-and-white television had been installed on a tea cart before the fireplace as a begrudging acknowledgment of the wider world. Next door was the Fellows’ Senior Combination Room, on whose claret-colored walls the portraits of great Kingsmen—all friends of Morgan, all dead—gazed down: Rupert Brooke, a Roger Fry self-portrait, Duncan Grant’s painting of Maynard Keynes. In contrast, the little room had barely enough room for two armchairs and a couple of vitrines stuffed with ancient pottery that flanked the Gothic window. It was a nondescript time in the midmorning, and the BBC was broadcasting coverage of the first moon landing. Decades later, Lancaster still remembered the scene clearly. Morgan “shuffled in, asked me what it was, settled down to watch” on the armchair beside him. He leaned forward conspiratorially toward Mark. “I’m not sure they should be doing that,” he said quietly.

And so, one evening at the studio, after a particularly hectic party, they’d started—and it had been really very funny and not the least disgusting—but quite hopeless. They sat up in bed and laughed and laughed. “Oh Edward!” laughed Margaret—for she was pretty tight, too—“I shall never be able to sleep with a man again. At the critical moment I shall always think of you.” … “I might return the compliment,” said Edward.

“For Isherwood, shepherding Forster’s gay fiction posthumously into print was both a sacred trust and a political adventure. He believed that publication would give Forster a second life as a pioneer of gay writing. Publishing ‘Maurice’ was part of his long campaign to celebrate sexual freedom and repudiate homophobia and hypocrisy.”

“Though he burned great bonfires of ephemera, Morgan carefully preserved the record of his gay life. Thousands of unpublished pages of letters, diaries, essays, and photographs tell the story of the life he hid from public view. Some of the pages are scattered in archives. Some have been coaxed out into the world from remarkable hiding places — a vast oak cupboard in a London sitting room, a shoebox humbly nestled among mouse faeces in a New England barn. Many of Morgan’s surviving friends have told their stories for the first time. Only in 2008 were the final entries in his private diary, restricted from view since his death, opened to readers. All his long life Morgan lived in a world imprisoned by prejudice against homosexuals. He was sixteen when Oscar Wilde was sent to prison, and he died the year after the Stonewall riots.”

“I have plunged into an anxious but very beautiful affair. It seemed to me — and I proved right — that something precious was being offered me and that I was offering something that might be thought precious. . . . I should have been right to take the plunge, because if you pass life by it’s jolly well going to pass you by in the future. If you’re frightened it’s all right — that’s no harm; fear is an emotion. But by some trick of the nerves I happen not to be frightened.”

“Between them, Morgan and May deftly carved out an intimate space for their respective ‘marriages’ to their beloved Bob, with the long weekends for May and the short weekends for Morgan.”

“It was as much psychological as physical. It seemed to go straight through the small of my back into my ideas, without involving my thoughts.”

Like Jane Austen sketching her moral vision on the “little bit of ivory” of provincial domestic life, Morgan discovered the richness and complexity of his entire oeuvre, his whole aesthetic enterprise in a single subject: the search of each person for an honest connection with another human being… He would anchor his plots in the domestic sphere that had been so richly explored by Austen and George Eliot. He would concern himself with their themes: the right choice for a marriage, the tug-of-war between propriety and personal freedom, the moral complexities of an interior life, the pressures of a small community upon an individual’s moral actions.

It emerged that Lawrence’s diagnosis of Morgan’s problem was that he must “satisfy” his “implicit manhood” but “He tries to dodge himself—the sight is painful.” “Why can’t he take a woman and fight clear to his own basic, primal being?” Lawrence lectured Bertrand Russell. Because, he confidently concluded without pausing for an answer, Morgan “sucks his dummy—you know, those child’s comforters—long after his age.” If Morgan would only act, he could become “pregnant with his own soul.” Lawrence told a friend that he found Morgan “very nice.” But he wondered “if the grip has gone out of him.” For his own part, Morgan suspected a different problem in Law­rence’s psyche: suppressed homosexual tendencies.

Even when Morgan had been at Nassenheide, British anxiety about the Hun was palpable. In August 1914 war was declared against Germany. The shadow of war had lingered for so long that “up till the last moment it was impossible to believe that the thing was really going to happen.” The fact of war frayed Morgan’s friendships. Even Malcolm’s wife, Josie Darling, who was dear to his heart, became irritable. Stop dreaming, she told him, enlist in the army, and “face facts.” He gave her a sharp answer. “Don’t say ‘face facts’ to me, Josie. Everybody keeps saying it just now, but the fact is, it’s impossible to face facts. They’re like the walls of a room . . If you face one wall, you must have your back to the other three.”

He confessed to Goldie, “What’s to occupy me for the rest of my life, I can’t conceive.” It was impossible not to comprehend his predicament, and impossible to do anything about it. He told Florence, “I am leading the life of a little girl so long as I am tied to home.”

Policing purity was endless, maddening work. The vast majority of the occupants of Alexandria were beyond their reach, subject by default to the Egyptian Native Penal Code. Under these laws, inherited from the Napo­leonic Code, neither consensual homosexual acts nor male prostitution was illegal. To one administrator charged with developing new “offenses against morality” for a draft penal code, the native population’s blind eye to homo­sexual practices was particularly galling. It was “unthinkable,” he wrote, that young people, “the most precious asset of a State,” should be “exposed to the moral and physical corruption in the toleration of unnatural offenses.” Martial law allowed the British authorities to begin making the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

In his own routine tenderness, Morgan detected a parallel feeling to the love of the men for one another in the muddy trenches. Like them, he found his intimacy disguised by the shape of his duties. Gradually, without senti­mentalism, he came to feel that the greatest story of the war was to be found in compassion. And he heard beneath their words a truer story of gay love and friendship. The small notebook collated fragments, but to him the frag­ments glowed with meaning. Here was the deeper record of the meaning of the war: individual and human, not political. From the verbatim snippets of men in their most extreme trials he gleaned a hidden story that could not be erased. He named this section of the notebook “Friendship.” Under this ti­tle, he collected little tessellated fragments to recover its power

In 1938, Morgan told William Plomer he was “trying to construct a philoso­phy.” It was built out of the bricolage of the “liberalism crumbling beneath him.” Too secular to be a credo, the essay was titled “What I Believe.” It began startlingly.

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an age of faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one’s own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp.

“Truly we live in strange times,” Morgan told him, “and the only thing which is really real in them is love.”

In vain Morgan had tried to counsel Joe against his attraction to venal guardsmen, thieves, and opportunists whom he routinely tried to “rescue”: “Joe—, you must give up looking for gold in coal-mines—it merely prevents you from getting amusement out of a nice piece of coal.”

The social climate, too, had to be cleansed. Sir Theobald Mathews, the new puritanical director of public prosecutions, was appalled by the lax enforcement of the laws against indecent acts. The provinces were holding up their end, but London was a den of vice. Arrests for homosexual acts were duly reported in the newspapers euphemistically as “grave” offenses, “serious” offenses, crimes too horrible to name. But the tabloids echoed the lament of Viscount Samuel in the House of Lords, who decried the “insidi­ous poisoning” of Britain’s “moral state,” complaining that juvenile crime and adultery were rampant, and “the vices of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the Cities of the Plain, appear to be rife among us.” To curb this scourge, police agents provocateurs were sent out to entrap homosexuals through solicita­tion; a special division of the Metropolitan Police was formed solely to patrol public urinals.

The home secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, had prosecuted Nazis at Nuremberg; now he undertook a crackdown on vice. The number of prosecu­tions for homosexual offenses skyrocketed. Even powerful and famous men were paraded as examples in the press—including the recently knighted actor Sir John Gielgud and the Labour MP William Field. In the most sensa­tional case, three prominent men were charged with conspiring to commit indecency: the young peer Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, his second cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood, chief diplomatic correspondent for the Daily Mail. The press was tipped and the timing of the arrests was orchestrated by the police so the story could appear prominently on the front pages of the Sunday newspapers. The evidence used to convict the men came from love letters—seized in kit searches of the RAF airmen who were their working-class lovers—and a warrantless search of Wildeblood’s flat.

Newspapers were in a race to outdo one another in salacious reporting, spinning out contradictory stereotypes about sexual criminals with increas­ing certainty and fervor. In May 1952 the Sunday Pictorial devoted a full-page feature to ways to recognize these “Evil Men”; nine years later it helpfully explained “How to Spot a Homo.” Readers could discern a homo­sexual by his sedate tweed jacket, suede shoes, and pipe, or alternately be his telltale effeminate manner and mincing step. These “exposés” reflected the anxieties born of the paradox that homosexuals, forced to live a double life, proved to be quite successful at it.

Popular explanations for the causes of homosexuality, in psychology books and newspapers, sermons and speeches, oscillated between the idea of an alien class of humans, diabolical and separate from normal people, or natural and contagious consequence of men being in each other’s company and kept away from the company of women. War service had brought on an epidemic of this problem. Or excess mother love. Or absent fathers. Morgan sent a copy of a letter he had published asking for “less social stigma” toward homosexuals to Lord Samuel, as a kind of catnip. The viscount took the bait. “Incomprehensible and utterly disgusting as [homosexuality] appears to all normal people,” Lord Samuel replied to Morgan, “it seems to have the ca­pacity to form a habit as potent as alcohol or narcotics.”

The law that had sent Montagu and his friends to prison was the same law under which Oscar Wilde had been convicted in 1895. Goaded by concerns about public indecency on the streets, in 1954 the Home Office appointed a committee of mandarins—clergy and peers and respectable academics—to investigate the twin problems of female prostitution and male homosexual­ity. So it was that Sir John Wolfenden, former headmaster of a public school, now vice chancellor of Reading University, assembled a fifteen-person com­mittee that would bear his name In September 1957 the Wolfenden Report recommended that “homosexual activity between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one in private be no longer a criminal offense.” It took a de­cade more to enact these recommendations into law—and even then the statute was “mild and aetiolated.” It applied only to England and Wales, excepted members of the armed services, set the age of consent for homo­sexuals (at twenty-one) four years above that for heterosexuals, and denoted “private” space very narrowly. (Since anywhere a third person was likely to be present—whether present or not—was defined as public space, even the interior of one’s own home was not always deemed private for the application of the law.) After the Sexual Offenses Act went into effect in 1967, prosecu­tions of homosexual acts soared. The vaunted milestone in homosexual rights was largely symbolic.

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The Garden God – a Tale of Two Boys – Forrest Reid

TGG(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.)

Fifteen year old Graham Iddesleigh dreams of a past life, where he frolicked in a garden with a young Greek god. However, his dreams threaten to come to an abrupt end when his father decides to send him away to school. But what is Graham’s surprise when he meets a fellow schoolboy, Harold Brocklehurst, who is the very image of the Greek god of his dreams!

Graham falls deeply in love with his new friend, and the two boys spend an unforgettable summer together — until a heartbreaking tragedy occurs, a tragedy that will change Graham’s life forever.

The Garden God was first published in 1905, in the wake of the Oscar Wilde trial and other scandals, and risked controversy with its undercurrents of pederastic desire.

This novel risked controversy with its portrayal of romantic friendship between two boys; Reid dedicated it to his literary idol Henry James, who was outraged and never spoke to Reid again.

Reid’s father; Robert Reid died when the boy was only five or six years old. Maybe this influenced a very brief part of this novel about the relationship of the boy with his loving father. He was at times lonely and, just like Reid, was searching for a companion.

Reid’s loneliness when he is not so fortunate to be with a companion in reality is not that devastating for he has ways of being with the playmate of his dreams in his dreams. He was always capable of creating his love in his mind and dreaming of him, playing with him and experiencing true feelings with him in his dreams where light would shine “but even now he had only to close his eyes to bring up the light-the light….”

The obtaining of a friendship and the loss of it, affections, feelings, dreams, wishes and imaginations are explored.  A chance encounter, a familiar face, desired emotions, closeness and passion, joy and adventure, longing and belonging, attachment, loss and devastation are what the characters go through. Their experiences, emotions, thoughts and feelings are described beautifully and deeply by Forrest Reid. The reader cannot help but fall in love with Reid’s written words. Reid is able to make a very simple story, gripping, very normal events, dramatic and the emotions profound and intense which makes it impossible for the reader not to sympathize, feel with the characters, sense their suffering and grieve their loss.

To Forrest Reid, friendship is simply trust and being able to be comfortable and natural with your friend. Reid who had spent a, more or less, lonely life, who faced difficulty finding that someone who would share his private world and merge his dreams with his reality longed to find a companion who would take him out of his loneliness and put an end to his singular secret world “My life, from as far back as I can remember, was never lived holly in the open. I mean that it had its private side, that there were things I saw, felt, heard, and kept to myself. There were thoughts I kept to myself, too; and above all dreams.”

Reid and his characters found extreme pleasure and happiness just by being in the company of their loved ones “To feel his companion close beside him, and to be alone with him like this, gave Graham an exquisite pleasure.”

TGG 2Quotations:

“dear Allingham” in a rather polite, apologetic yet confident tone for like he said “I have not in the least fulfilled my duties as a good citizen. Doubtless I am not a good citizen. Doubtless, as you kindly hint, I ought to have married; but I suppose even you will admit that it is now too late-too late for me to think of following your excellent example. I cannot, alas! Even pretend that I want to follow it, want to forsake my wilderness.”

“But there had been many things that had given him pleasure. On the whole he had been happy-happy after his fashion: and he had known, had felt, the most beautiful thing of all, ‘the ecstasy and sorrow of love….’”

“But instead of answering he sat quite still, gazing fixedly at the stranger, his colour gradually deepening. Fascinated, spell bound, his lips parted, his eyes opened wide, he hardly dared to move lest the vision should vanish.”

“‘And I have something to do with it?’

‘Oh yes; everything’-he spoke quietly, simply. ‘You were always there, you know. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to me. You have been meeting me there for years!’”

“Doubtless when he had first gone to school he had also been alone-but the difference, the difference now would be incalculable. There were days, in truth, when it almost seemed to him that it would have been better if he had never been given his happiness, since so soon it was to be snatched from him; and even though deep in his heart he knew he would not forget it if he could, there were days when he thought it would be well if all the past could be effaced from his mind, rubbed out as figures are rubbed from a child’s slate.”

“The visible world!-was it not almost sentient? From the trees and the sky, from the restless sea and the wind had emerged, at any rate, that imaginary playmate who had made his life beautiful; the messenger of Eros; the fair boy who had come to him from his strange garden, his meadow of asphodel.”

“‘One of the signs of a real friendship is not to be afraid to speak openly to your friend of all that concerns both him and you.’”

“I am only trying to remember a dream-a dream I have had so often.”

“And his life?-that too, perhaps, had taken a grayish tinge…. Monotonous? … ah yes, monotonous in truth: but even now he had only to close his eyes to bring up the light-the light….”

had the past five years over again.” (Reid Apostate 218) while he realized that it is inevitable “He walked over to the window and looked out into the breaking day. The world seemed very old and cheerless. Was it the chill of approaching age in his own blood, he wondered, that made him find it so! He smiled a strange, dim little smile. Best, then, to set by the fire and doze! He came back to the table, and leaning over it, buried his face in his hands.”

“the old playmate of his dreams had ceased to visit him, that he could no longer even call up very clearly his image, remember what he was like. It was as if the change had come into his everyday world had extended on into the dusky ways of sleep, and though he did not dwell upon it at all, yet he felt, obscurely, that something that had been had ceased to be, and that there was a blank, a void in his existence, which none of the many new pleasures and interests in his life would ever be able to fill.”

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The Retreat – Forrest Reid

TR 2(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 Retreat is the second of Reid’s three novels featuring Tom Barber, The Retreat earned universal critical acclaim when first published in 1936.

It begins with a vivid dream about an evil sorcerer and his boy apprentice. The dreamer is Tom Barber, age 13. Llike many intelligent and sensitive children, he moves between the world of everyday life and that of the imagination. “I pretend things, and all at once they become real,” Tom says, and they become real for the reader as well, as we follow him over the course of one summer during which the lines between reality and fantasy are frequently blurred. The book depicts Tom’s fantastic adventures in an unseen world, his attempts to thwart the malign influence of the cat Henry, whom he has observed scratching cabbalistic symbols on the gravel path; his meetings with the beautiful boy-angel Gamelyn; his conversations with animals and his experiences in the Garden of Eden.

TRThe book’s title came from a poem of Henry Vaughan

Happy those early days! when I

Shined in my angel infancy.

Before I understood this place

Appointed for my second race,

Or taught my soul to fancy aught

But a white, celestial thought;

When yet I had not walked above

A mile or two from my first love,

And looking back, at that short space,

Could see a glimpse of His bright face;

When on some gilded cloud or flower

My gazing soul would dwell an hour,

And in those weaker glories spy

Some shadows of eternity;

Before I taught my tongue to wound

My conscience with a sinful sound,

Or had the black art to dispense

A several sin to every sense,

But felt through all this fleshly dress

Bright shoots of everlastingness.

O, how I long to travel back,

And tread again that ancient track!

That I might once more reach that plain

Where first I left my glorious train,

From whence th’ enlightened spirit sees

That shady city of palm trees.

But, ah! my soul with too much stay

Is drunk, and staggers in the way.

Some men a forward motion love;

But I by backward steps would move,

And when this dust falls to the urn,

In that state I came, return.

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Uncle Stephen – Forrest Reid

USt(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.)

Forrest Reid (1875- 1947) was an Irish novelist, literary critic and translator. He was, a leading pre-war British novelist of boyhood. He was influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster, who used to visit him but he was repelled by Forster’s Maurice. He has been labelled ‘the first Ulster novelist of European stature’, and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness  and James Joyce’s novel about growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Reid strongly disapproved of homosexual acts (despite his being gay, he was full of self-loathing) and, even more so, of men who ‘interfered with’ boys.

A supernatural novel about Tom Barber, an orphaned boy in search of the mysterious uncle he has never met, and about whom there is a hint of scandal. The story of ‘Uncle Stephen’ came to Reid in a dream, and the dreamlike evocation of the Ulster countryside in which it is set.

It’s the first of a trilogy which goes backwards in time. In this book, Tom is 16.

The uncle is a recluse who is reputed to dabble in black magic.

Unathletic, interested in books and the beauty of nature, Tom is like many a sensitive child in literature (and life).  What sets him apart is that the people he encounters are not the unfeeling ogres of such stories.  Tom Barber is not a radiant spark hidden under a bushel, but a human being, as responsible as anyone else for his difficulty in relating to the mass of humanity.  His interactions with those who can’t understand him ring true, and the range of Reid’s sympathy, like Tom’s, includes many characters lesser writers would dismiss or stereotype.  Uncle Stephen is not primarily a psychological novel, but it deftly captures the complexity of human relationships

Quotations:

Chequered bands of golden fire splashed on the moss-dark sward.  A stilled loveliness breathed its innocent spell.  Then suddenly a hare bounded across the path, and the trilled liquid pipings of hidden thrush and blackbird broke on his ears like the awakening of life.  The music came to him in curves of sound.  All the beauty he loved best had this curving pattern, came to him thus, so that even the rounding of a leaf or the melting line of a young human body impressed itself upon him as a kind of music.  The avenue turned, widened, a house was there.

He could not remember the rest of the story, but he knew everybody had been happy because nobody had asked questions…. The earth might be a kind of heaven!  It wasn’t really impossible.  Happiness depended on kindness and understanding and– and– on not insisting that everybody should have the same feelings and thoughts….

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My Father and Myself – J. R. Ackerley

MFAM(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.)

In this memoir, which one reviewer termed the “mystery” of the son on the track of his father, Ackerley speculated that his father had some homosexual experiences as a young guardsman, but never proved it. In trying to understand his father’s life, he grappled with his own.

This posthumously published autobiography was written in his last depressing years and concentrates more upon his lack of fulfilment than the humorous enjoyment of experience that was typical of most of his life.

Joe Randolph “J. R.” Ackerley (4 November 1896 – 4 June 1967) was a British writer and editor. Starting with the BBC the year after its founding in 1927, he was promoted to literary editor of The Listener, its weekly magazine, where he served for more than two decades. He published many emerging poets and writers who became influential in Great Britain. He was openly gay, a rarity in his time when homosexuality was illegal and socially ostracized.

His memoir serves as a guide to the sexuality of a gay man of Ackerley’s generation. W. H. Auden, in his review of My Father and Myself, speculates that Ackerley enjoyed the “brotherly” sexual act of mutual masturbation rather than penetration. Ackerley described himself as “quite impenetrable.”

 He met E. M. Forster, though strangely he never mentions him, but was lonely despite numerous sexual partners. With his play, The Prisoners of War,  having trouble finding a producer, and feeling generally adrift and distant from his family, Ackerley turned to Forster for guidance. Forster, who he knew from writing A Passage to India, arranged a position as secretary to the Maharaja of Chhatarpur.

In his introduction, W. H. Auden makes some strange observations (though they reflect the views of his time):

Mr. Ackerley strictly limits himself to two areas of his life, his relations with his family and his sex-life. His account of the latter, except for its happy ending, is very sad reading indeed. Few, if any, ho­mosexuals can honestly boast that their sex-life has been happy, but Mr. Ackerley seems to have been exceptionally unfortunate.

any permanent relationship demands interests in common. However their tastes and tempera­ments may initially differ, a husband and wife acquire a common concern as parents. This experience is denied homosexuals. Consequently, it is very rare for a homo­sexual to remain faithful to one person for long and, rather curiously, the intellectual older one is more likely to be promiscuous than his working-class friend. The brutal truth, though he often refuses to admit it, is that he gets bored more quickly.

It doesn’t really get going until you’re 94 pages in.

It isn’t mentioned in this book, though J. R. aye that he saw it when he was ill, but Wendy Moffatt, in her life of E. M. Forster, says that Ackerley’s farher had a twelve inch penis – though with his blood pressure at around 300, I doubt it would have reached its full potential very often. Did the son inherit this or was his from his maternal grandfather?

I had to look up ‘cascaras’ = a fruit with a thick shell

MFAM 3Quotations

“I was born in 1896 and my parents were married in 1919.”

“I was now on the sexual map and proud of my place on it. I did not care for the word ‘homosexual’ or any label, but I stood among the men, not among the women. Girls I despised; vain, silly creatures, how could their smooth soft, bulbous bodies compare in attraction with the muscular beauty of men? Their place was the harem, from which they should never have been released; true love, equal and understanding love, occurred only between men. I saw myself therefore in the tradition of the Classic Greeks, surrounded and supported by all the famous homosexuals of history—one soon sorted them out—and in time I became something of a publicist for the rights of that love that dare not speak its name”

“Oh, lord, you’ll be the death of me! I think he did once say he’d had some sport with him [Count de Gallatin]. But me memory’s like a saucer with the bottom out”

“I am not going to make any excuses, old man. I have done my duty towards everybody as far as my nature would allow and I hope people generally will be kind to my memory. All my men pals know of my second family and of their mother, so you won’t find it difficult to get on their track.”

In spite of such adventures, if anyone had asked me what I was doing, I doubt if I should have replied that I was diverting myself. I think I should have said that I was looking for the Ideal Friend. Though two or three hundred young men were to pass through my hands in the course of years, I did not consider myself promiscuous. It was all a run of bad luck…What I meant by the Ideal Friend I doubt if I ever formulated, but now, looking back, I think I can put him together in a negative way by listing some of his disqualifications. He should not be effeminate, indeed preferably normal: I did not exclude education, but did not want it, I could supply all that myself and in the loved one it always seemed to get in the way; he should admit me but no one else; he should be physically attractive to me and younger than myself—the younger the better, as closer to innocence; finally he should be on the small side, lusty, circumcised, physically healthy and clean: no phimosis, halitosis, bromidrosis…. The Ideal Friend was always somewhere else and might have been found if only I had turned a different way. The buses that passed my own bus seemed always to contain those charming boys who were absent from mine; the ascending escalators in the tubes fiendishly carried them past me as I sank helplessly into hell…. In the “thirties” I found myself concentrating my attention more and more upon a particular society of young men in the metropolis which I had tapped before and which, it seemed to me, might yield, without further loss of time, what I required. His Majesty’s Brigade of Guards had a long history in homosexual prostitution. Perpetually short of cash, beer, and leisure occupations, they were easily to be found of an evening in their red tunics standing about in the various pubs they frequented, over the only half-pint they could afford or some “quids-in” mate had stood them. Though generally larger than I liked, they were young, they were normal, they were working-class, they were drilled to obedience; though not innocent for long, the new recruit might be found before someone else got at him; if grubby they could be bathed, and if civility and consideration, with which they did not always meet in their liaisons, were extended to them, one might gain their affection.

in the matter of sex there was nothing he had not done, no experience he had not

“I’ve got something to tell you, Dad. I lied to you about Weybridge. I didn’t go there at all.”
“I know, old boy. I knew you were lying directly I asked you about the floods.”
“I went to Turin.”
“Turin, eh? That’s rather farther. I’m very sorry to have mucked up your plans.”
“I’m very sorry to have lied to you. I wouldn’t have done so if you hadn’t once said something about me and my waiter friends. But I don’t mind telling you. I went to meet a sailor friend.”
“It’s all right, old boy. I prefer not to know. So long as you enjoyed yourself, that’s the main thing.”

(About his dog, Tulip): She offered me what I had never found in my sexual life, constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncrit­ical devotion. She placed herself entirely under my control. From the moment she established herself in my heart and my home, my obsession with sex fell wholly away from me. The pubs I had spent so much of my time in were never revisited, my single desire was to get back to her, to her waiting love and unstaling welcome. I sang with joy at the thought of seeing her. I never prowled the London streets again, nor had the slightest inclination to do so. On the contrary, whenever I thought of it, I was posi­tively thankful to be rid of it all, the anxieties, the frustrations, the wastage of time and spirit. The fif­teen years she lived with me were the happiest of my life.

MFAM 2 Did I tell you that story Bilson told me the other day? There was a fellow walking down the street when he saw a pretty girl—Ah! damn you! Why can’t you let up?—in a very short dress bending down to adjust her garter. So as he passed he put his hand up under her skirt between her legs. She was furious at this. “How dare you!” she said, but he passed on with a—Crikey! ­a smile. So she called a policeman. “Constable!” she said. “Arrest that man! He’s insulted me!” “What’s he done?” asked the policeman. She told him “Well,” said the policeman, “I’m afraid the evidence isn’t sufficient. You’ll—Oh, drat the thing!—You’ll have to come back with me to the station so that I can photograph the finger-prints.” Te-he-he. . . .

Though two or three hundred young men were to pass through my hands in the course of years, I did not consider myself promiscuous but monogamous, it was all a run of bad luck, and I became ever more serious over this as time went on.

some time in the ‘thirties, a friend asked me if I had any notion how many boys I’d taken to bed, I was astonished to find that those I managed to rec­ollect got into three figures, for I never had any sense of riches, only of poverty, and at last of dire poverty.

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Boy by James Hanley

Boy(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 charts the short and brutish life of a boy forced out of school and into the unforgiving world of work. Escape—in the form of stowing away on a ship—only deepens his exposure to the squalor and brutality that men are capable of, and when he arrives in Alexandria he learns there are some things that one can’t run away from.

In Boy (1931) young Fearon’s isolation and suffering arise because no one cares for him. The story of Boy is “sordid and horrible”. The young protagonist’s parents are only interested in the wages he can earn, and encourage him to leave school as soon as possible. It starts off with him getting the cane and the teacher telling him that he’s worthless, not worth bothering with. And that’s the message he gets throughout his short, tragic life. His parents claim that ‘We know what’s best for our children.’ But they don’t. And his first job involves, literally, shovelling shit.

Likewise society is unconcerned about the harsh, unhealthy conditions he endures cleaning ships’ boilers. Then, when he goes to sea, he is sexually abused by his fellow seamen. Finally, when young Fearon is dying in agony from a venereal disease caught in a Cairo brothel, his Captain smothers him.

When I was a choirboy in a seaside town, we often heard about the Missions to seamen (whose title always got us smirking – they have changed their name of ‘Mission to Seafarers’ now.)  I now realise why their work is needed – providing somewhere to relax, writing letters for the illiterate and being a home from home miles away.

Narrated in unflinching language that is both visceral and acute in its observational power, Boy is a shocking book that stays in the mind long after it is read. Unfairly neglected during his lifetime, only recently has this original, uncompromising novelist started to be reappraised as among the finest novelists writing in English in the 20th century

The author (1897 –1985) was a British novelist, short story writer, and playwright of Irish descent. He wrote a number of novels and short stories about seamen and their families. This included Boy (1931), which was the subject of a notorious obscenity trail. Novelist Sir Hugh Walpole condemned the work and ripped up a copy in a bookshop in protest. 100 copies were burnt publicly. But the book became a cause célèbre for other writers who recognised his talent. E M Forster, William Faulkner and, more recently, Anthony Burgess rallied to support it. He explained: One of the causes of neglect in his lifetime was a kind of double solitariness: he belonged to no literary school, and he cherished the self-elected condition of a recluse. He also tells how: The main voice of middle-class condemnation was that of Sir Hugh Walpole, a once respected popular novelist, knighted for services to what the middle class thought of as literature but now nearly forgotten: “It is so unpleasant and ugly, both in narration and incident, that I wonder the printers did not go on strike while printing it.” Walpole was said to have torn up a copy publicly in a London bookshop. Boy became a cause celebre in the fight against Britain’s Sedition Act, with E.M. Forster addressing the International Congress of Writers in Paris in 1935 in eloquent endorsement of the book and fierce denunciation of official squeamishness.

Boy 5Boy was reprinted in 1931, and 1932, when an American first edition was also published. Then, when it was reprinted in 1934, in a cheap (second) edition with a “scantily dressed” belly dancer on its cover, Boy was prosecuted for obscenity. The court case followed a complaint to the police in Bury, near Manchester. The prosecution suggested that the cover of the book and extracts from reviews just inside were most suggestive, and that the purpose was to pollute young people’s minds”. Boriswood “were advised that, owing to the book’s reference to ‘intimacy between members of the male sex’, any defence against prosecution was futile'”. In March 1935 Boriswood pleaded guilty of “uttering and publishing an obscene libel” and paid a substantial fine. But it’s fairly tame, merely using phrases like ‘interfering with…’

It is not surprising that Hanley should show an interest in extreme situations, given his early awareness of the precariousness of life in the working class world that he came from. Hanley would also have sensed, very early in his life, that individual lives of the working poor and their children was of little value in a modern industrial city like Liverpool. All this encouraged his exploration not only of working class life but also the emotional life of characters on the periphery of society.

Boy 4Some readers have assumed that the horrors Boy depicts were experienced first-hand by the author, although there is no evidence for this; indeed, Hanley’s son Liam remembers his father laughing at such suggestions and dismissing them as “silly.” But the book is not without autobiographical elements: Hanley did embark on his first sea voyage when he was the same age as Fearon, although that ship was bound for the United States rather than the Middle East, and unlike the principal character of Boy Hanley actively wanted to leave school early and looked forward to taking up shipboard work. Some of the events of Fearon’s journey, such as the details of his day-to-day duties and the death of a sailor after a few days, resonate closely with the account Hanley gives of his own maiden trip in his autobiography, Broken Water (1937). Furthermore, in the essay ‘Oddfish’ (published in Don Quixote Drowned, 1953), Hanley recalls that the novel’s ending was inspired by a conversation between a group of sailors that he overheard and was horrified by, some years later in his shipboard career:

“Captain L. Surely you have heard of Captain L?”
“Even if I didn’t, what about him?”
“Say he did away with one of his crew.”
“Indeed”

[…]

“Smothered him, they say. Mercy killing, like cancer, you know.”
“Boy with cancer?”
“Not exactly, but something he didn’t like.”
“What then?”
“Logged as drowned. However, sailors sometimes talk.”
“They often do.”
“Quite seriously, though, this kid ran amok in the wrong places.”
“Was L. drunk?”
“They say he dropped off in Karachi, not been seen since.”

Boy 3Quotations:

“The Government’s going to pass a bill regarding schools. Well I never. Interfering gang they are, as if a parent doesn’t know what’s best for her own child. I don’t know, I don’t know! We won’t be able to call our children our own just now.”

The mortality amongst these scavengers of civilization was never inquired in any of the companies concerned, though sometimes a boy was to death or suffocated in a boiler, or drowned in the foul water bottom of the ship. In such cases a collection was made for the parents.

But the ship was merely a hulk and nothing more, a kind of weapon with which an order can squeeze the guts out of labour and extract from it just sufficient to keep the average shareholder from getting really low-spirited …The crew had worked like Trojans. And below the engineer had goaded on his men, driven them, jeered at them. Something had to be done. The sea could not act thus without serious reactions. And as one could not chastise her, then the men must be chastised. The men must be made to work harder. The firemen must extract every ounce of energy from her coal, that was not much better than dirt itself. Not a man must wear a look of contentment. Everybody must suffer for the caprices of the sea.

I say now, and for the last time, I can’t see the significance in a man shooting another man in cold blood and then calmly going to mass immediately afterwards. And all their cock shots at England leave me cold. I’m not a bit interested. Of course you’ll up and say, ‘Ah! But when you’ve learned your history properly you’ll realise they were in the right.’ It’s quite illogical. I call that stuff third-rate gangsterdom, and you can go on deifying it until you’re blue in the face. In Ireland the grass grows greener than in any other country in the wide world. That’s a lovely thing to think about, isn’t it? Well, then, isn’t it a big step down from that to putting a bullet in a man’s lug and shouting, ‘Ireland’s saved!’? I don’t agree with you there, and never will. Mother doesn’t either, and she knows the colours of all the stones in Cobh, and even the size of the mackerel they catch there, but she loves the stones and the fish and the green grass and the great quiet you get there, and that’s Irish too. No. I wouldn’t speak to my cousin because we never get anywhere at all. And he can shout and rave till he’s sick, but it won’t shift those two destroyers out of Bere Island, and that is that …

“like a dark tapestry it covered his wounded thought, the spoliation, the degradation, the loneliness, the misery of his existence.”

Boy 2 Suddenly an idea occurred to Fearon. He had one day heard the bosun say that when in Salonica, he had attended a cancan dance, where the girl for a wager had placed a lit cigarette in her philosophic centre. Fearon smiled. He pushed himself away and said to the girl: “You put cigarette there, eh?”

Immediately the girl understood. She watched him light a cigarette. When he handed it to her she placed it where he most desired to see it and again began to dance in the centre of the room. The boy became full and choking with a desire to bury himself in that flesh, to hide away from all that had angered and worried him, all that had humiliated him. There he could hide away from the world of men for ever. He felt in his pockets. Pulled out some coins, almost ran to the girl, grabbed her shoulders, said: “How much? How much? You… me?”

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German Democratic Republic: Politics, Economics and Society – Mike Dennis

GDR

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

The Head of German in the school where I last taught was somewhat of an expert in East Germany and he devised teaching schemes for schoolchildren there. From him I gained an interest in the GDP.

I was very surprised that homosexuality isn’t mentioned in this book despite its account of the general liberalisation in attitudes towards sexual behaviour. East Germany inherited the law Paragraph 175. Communist gay activist Rudolf Klimmer, modeling himself on Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, campaigned to have the law repealed, but was unsuccessful. However, the law was reverted to the version found in the 1925 criminal code, which was considerably milder than the version adopted in 1935 under Nazi rule. In the five years following the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, the GDR government instituted a program of “moral reform” to build a solid foundation for the new socialist republic, in which masculinity and the traditional family were championed while homosexuality, seen to contravene “healthy mores of the working people”, continued to be prosecuted under Paragraph 175. Same sex activity was “alternatively viewed as a remnant of bourgeois decadence, a sign of moral weakness, and a threat to the social and political health of the nation.”

In East Germany, Paragraph 175 ceased to be enforced in 1957 but remained on the books until 1968. According to historian Heidi Minning, attempts by lesbians and gays in East Germany to establish a visible community were “thwarted at every turn by the G.D.R. government and SED party.” She wrote: Police force was used on numerous occasions to break up or prevent public gay and lesbian events. Centralized censorship prevented the presentation of homosexuality in print and electronic media, as well as the import of such materials.

Ironically, the Protestant church provided more support than the state, allowing meeting spaces and printing facilities.

Towards the end of the 1980s however, just before the collapse of the iron curtain, the East German government opened a state-owned gay disco in Berlin. On 11 August 1987 the East German Supreme Court affirmed that “homosexuality, just like heterosexuality, represents a variant of sexual behaviour. Homosexual people do therefore not stand outside socialist society, and the civil rights are warranted to them exactly as to all other citizens.”

The author is Professor of Modern German History at the University of Wolverhampton.

Quotations:

With about one-third of all marriages ending in divorce, GDR has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. And women are far likely than men to institute an action for divorce. The increasing number of mothers and some young couples’ preference for free association (Lebensg testify to the questioning of marriage as a ‘part of the good life’. Another sign changing pattern of the relationship is the increase in the proportion of live unmarried mothers from 17.3 per cent in 1978 to 32 per cent in 1983.

Despite the rejection of the institution of marriage by some Marxists, the GDR has always recognized the value of both marriage and the family The GDR family continues to perform the basic functions of reproduction, the socialization of children, and economic and emotional support for its members. Marriage is proclaimed by the 1966 Family Code as a union for life based on mutual love, respect and faithfulness, understanding and trust, and unselfish help for one another. The founders of the GDR sought, however, to modify the traditional relationship between the sexes. For example, the 1950 Law on the Protection of Mother and Child replaced the previous right of the husband alone to make decisions on all marital matters by the joint decision-making right of both partners. In addition, women’s employment was regarded as the key to their equality and a ‘higher’ form of family life. After much delay, a new family model emerged in 1966 with the promulgation of the Family Code.

The code defines the family as the smallest cell in society and proclaims that only socialism, which is allegedly free from the exploitation and material insecurity of bourgeois society, can provide the necessary conditions for family relations of a new and lasting kind. Children receive a good deal of attention in the code. The most important task and duty of parents, to be undertaken jointly, is the upbringing of the children in, it is hoped, a stable and happy environment. The socialization of children and young people is not envisaged as the prerogative of parents but as a cooperative effort between parents, school and state organizations such as the Thalmann Pioneers and the Free German Youth.

The SED target of two to three children per family is not easily reconciled with the burdens arising from the full-time employment of a high proportion of women and with the liberal abortion legislation.

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A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

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

Themes:

Masculinity – The sheer animal force of antagonist Stanley Kowalski is partly responsible for the fame of A Streetcar Named Desire. In this play, masculinity means aggression, control, physical dominance, and even violence. Accompanying these traits are a general lack of refinement, manners, and sensitivity. One point of view expressed in the play is that this sort of brute masculinity is primitive and sub-human; another is that it is attractive and sexually appealing.

Marriage – The central marriage in A Streetcar Named Desire operates on a tumultuous combination of hero-worship, aggression, sexual attraction, and a difficult class difference between husband and wife. Despite the challenges, we never doubt for a moment the intensity of love these two feel for each other.

There’s something primitive or almost animal in the ferocity of their interactions – both fighting and love-making – that makes their relationship difficult for some other characters to understand. In this marriage, we definitely see traditional gender roles of a dominant husband who brings home the money and pays the bills; and the doting housewife who is responsible for making dinner, cleaning up, and raising a child.

Society and class – A Streetcar Named Desire deals with class differences in New Orleans during the 1940s. One point of view is that of a fading Southern belle, with outdated ideals about the socially elite and those she considers “beneath” her social rank—like second or third-generation immigrants. Contrast this with the opposing, more modern (at the time) point of view that Americans are Americans, and that immigrants are a foundation of the U.S.

Fantasy’s inability to overcome reality – Alcohol is used as a means of escape in A Streetcar Named Desire. Main character Blanche DuBois uses booze to distract herself from reality and to retreat further into a world of fantasy and cleverly contrived artifice. Habitual drinking isn’t ideal for a woman’s reputation in the 1940’s, so the habit is often hidden or disguised. For the male gender, alcohol is very much tied to physical aggression and plays a part in the play’s worst violence.

the relationship between sex and death – Sex is essentially a destructive force in A Streetcar Named Desire, though this destruction takes a variety of forms, including literal death, physical violence, mental degradation, the sullying of a good reputation, and even financial ruin. It’s very much tied to physical aggression, both in the sexual relations between husband and wife, but also in the play’s rape scene. Death features prominently and is very much connected to lust. Sex seems to be responsible for much of the death—literal and figurative—that we see in the play.

Oddly enough, characters also turn to sex to comfort themselves in times of loss, which only leads to… more destruction. Death comes in all varieties in this play: the loss of reputation, sanity, physical well-being, relationships, and youth.

Appearances – For main character and fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois, appearances are important. They’re also generally fake. Consumed with the need to appear younger and more innocent than she actually is, every personal interaction is a series of machinations and contrivances designed to reveal the truth, regarding both looks and reputation.

Madness – A Streetcar Named Desire features a gradual descent into madness, brought about by loss, depression, financial ruin, and the cruelty of others. At first, this so-called “madness” is just an attempted escape from reality—an altered self-image and a polished persona that doesn’t accurately reflect the character below.

As the play progresses, however, this self-deception intensifies and deviates further and further from reality. By the play’s conclusion, the main character can no longer distinguish between her fantasies and the world around her. “I don’t think I ever seen you in the light. That’s a fact! [..] You never want to go out in the afternoon. […] You never want to go out till after six and then it’s always some place that’s not lighted much. […] What it means is I’ve never had a real good look at you.”

We get another layer of meaning to this lights business when Blanche discusses her former husband, Allan. She describes falling in love as though “you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck the world for me” (6.120). When she caught him with another man, later confronted him, and discovered his suicide, she claims that “the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this—kitchen—candle…”

lanche also uses light imagery to describe the benefits of poetry, music, and art – in contrast to what she considers to be Stanley’s primitive nature. She tells Stella, “There has been some progress since then! Such things as art—as poetry and music—such kinds of new light have come into the world since then! […] In this dark march […] don’t — don’t hang back with the brutes!”

dependence on men

motifs  · Light – Blanche makes a big deal out of never being seen in direct light—if she’s out in the daylight, she’d glow all sparkly-like, because she’s actually a vampire.

bathing; drunkenness

symbols  · Shadows and cries; the Varsouviana polka (Music used throughout scenes nine through eleven); “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Ella Fitzgerald); meat

Much of the pathos found in Williams’s drama was mined from the playwright’s own life. Alcoholism, depression, thwarted desire, loneliness, and insanity were all part of Williams’s world. His experience as a known homosexual in an era unfriendly to homosexuality also informed his work. Williams’s most memorable characters, many of them female, contain recognizable elements of their author, Edwina, and Rose. His vulgar, irresponsible male characters, such as Stanley Kowalski, were likely modeled on Williams’s own father and other males who tormented Williams during his childhood.

The characters are trying to rebuild their lives in postwar America: Stanley and Mitch served in the military, while Blanche had affairs with young soldiers based near her home.

ASND 2The title is taken from a Hart Crane poem titled “The Broken Tower.”:

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)

But not for long to hold each desperate choice.
Crane was one of Williams’ icons. His use of this quotation is apt, as Crane himself often employed epigraphs from his own icons, including Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, and Blake. Williams felt a personal affinity with Crane, who, like himself, had a bitter relationship with his parents and suffered from bouts of violent alcoholism. Most important, Williams identified with Crane as a homosexual writer trying to find a means of self-expression in a heterosexual world.

Williams was influenced by Crane’s imagery and by his unusual attention to metaphor. The epigraph’s description of love as only an “instant” and as a force that precipitates “each desperate choice” brings to mind Williams’character Blanche DuBois. Crane’s speaker’s line, “I know not whither [love’s voice is] hurled,” also suggests Blanche. With increasing desperation, Blanche “hurls” her continually denied love out into the world, only to have that love revisit her in the form of suffering.

As its title indicates, A Streetcar Named Desire explores the destinations to which desire leads.

Blanche DuBois, a schoolteacher from Laurel, Mississippi, arrives at the New Orleans apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski. Despite the fact that Blanche seems to have fallen out of close contact with Stella, she intends to stay at Stella’s apartment for an unspecified but likely lengthy period of time, given the large trunk she has with her. Blanche tells Stella that she lost Belle Reve, their ancestral home, following the death of all their remaining relatives. She also mentions that she has been given a leave of absence from her teaching position because of her bad nerves.

Though Blanche does not seem to have enough money to afford a hotel, she is disdainful of the cramped quarters of the Kowalskis’ two-room apartment and of the apartment’s location in a noisy, diverse, working-class neighbourhood. Blanche’s social condescension wins her the instant dislike of Stella’s husband of Polish descent named Stanley Kowalski who deals in an auto-parts supply. It is clear that Stella was happy to leave behind her the social pretensions of her background in exchange for the sexual gratification she gets from her husband; she even is pregnant with his baby. Stanley immediately distrusts Blanche to the extent that he suspects her of having cheated Stella out of her share of the family inheritance. In the process of defending herself to Stanley, Blanche reveals that Belle Reve was lost due to a foreclosed mortgage, a disclosure that signifies the dire nature of Blanche’s financial circumstances. Blanche’s heavy drinking, which she attempts to conceal from her sister and brother-in-law, is another sign that all is not well with Blanche.

The unhappiness that accompanies the animal magnetism of Stella and Stanley’s marriage reveals itself when Stanley hosts a drunken poker game with his male friends at the apartment. Blanche gets under Stanley’s skin, especially when she starts to win the affections of his close friend Mitch. After Mitch has been absent for a while, speaking with Blanche in the bedroom, Stanley erupts, storms into the bedroom, and throws the radio out of the window. When Stella yells at Stanley and defends Blanche, Stanley beats her. The men pull him off, the poker game breaks up, and Blanche and Stella escape to their upstairs neighbour Eunice’s apartment. A short while later, Stanley is remorseful and cries up to Stella to forgive him. To Blanche’s alarm, Stella returns to Stanley and embraces him passionately. Mitch meets Blanche outside of the Kowalski flat and comforts her in her distress.

The next day, Blanche tries to convince Stella to leave Stanley for a better man whose social status equals Stella’s. Blanche suggests that she and Stella contact a millionaire named Shep Huntleigh for help escaping from New Orleans; when Stella laughs at her, Blanche reveals that she is completely broke. Stanley walks in as Blanche is making fun of him and secretly overhears Blanche and Stella’s conversation. Later, he threatens Blanche with hints that he has heard rumours of her disreputable past. She is visibly dismayed.

While Blanche is alone in the apartment one evening, waiting for Mitch to pick her up for a date, a teenage boy comes by to collect money for the newspaper. Blanche doesn’t have any money for him, but she hits on him and gives him a lustful kiss. Soon after the boy departs, Mitch arrives, and they go on their date. When Blanche returns, she is exhausted and clearly has been uneasy for the entire night about the rumours Stanley mentioned earlier. In a surprisingly sincere heart-to-heart discussion with Mitch, Blanche reveals the greatest tragedy of her past. Years ago, her young husband committed suicide after she discovered and chastised him for his homosexuality (the term ‘degenerate’ is used in the script). Mitch describes his own loss of a former love, and he tells Blanche that they need each other.

When the next scene begins, it’s a month later and Blanche’s birthday. Stella is preparing a dinner for Blanche, Mitch, Stanley, and herself, when Stanley comes in to tell her that he has learned news of Blanche’s sordid past. He says that after losing the DuBois mansion, Blanche moved into a fleabag motel from which she was eventually evicted because of her numerous sexual liaisons. Also, she was fired from her job as a schoolteacher because the principal discovered that she was having an affair with a teenage student. Stella is horrified to learn that Stanley has told Mitch these stories about Blanche.

The birthday dinner comes and goes, but Mitch never arrives. Stanley indicates to Blanche that he is aware of her past. For a birthday present, he gives her a one-way bus ticket back to Laurel. Stanley’s cruelty so disturbs Stella that it appears the Kowalski household is about to break up, but the onset of Stella’s labour prevents the imminent fight.

Several hours later, Blanche, drunk, sits alone in the apartment. Mitch, also drunk, arrives and repeats all he’s learned from Stanley. Eventually Blanche confesses that the stories are true, but she also reveals the need for human affection she felt after her husband’s death. Mitch tells Blanche that he can never marry her, saying she isn’t fit to live in the same house as his mother. Having learned that Blanche is not the chaste lady she pretended to be, Mitch tries to have sex with Blanche, but she forces him to leave by yelling “Fire!” to attract the attention of passers-by outside.

Later, Stanley returns from the hospital to find Blanche even more drunk. She tells him that she will soon be leaving New Orleans with her former suitor Shep Huntleigh, who is now a millionaire. Stanley knows that Blanche’s story is entirely in her imagination, but he is so happy about his baby that he proposes they each celebrate their good fortune. Blanche spurns Stanley, and things grow contentious. When she tries to step past him, he refuses to move out of her way. Blanche becomes terrified to the point that she smashes a bottle on the table and threatens to smash Stanley in the face. Stanley grabs her arm and says that it’s time for the “date” they’ve had set up since Blanche’s arrival. Blanche resists, but Stanley uses his physical strength to overcome her, and he carries her to bed. The pulsing music indicates that Stanley rapes Blanche.

The next scene takes place weeks later, as Stella and her neighbour Eunice pack Blanche’s bags. Blanche is in the bath, and Stanley plays poker with his buddies in the front room. A doctor will arrive soon to take Blanche to an insane asylum, but Blanche believes she is leaving to join her millionaire. Stella confesses to Eunice that she simply cannot allow herself to believe Blanche’s assertion that Stanley raped her. When Blanche emerges from the bathroom, her deluded talk makes it clear that she has lost her grip on reality.

The doctor arrives with a nurse, and Blanche initially panics and struggles against them when they try to take her away. Stanley and his friends fight to subdue Blanche, while Eunice holds Stella back to keep her from interfering. Mitch begins to cry. Finally, the doctor approaches Blanche in a gentle manner and convinces her to leave with him. She allows him to lead her away and does not look back or say goodbye as she goes. Stella sobs with her child in her arms, and Stanley comforts her with loving words and caresses.

ASND 6Blanche is a loquacious and fragile woman around the age of thirty.  Though she has strong sexual urges and has had many lovers, she puts on the airs of a woman who has never known indignity. She avoids reality, preferring to live in her own imagination.

Stanley is the epitome of vital force. He is loyal to his friends, passionate to his wife, and heartlessly cruel to Blanche. With his Polish ancestry, he represents the new, heterogeneous America. He sees himself as a social leveller, and wishes to destroy Blanche’s social pretensions.

Mitch is more sensitive and more gentlemanly than Stanley and his other friends, perhaps because he lives with his mother, who is slowly dying.

Allan Grey is the young man with poetic aspirations with whom Blanche fell in love and married as a teenager. One afternoon, she discovered Allan in bed with an older male friend. That evening at a ball, after she announced her disgust at his homosexuality, he ran outside and shot himself in the head.

A Young Collector  is ateenager who comes to the Kowalskis’ door to collect for the newspaper when Blanche is home alone. The boy leaves bewildered after Blanche gives him a passionate farewell kiss. He embodies Blanche’s obsession with youth and presumably reminds her of her teenage love, the young poet Allan Grey.

Elysian Fields, the Kowalskis’ street, is named for the land of the dead in Greek mythology. The journey that Blanche describes making from the train station to the Kowalski apartment is an allegorical version of her life up to this point in time.

Blanche makes derogatory and ignorant remarks about Stanley’s Polish ethnicity throughout the play, implying that it makes him stupid and coarse. In Scene Eight, Stanley finally snaps, correcting Blanche’s many misapprehensions and forcefully exposing her as an uninformed bigot. His declaration of being a proud American carries great thematic weight, for Stanley does indeed represent the new American society, which is composed of upwardly mobile immigrants. Blanche is a relic in the new America. The Southern landed aristocracy from which she assumes her sense of superiority no longer has a viable presence in the American economy, so Blanche is disenfranchised monetarily and socially.

Blanche’s dependence “on the kindness of strangers” rather than on herself is the reason why she has not fared well in life. In truth, strangers have been kind only in exchange for sex.

See scene anaylysis

ASND 3Quotations:

…] a peculiarly tender blue, almost a turquoise, which invests the scene with a kind of lyricism and gracefully attenuates the atmosphere of decay. […] In this part of New Orleans, you are practically always just around the corner […] from a tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers. […] New Orleans is a cosmopolitan city where there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of races

Stanley carries his bowling jacket and a red-stained package from a butcher’s.

You see, under the Napoleonic code – a man has to take an interest in his wife’s affairs – especially now that she’s going to have a baby. [Blanche opens her eyes. The “blue piano” sounds louder.]
BLANCHE Stella? Stella going to have a baby? I didn’t know she was going to have a baby!

The gaudy seed-bearer, […] he sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he looks at them.

STELLA It’s a drive that he has.

BLANCHE On the contrary, I saw him at his best! What such a man has to offer is animal force and he gave a wonderful exhibition of that! But the only way to live with such a man is to – go to bed with him! And that’s your job – not mine!

STANLEY [bellowing] Hey there! Stella, Baby!

STELLA Can I come watch?

STELLA Yes. A different species.
BLANCHE In what way; what’s he like?
STELLA Oh, you can’t describe someone you’re in love with!

STELLA I can hardly stand it when he is away for a night…
[…] STELLA When he’s away for a week I nearly go wild!
[…] STELLA And when he comes back I cry on his lap like a baby…

STELLA…You come out with me while Blanche is getting dressed.
STANLEY Since when do you give me orders?

STELLA No. Stanley’s the only one of his crowd that’s likely to get anywhere.
[…] STELLA It isn’t on his forehead and it isn’t genius.
[…] STELLA
It’s a drive that he has.

BLANCHE I’m terrified!
MITCH Ho-ho! There’s nothing to be scared of. They’re crazy about each other.

STELLA Stanley doesn’t give me a regular allowance, he likes to pay bills himself.

Stella has embraced him with both arms, fiercely, and full in the view of Blanche. He laughs and clasps her head to him. Over her head he grins through the curtains at Blanche.

STELLA Blanche, do you want him?
BLANCHE I want to rest! I want to breathe quietly again! Yes – I want Mitch… very badly! Just think! If it happens! I can leave here and not be anyone’s problem…

BLANCHE What you are talking about is brutal desire—just—Desire! The name of that rattle-trap street-car that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another…
STELLA Haven’t you ever ridden on that street-car?

BLANCHE It brought me here.

They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!

Her appearance is incongruous to the setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district.

EUNICE A great big place with white columns.

BLANCHE …I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your – Polack!

BLANCHE Please don’t get up.
STANLEY Nobody’s going to get up, so don’t be worried.

BLANCHE That one seems – superior to the others.
STELLA Yes, he is.
BLANCHE I thought he had a sort of sensitive look.

BLANCHE It’s a French name.
[…] MITCH You’re French?
BLANCHE We are French by extraction. Our first American ancestors were French Huguenots.

BLANCHE Stop it. Let go of that broom. I won’t have you cleaning up for him!
STELLA Then who’s going to do it? Are you?
BLANCHE I? I!
STELLA No, I didn’t think so

STANLEY That’s how I’ll clear the table! [He seizes her arm.] Don’t ever talk that way to me! “Pig – Polack – disgusting – vulgar – greasy!” – them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here! What do you think you two are? A pair of queens? Remember what Huey Long said – “Every Man is a King!” And I am the King around here, so don’t forget it!

STANLEY You showed me the snapshot of the place with the columns and how you loved it.

… but contains a folding bed to be used by Blanche. The room beyond is a bedroom.

Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements and attitudes. Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependently, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens. […] He sizes women up with a glance, with sexual clarifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them.

STANLEY My clothes are stickin’ to me. Do you mind if I make myself comfortable? [He starts to remove his shirt.] Be comfortable is my motto.

Blanche moves back into the streak of light. She raises her arms and stretches, as she moves indolently back to the chair.

Blanche waltzes to the music with romantic gestures. Mitch is delighted and moves in awkward imitation like a dancing bear.

ASND 7STANLEY [with heaven-splitting violence] STELL-LAHHHHH!
[The low-tone clarinet moans. The door upstairs opens again. Stella slips down the rickety stairs in her robe. Her eyes are glistening with tears and her hair loose about her throat and shoulders. They stare at each other. Then they come together with low, animal moans. He falls to his knees on the steps and presses his face to her belly, curving a little with maternity. Her eyes go blind with tenderness as she catches his head and raises him level with her. He snatches the screen door open and lifts her off her feet and bears her into the dark flat.]

STELLA Why on our wedding night – soon as we came in here – he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light-bulbs with it.
[…] BLANCHE And you – you let him? Didn’t run, didn’t scream?
STELLA I was – sort of – thrilled by it

STELLA But there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark – that sort of make everything else seem – unimportant. [Pause]
BLANCHE What you are talking about is brutal desire – just – Desire! – the name of that rattle-trap street-car that bans through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another…

BLANCHE Well you do, honey lamb! Come here. I want to kiss you, just once, softly and sweetly on your mouth!

She springs up and crosses to it, and removes a whiskey bottle. She pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down. She carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink.

BLANCHE …Now don’t get worried, your sister hasn’t turned into a drunkard, she’s just all shaken up and hot and tired and dirty! (

BLANCHE No, one’s my limit.

BLANCHE …I’ll show you shuperficial – Listen to me! My tongue is a little – thick! You boys are responsible for it. The show let out at eleven and we couldn’t come home on account of the poker game so we had to go somewhere and drink. I’m not accustomed to having more than one drink. Two is the limit – and three! [She laughs] Tonight I had three.

The rapid feverish polka tune, the “Varsouviana,” is heard. The music is in her mind; she is drinking to escape.

BLANCHE [She rushes about frantically, hiding the bottle in a closet, crouching at the mirror and dabbing her face with cologne and powder.]

MITCH I told you already I don’t want none of his liquor and I mean it. You ought to lay off his liquor. He says you been lapping it up all summer like a wild-cat.

Blanche has been drinking fairly steadily since Mitch left. […] As the drinking and packing went on, a mood of hysterical exhilaration came into her and she has decked herself out in a somewhat soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown and a pair of scuffed silver slippers with brilliants set in their heels.

BLANCHE And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare!

BLANCHE …You know I haven’t put on one ounce in ten years, Stella? I weigh what I weighed the summer you left Belle Reve. The summer Dad died and you left us…

STELLA And admire her dress and tell her she’s looking wonderful That’s important with Blanche. Her little weakness!

STANLEY Compliments to women about their looks. I never met a woman that didn’t know if she was good-looking or not without being told, and some of them give themselves credit for more than they’ve got. I once went out with a doll who said to me, “I am the glamorous type, I am the glamorous type!” I said. “So what?” (

BLANCHE …After all, a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion…

STANLEY Well this somebody named Shaw is under the impression he met you in Laurel, but I figure he must have got you mixed up with some other party because this other party is someone he met at a hotel called the Flamingo.
[…] BLANCHE I’m afraid he does have me mixed up with this “other party.” The Hotel Flamingo is not the sort of establishment I would dare to be seen in!

BLANCHE It isn’t enough to be soft. You’ve got to be soft and attractive. And I – I’m fading now! I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick.

STELLA She is. She was. You didn’t know Blanche as a girl. Nobody, nobody was as tender and trusting as she was. But people like you abused her, and forced her to change.

BLANCHE A cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence and breeding can enrich a man’s life – immeasurably! I have those things to offer, and this doesn’t take them away. Physical beauty is passing. A transitory possession. But beauty of the mind and richness of the spirit and tenderness of the heart – and I have all of those things. […] But I have been foolish – casting my pearls before swine!

BLANCHE …I want to be near you, got to be with somebody, I can’t be alone! Because – as you must have noticed – I’m – not very well… [Her voice drops and her look is frightened.]

BLANCHE I, I, I took the blows in my face and body! All of those deaths! The long parade to the graveyard! Father, mother! Margaret, that dreadful way! So big with it, it couldn’t be put in a coffin! But had to be burned like rubbish! You just came home in time for the funerals, Stella. And funerals are pretty compared to deaths. Funerals are quiet, but deaths—not always. Sometimes their breathing is hoarse, and sometimes it rattles, and sometimes they even cry out to you, “Don’t let me go!”

BLANCHE The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation, till finally all that was left — and Stella can verify that! — was the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated.

STELLA You are as fresh as a daisy.
BLANCHE One that’s been picked a few days.

BLANCHE The first time I laid eyes on [Stanley] I thought to myself, that man is my executioner! That man will destroy me.

BLANCHE Yes, that’s where I brought my victims. […] Yes, I had many intimacies with strangers. After the death of Allan — intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty hearty with

BLANCHE Yes. [During the pause she looks up at the sky.] There’s so much – so much confusion in the world… [He coughs diffidently.]Thank you for being so kind! I need kindness now.

BLANCHE Young man! Young, young, young man! Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young Prince out of the Arabian Nights! [The Young Man laughs uncomfortably and stands like a bashful kid. Blanche speaks softly to him.]

BLANCHE I guess it is just that I have – old-fashioned ideals! [She rolls her eyes, knowing he cannot see her face.]

BLANCHE I don’t want realism. I want magic! [Mitch laughs] Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! – Don’t turn the light on!

BLANCHE Never inside, I didn’t lie in my heart…

STELLA I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.

BLANCHE You know what I shall die of? I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean. I will die – with my hand in the hand of some nice-looking ship’s doctor, a very young one with a small blond mustache and a big silver watch. […] And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard – at noon – in the blaze of summer – and into an ocean as blue as my first lover’s eyes!

BLANCHE I was on the verge of — lunacy, almost! So Mr. Graves—Mr. Graves is the high school superintendent — he suggested I take a leave of absence.

There are thousands of papers, stretching back over hundreds of years, affecting Belle Reve as, piece by piece, our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications—to put it plainly! . . . The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation, till finally all that was left—and Stella can verify that!—was the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated.

Oh, I guess he’s just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume, but maybe he’s what we need to mix with our blood now that we’ve lost Belle Reve.

I am not a Polack. People from Poland are Poles, not Polacks. But what I am is a one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me a Polack.

Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

BLANCHE (singing) Say, it’s only a paper moon, Sailing over a cardboard sea—But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me! […]  It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, Just as phony as it can be— But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me! […] Without your love, It’s a honky-tonk parade! Without your love, It’s a melody played in a Penny arcade… […] It’s only a paper moon, Just as phony as it can be— But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me! […] It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, Just as phony as it can be

 MEXICAN WOMAN Flores.
BLANCHE Death—I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death was as closer as you are… We didn’t even admit we had ever heard of it.
MEXICAN WOMAN Flores para los muertos, flores—flores…
BLANCHE The opposite is desire.

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Welsh Boys Too – John Sam Jones

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

The author has worked in education, as a chaplain in hospitals and prisons and as a sexual health worker and is currently employed as the Schools Advisor for Personal and Social Education in Denbighshire.  He lives with his civil partner in a farmhouse in the Rhinog mountains

After ten years in the States, the author was horrified about the homophobia that still pervaded Welsh society in 1993 so he wanted to suggest some of the ways that individuals overcame such prejudice.

On 1996, he worked in with a group of gay and lesbian teenagers at the West Rhyl Young People’s Project and realised that despite many gay characters in soaps that seem to have played a role in fostering greater understanding and tolerance, life as a gay or lesbian teenager in rural north Wales was as awful as it was when he had been a gay teenager in rural north Wales at the beginning of the 1970s. The politics of Section 28 and the government’s unwillingness to define a sex education curriculum that is statutory left gay and lesbian teenagers amongst the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and left teachers uncertain of what they could say to the gay or lesbian young person who seeks their counsel. Little is done to develop the self-esteem of gay and lesbian teenagers in school settings. Still to this day little is done to address homophobic bullying in schools.

This collection of short stories is essentially a tale of two identities – Welsh-speaking and gay. It encompasses a wide range of classic gay themes including the gay holocaust, coupledom, relationships with a straight family, coming out/denial, bullying, cottaging, the age of consent, rent-boys, Clause 28, gay weddings, Christian homophobia, and a dash of camp, all set in the Welsh-speaking North, in just over ninety pages!

Llŷr Jones, M.Th., Gethin’s Calvinist father in ‘The Wonder at Seal Cave’, would remind his congregation ‘that stories give shape to lives and that without stories we cannot understand ourselves’. That’s what this collection does too – providing Welsh gay men, especially the young, with stories through which they might better understand themselves. Gethin is agonisingly trapped between his own self-knowledge and a minister father and psychologist mother who would stifle his sexual orientation. However, during a family visit to Bardsey Gethin has an important initiating encounter with a German boy, the tale ends lamely when the troubled boy is advised by a sympathetic teacher to telephone a gay help-line.  Gethin starts to make sense of his burgeoning sexuality by seeing the film Beautiful Thing, set in a London council estate, whilst he was in Liverpool. Where in Wales could Gethin have heard a similar Welsh story?

In The Birds Don’t Sing, the narrator visits Poland along with his partner Griff, and relates their frolics together. Then Griff goes off cruising while our narrator meets an older women, a Polish refugee and mother of a gay son, together, with the thought of pink triangles in mind, they visit the sight of Auschwitz.

WBT 2The ‘gay community’ as such does not feature largely in them. There are references to the brotherhood of the Pink Triangle, pink politics and the Gay Outdoor Club, but the gay characters live mostly as couples in a heterosexual world without contact with other gay men. This surely is the reality for many gay men in Wales, but not the only lifestyle.

‘Sharks on the Bedroom Floor’ charts a weekend in the lives of gay partners and their hosting of a young nephew and niece. In this tale, Jones uses a multiple viewpoint.

In the five-page “But Names Will Never Hurt Me,” he gives us everything necessary to understand why the 17-year-old protagonist, who has already made his affectional choices, decides that “Rent boy . . . didn’t sound so bad.”

In nine unhurried pages, “The Magenta Silk Thread” reveals exactly why a 77-year-old war widow is attending her best friend’s son’s wedding and taking the train rather than getting a lift to it.

 The bleak circumstances of furtive sex are presented here in some detail. One story ends thus: ‘As you shower that sunny August morning of your seventeenth birthday, you think about all the hurtful names you’ve ever been called. There’d been effing queer; there’d been turd-driver and arse-bandit. Rent-boy, though, didn’t sound so bad.’

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Crawling Through Thorns – John Sam Jones

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

The author is about the same age as me and we both grew up in seaside towns. We have many similar, and also many different, experiences. He discovers cottaging in his teens. Many of is encounters have also been described in his novels: Welsh Boys Too, Fishboys of Vernazza  and  With Angels and Furies .

When John Sam Jones’ life reached a crisis point, he faced a choice between change or suicide. This book describes his journey back from the edge

He grew up during the ’60s and ’70s in a small town nestled between the Irish Sea and the Rhinog mountains in Wales. His family lived in that community for many generations; hard-working, Welsh-speaking, and solidly Presbyterian. The town was a summer holiday resort that had seen better days, but life still seemed spit into two; the three-month-long season and nine months when nothing much happened. Both his parents were second children.

Realising that he was gay at the age of 11 or 12 wasn’t easy. In the late 1960s in Britain, homosexuality was barely talked about – unless in hushed tones and with distaste. All he knew about homosexuals was what he’d read in newspaper reports – about men being arrested for improper behaviour, and the word “homosexual” was always accompanied by words like unstable, alcoholic, sinful, sick, criminal.

The clash of religion, culture and sexuality in his sense of identity became intense by the time he was 18 and he suffered depression and an eventual breakdown.

The repressed gay ordinand who seeks to cure him by having sex with him is just typical.

The NEB version of 1 Corinthians which mistranslates as homosexuals can’t go to heaven is the experience of many, to their despair.

The extempore prayer that uses the word ‘just’ several times is a bit anachronistic for the 1970s – I think.

However, the account of Taize is accurate and atmospheric.

The arrival in Israel, wit its sweltering heat and citrus smell; reflects my experience too.

I enjoyed SCM being dubbed ‘Slightly Christian Marxists’.

Richard (Kirker) was, indeed, ever the salesman.

It’s astonishing that aversion therapy was still going on in the 1970s – but then it is still is in some places. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t work, it’s highly immoral to encourage men to use women.

The Welsh Book Council has described it as “book that refuses to be pigeon-holed: it reads like memoir, is presented as fiction and offers a critique of society’s changing attitudes towards the gay community from the 1960s to the present day. It is a brave and often shocking book, whose flashback structure generously softens the pain… Crawling through Thorns is the story not just of a personal quest for honesty and openness, but also of a society having to confront its fears and prejudices. Highlighting the difference between the toxic shame delivered upon the oppressed and the real shame that should be felt by the oppressors, it is a challenging and compulsive read – often harrowing but ultimately uplifting.”

The title echoes a slightly obscure poem by Waldo Williams. The book jumps about a bit.

I liked the contextual theology and Robert MacAFee Brown.

And I really do get that someone who is dying wants Communion from the person who cares for them rather from some remote priest.

There’s a bit of obsession with sound systems – Bang & Olufson and the like.

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