Archive for Q-T

The Bell – Iris Murdoch

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

This was all the rage when I was an undergraduate. A gay Christian was highly unusual then. Now, it’s almost compulsory.

This is a 1958 novel about a lay community sheltering in the grounds of a country estate.

Ex-teacher Michael Meade sets up a secular-religious enclave at his house, Imber Court in Gloucestershire, whose assorted inhabitants seek a “refuge from modernity”, which “with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure” offers “no home to these unhappy souls”. The book depicts the portentous arrival of two visitors: a schoolboy, Toby, “greatly attracted by the idea of living and working, for a while at least, with a group of holy people who had given up the world”; and Dora, the errant wife of a scholar who is returning penitently but reluctantly to her stultifying marriage. Imber is in turn set against a convent of Benedictine nuns across the lake, a “buffer state” between the abbey and the real world in which Murdoch stages a clash of ideals: religious yearning, sexual passion, and the role of spirituality in a materialist era.

Consider, this novel was written in 1958 when homosexuals were whispered about, and called ‘pansies’ or ‘queers’.  Murdoch does not write of Michaels feelings towards Nick or Toby as dirty or twisted but just as a different kind of love.  It was beautifully handled.

In The Bell, Murdoch presents homosexuality through the context of several different characters. Firstly, there is the firsthand perspective of Michael Meade. Michael is inherently, though limitedly, affected by society’s perception of his sexuality, “Michael Meade at twenty-five had already known for some while that he was what the world called perverted”. Despite this understanding, Michael is acutely aware of his inability to separate his sexuality from the rest of his being, especially his religion, “It scarcely occurred to him that his religion could establish any quarrel with his sexual habits. Indeed, in some curious way the emotion which fed both arose deeply from the same source”. Murdoch provides the common societal attitude toward homosexuality through the character of James Tayper Pace. In describing his feelings towards Nick Fawley, James is nothing short of homophobic, displaying stereotypical attitudes reflective of 1950s English society, “‘He looks to me like a pansy,’….‘They’re always trouble-makers, believe me. I’ve seen plenty of that type. There’s something destructive in them, a sort of grudge against society’” . As yet another perspective on homosexuality, Murdoch provides the character of Toby with a more enlightened (though still not accepting) attitude, “In so far as he had up to now reflected on this propensity at all he had regarded it as a strange sickness or perversion, with mysterious and disgusting refinements, from which a small number of unfortunate persons suffered”.

In many ways, Murdoch’s representation of the homosexual experience is a direct reflection of common attitudes during the 1950s in England, “The Bell, Murdoch’s first fictional work that depicts the daily life of a male homosexual in detail, was published only months later in 1958 and accurately illustrates the legal dilemmas facing homosexual men during this era” . Murdoch’s examination of homosexuality during this time period should be considered especially courageous, “Murdoch often portrayed homosexuality in her fiction at times when it was not necessarily in vogue to do so, particularly during sensitive periods of change of legislative control over homosexuality in Great Britain”. In fact, during the 1950s “homosexual acts were still considered by law to be criminal offences” (“Cabinet Papers”). According to the Lesbian & Gay foundation, sodomy “was punishable by life imprisonment, though before 1861 it was a capital crime” (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). During the time period just before publication of Murdoch’s The Bell, prosecution against homosexuals was actually on the rise, “Between 1945 and 1955 the number of annual prosecutions for homosexual behaviour rose from 800 to 2,500, of whom 1,000 received custodial sentences” (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). As an alternative to imprisonment, some so-called “offenders” opted for a “cure” to avoid jail time, “In the 1950s and 1960s, behavioural therapy was used to try to “cure” gay men. Men convicted of homosexual acts were routinely given electric shock treatment, hallucinogenic drugs and subjected to brainwashing techniques” (Wheeler). According to Brian Wheeler of BBC News, “The most common form of treatment was aversion therapy, of the kind seen in Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange” (Wheeler). This treatment of homosexuality as a disease is reflective of Toby’s attitude in the novel, “He also knew, and differed here from his father, that it was more proper to regard these persons as subjects for the doctor than as subjects for the police”. While medical treatment would be far more desirable than criminalization, this is still a far cry from the attitudes towards homosexuality in England today.

In 1954, in response to increased controversy and media coverage, the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in Great Britain was formed to reassess the criminalization of homosexuality. Just before publication of The Bell, “The Wolfenden Report was published in 1957. It concluded that the criminalisation of homosexuality was an impingement on civil liberty. While the law should prevent abuse and protect the young and other vulnerable individuals, it should not intrude into matters of personal morality” (“Cabinet Papers”). Another revelation of the Wolfenden Report, was the vocational tendencies of criminalized homosexuals to seek refuge through clerical and teaching positions. Murdoch represents this tendency through Michael’s character. He is not only a teacher in his early career, but also a religious leader, who has dreams of one day becoming a priest. According to Grimshaw, “The guilt and fears some homosexual men experienced also stemmed from the social and moral responsibilities inherent in their vocations. Perhaps choosing such vocations to quell their fears and desires, homosexuals found that these fears paradoxically heightened when they could not suppress their sexual desires through their work”. Essentially, criminalization was driving homosexuals into these kinds of vocations where they attempted to escape themselves, but sometimes failed to do so, inevitably increasing the risk of harm to the young.

It could be said that Murdoch’s treatment of the social question of homosexuality certainly wasn’t undertaken in the search for popularity. It is very much the work of an activist, exploiting social issues through artistic literary means. During this time period, Murdoch also took the stance of activist in her contributions to the publication Man and Society, “Writing for the journal in 1964, Murdoch speaks out against members of society who “simply…make unfounded assumption about what it is to be homosexual,” adding that “the law and social prejudice” create difficulties for homosexual men”. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, homosexuality continued to be a topic of derision and judgment in popular media, “The infamous Sunday Pictorial feature of 1963, ‘How to spot a Homo’, [pictured above] might be less a subject of interest today.  Much use was made of stereotypes of mincing queens and child molesters or corrupters which bore at best marginal resemblance to the generality of gay men, then as now, but were nonetheless often believed”  (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). Homosexuality was not decriminalized in England until almost 10 years after the publication of Murdoch’s The Bell. According to the National Archives, “The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised male homosexuality between consenting adults above the age of twenty-one” (“Cabinet Papers”).

Toby finds the lost medieval abbey bell while diving in the lake, where it was supposedly cast centuries earlier as a curse after a nun had an affair with a man; Dora suggests they secretly swap it for the abbey’s new bell, due to be delivered shortly, as a lark. Needless to say, things don’t go to plan, with consequences that are by turns slapstick and deadly serious.

In The Bell the mechanics by which the adolescent engineer Toby sets about getting an ancient submerged bell out of a lake – a tractor, a rope, an incline, then a makeshift crane and much leverage – are all worked out in such detail that one could imagine Murdoch having made drawings of the whole thing.

Everyone at Imber is trying to figure out how to lead a meaningful life amid the disintegrating ethical certainties of a secular society. But you can’t escape yourself.

The lay community doesn’t survive the scandal of the bell’s resurrection but the abbey remains at the novel’s end – its legacy secured, in fact, by Michael’s leasing of the house and its grounds to the nuns indefinitely.

Her novels often include upper-middle-class male intellectuals caught in moral dilemmas, gay characters, refugees, Anglo-Catholics with crises of faith, empathetic pets, curiously “knowing” children and sometimes a powerful and almost demonic male “enchanter” who imposes his will on the other characters—a type of man Murdoch is said to have modelled on her lover, the Nobel laureate Elias Canetti.

 TB 2Quotations:

[…] since, somewhere, something good existed, it might be that her problems would be solved after all. There was a connexion; obscurely she felt, without yet understanding it, she must hang onto that idea: there was a connexion. She bought a sandwich and took a taxi back to Paddington.

“like a bird out of the tower and fell into the lake.”

“potty communities are good for a feature”

“The bell is subject to the force of gravity.  The swing that takes it down must also take it up.  So we too must learn to understand the mechanism of our spiritual energy, and find out where, for us, are the hiding places of our strength.”

TB 3“I know how much you grieve over those who are under your care: those you try to help and fail, those you cannot help. Have faith in God and remember that He will is His own way and in His own time complete what we so poorly attempt. Often we do not achieve for others the good that we intend but achieve something, something that goes on from our effort. Good is an overflow. Where we generously and sincerely intend it, we are engaged in a work of creation which may be mysterious even to ourselves – and because it is mysterious we may be afraid of it. But this should not make us draw back. God can always show us, if we will, a higher and a better way; and we can only learn to love by loving. Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love. Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected but made perfect. The way is always forward, never back.”
“Those who hope, by retiring from the world, to earn a holiday from human frailty, in themselves and others, are usually disappointed.”
“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.”
“Violence is born of the desire to escape oneself.”
“The talk of lovers who have just declared their love is one of life’s most sweet delights. Each vies with the other in humility, in amazement at being so valued. The past is searched for the first signs and each one is in haste to declare all that he is so that no part of his being escapes the hallowing touch.”
“Toby had received, though not yet digested, one of the earliest lessons of adult life: that one is never secure. At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into its opposite, without any intermediate condition, so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people’s imperfection.”
“… he felt himself to be one of them, who can live neither in the world nor out of it. They are a kind of sick people, whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life, but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely; and present-day society, with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure, offers no home to these unhappy souls.”
“The chief requirement of the good life’, said Michael, ‘is that one should have some conception of one’s capacities. One must know oneself sufficiently to know what is the next thing. One must study carefully how best to use such strength as one has. … One must perform the lower act which one can manage and sustain: not the higher act which one bungles.”
“But death is not easy, and life can win by simulating it.”
“Patchway had the enviable countryman’s capacity, which is shared only by great actors, of standing by and saying nothing, and yet existing, large, present, and at ease.”
“You don’t respect me,” said Dora, her voice trembling.

“Of course I don’t respect you,” said Paul. “Have I any reason to? I’m in love with you, unfortunately, that’s all.”

TB 4“Well, it’s unfortunate for me too,” said Dora, starting to cry.”
“Dora watched him for a while, nervously, and then returned to scanning the whole group. Seeing them all together like that she felt excluded and aggressive, and Noel’s exhortations came back to her. They had a secure complacent look about them: the spiritual ruling class; and she wished suddenly that she might grow as large and fierce as a gorilla and shake the flimsy doors off their hinges, drowning the repulsive music in a savage carnivorous yell.”
“Youth is a marvelous garment. How misplaced is the sympathy lavished on adolescents. There is a yet more difficult age which comes later, when one has less to hope for and less ability to change, when one has cast the die and has to settle into a chosen life without the consolations of habit or the wisdom of maturity, when, as in her own case, one ceases to be une jeune fille un peu folle, and becomes merely a woman, worst of all, a wife. The very young have their troubles, but they have at least a part to play, the part of being very young.”
“He went away, bent double with the pains of remorse and regret and the inward biting of a love which had now no means of expression. He remembered now when it was useless how the Abbess had told him that the way was always forward. Nick had needed love, and he ought to have given him what he had to offer, without fears about its imperfection. If he had had more faith he would have done so, not calculating either Nick’s faults or his own. Michael recalled too how, with Toby; he had acted with more daring, and had probably acted wrong. Yet no serious harm had come to Toby; besides he had not loved Toby as he loved Nick, was not responsible for Toby as he had been for Nick. So great a love must have contained some grain of good, something at least which might have attached Nick to this world, given him some glimpse of hope. Wretchedly Michael forced himself to remember the occasions on which Nick had appealed to him since he came to Imber, and how on every occasion Michael had denied him. Michael had concerned himself with keeping his own hands clean, his own future secure, when instead he should have opened his heart: should impetuously and devotedly and beyond all reason have broken the alabaster cruse of very costly ointment.”
“Toby had received, though not yet digested, one of the earliest lessons of adult life: that one is never secure. At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into its opposite, without any intermediate condition, so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people’s imperfection.”

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Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall by Neil Bartlett

An evocation of gay life, this is the first novel Neil Bartlett wrote.  In a dark corner of the best bar in the city, two lovers fall into each other’s arms. The bar has been called many names, but it is now known simply as The Bar. Its proprietor is the aging, still glamorous Madame. Its clientele is gay. The two who fall in love are Boy, a beautiful nineteen-year-old, and the handsome, forty-something “Older Man” referred to as “O” by the regulars of The Bar. This is the story of Boy’s and O’s courtship and marriage, of Madame’s role in the affair, and of the man called “Father,” who threatens to come between them.

Cruising is described painstakingly, as is the former Oasis Club and its regulars, including the chain-smoking, gravelly-voiced Flo, in Bristol.

The Boy appears at 19, a young man looking for something. For him, the search is quite literal: he walks the city looking for something, looking for a place he belongs. He knows what he wants, but he doesn’t yet know where to find it. In this, he is like every young gay man who leaves home and comes to the big city, having left his history behind him. O is another archetype: in his 40s, he has a history, one known in any detail, it seems, only to Mother; his question is whether he has a future.

Many of our group felt that the author wrote with great intimacy towards the reader yet also with a strange detachment from the characters. Despite its great energy, ther is a sense of emptiness.

The mugging scenes were realistic and well written yet lacking in emotion.  Is this because the author is primarily someone who works with actors on a stage where what you see is what communicates, not what you read.

I didn’t like aspects of violence in the key relationship, S & M., dominance. It took the romance away. Nor do I like drag,

Some reviewers point to literary allusions but I can’t see any (though they are listed at the end), nor did I see the relevance of quotations from the Book of Common Prayer. And he could have quoted the collect about ‘God who seest us amidst so many and great dangers’ with the queer-bashing that tolls like  bell throughout the novel.

Surely, by the 1990s, terms like ‘nigger’and ‘Jew’ weren’t in use.

It was rare to have a happy ending in those days.

Interview with the author GAY TIMES OCTOBER 90

Bartlett’s first novel Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (Serpent’s Tail, £8.99) has just been published and it is no exaggeration to say that it stands head-and-shoulders above any British or American gay novel to have appeared in several years. Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall is (to use a journalistic cliché) a searingly honest evocation of gay life, cultures and rituals; it is tender, brutal, explicit, erotic and moving — set in a nameless but eternal city and with a time-scale that can only be defined as fluid. The novel centres on the relationships between ‘Boy’ (a young man seeking experience), ‘0’ (his older lover), and ‘Mother (their protector); and their love and care for each other and of the other inhabitants of The Bar, the locus of their interactions. Above all, this enormously impressive and exciting novel — a fictional debut of staggering assurance and ability — reveals the depths of Bartlett’s commitment to our history, our present and our future

 

London in the same way as in Who Was That Man? It is London, but it continually changes its shape. You could turn a corner or open a door and suddenly you’re in a city that you don’t quite recognise.

PETER: And the book is not set in any recognisable time . . .

NEIL: It clearly is set now, or the action of the story takes place now, except the people keep describing it as ‘Well, of course, in those days, when this happened, life was like this’. But there are very strong elements of previous periods of gay life. I

mean, it goes into — not exactly time-slips — but without being able to say exactly

where and when it happens you are in a different era of the city’s life. Going back to the late 19th Century, but also the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s.

The book is a return to a lot of very deeply held beliefs. Things very deep inside me which are to do with my life and my parents and the way I was brought up,
and my family, and that’s why the book is dedicated to my two grandmothers. Out of respect for them and the part that the world they represent has played in my life.

PETER: The book does seem to have a certain religious and ritual feel to it . . .

NEIL: It’s not intentional. It’s probably a reflection of how deeply it is in me.

Intellectually it wasn’t planned and I surprised myself with that aspect of it. I think
in a sense that some ritual is being enacted, and clearly the ritual is the standard narrative of love: love, courtship, marriage, child. (I did have the Book of

Common Prayer open on my desk the whole time I was writing the novel). I’m not religious now and I don’t go to church, but, like anyone who is brought up with it,

I know my way around the Book of Common Prayer and the idea that the book can have services and ceremonies in it for every occasion of your life. Of course, the fact of the matter is that as a gay man I don’t suppose that the Book of Common Prayer in a literal or obvious way has a ceremony in it for any occasion.

That’s exactly the contradiction that the novel is about— so having no ceremonies of our own, we invent new ones.

PETER: The sex in Ready to Catch Him seems to be or become sacramental . . .

NEIL: Of course! Sex is! But what happens is like we say we are inventing new sounds but of course you can’t. There are shapes of desire and of love — because

love has a shape — they aren’t abstract energy. The shape of love must be in­formed, either positively or negatively, by the traditions that are deeply inside you, whether you like them or not.

Now I’m not being fatalistic about it and saying therefore that you are inescapably conditioned to see ourselves as surrogate heterosexuals doomed to re-enact the rituals of that conditioning. And that pro­cess operates both positively and nega­tively throughout the book — it glorifies the images; it makes glorious the loves that are being described.

I have an image of the artist as being someone who is conductor of or a recep­tor for my culture — and things are going through me which are larger than myself. I am using the language, I am talking about incidents and images which don’t belong to me. On a literal level there is so much in that book which is inspired by the quality of other parts of the history of gay writing. But also in a larger sense, like with the character of Mother, where already four people have told me that they know who she is. They’ve said “Oh it’s great that you’ve put her in the book, but you’re too young, how did you possibly know about her?” and then they tell me about either a woman or a drag queen that they knew about who was exactly like her. So clearly in creating that figure — for instance ­and in Boy and 0 as well — I’m using images of people that don’t just belong to me but are part of gay culture or the scene.

RICHARD SMITH: What you have done in Ready To Catch Him — and what you did in Who Was That Man? — was put that history and that sense of continuity together in a form that is assimilable by the most people . . .
NEIL: Yes, but it has a very odd effect, that detail, because it must be read so completely differently by people who don’t know — and yet it has a very real effect for both of those people . .

One of the things I try and do when I’m writing is to be able to talk about a dress or a club and have some sense of tangibil­ity. That it isn’t just some vague throwback to those days. That it was real, and it’s as real as your memories as a homosexual. So I do that terrible thing of phoning people up at 11 o’clock at night and saying “What make-up would she have worn in 1954” and “Does pan-stick have an hyphen?” Because if one of those things is wrong then I feel I let people down. It’s so disrespectful to talk about these things and get it wrong.

RICHARD: It’s very strange in gay fiction to find someone so affectionate about the gay scene . . .

NEIL: Well, it’s fantasy that I have. But in the same way that the book is a sequence of fantasy events. It’s wishful thinking on my part, the idea that the bar could somehow be a place where there are relationships as deep as the relationships in the book. But of course I think it happens, I have been in places and seen men looking after each other — and that’s what we’re talking about.

In 1985 I was in Toronto and I was hanging out with a bunch of four men who shared a flat and were known as The Family (and their names actually appear in the book). There was this great weekend where one of The Family had split up with his boyfriend and the other two decided that this was a mistake and that they should get back together again. They spent the whole weekend on the ‘phone and in the bars, bringing these two guys back together again. And at the end of the weekend there was this fabulous tear-stained scene on the Sunday night and they kissed in the bar. One of them was the barman and the other guy jumped across the bar and kissed him — and everyone in the bar applauded. Everyone knew what was going on. And I was very young and very stoned and very in awe of these terrific men. I just thought that was the most marvellous thing. That a man should do that.

PETER: I’ve propounded in print several times that homosexual life is — certainly potentially — far richer and far more sustaining than heterosexual life because heterosexual life looks inward whereas gay life can be far more outward looking . . .

NEIL: I think it’s very important to talk about how very many different ways of doing it there are, in the same way as there are very many different ways of doing heter­osexual relationships. I don’t think it breaks down as a dichotomy. But the vast majority of gay people are raised by families. That’s what we know about. It’s the beginning of our lives. So I think the hunger to claim that life-bond of deep relationships is profound. So I think that’s where all that energy in the book comes from — the desire for that.

RICHARD: The narrator often appears as this whinging character . . . Do you ever feel distanced as an artist, an observer, from other gay men?

NEIL: Well, it’s funny. I don’t think the narrator is particularly distanced. Sure, of course I do feel distanced at times, but doesn’t everyone? Everyone feels that they’re looking at things from the outside. No. That’s not true. I’m evading the question. Yes. I sometimes feel that I am so aware of the complications of any given situation that I’m incapable of being . . . I’m very conscious that if I’m in a bar I’m always reading everyone’s stories. I’m obsessive when it comes to making things mean

 

something. And so, often, I’ll find myself in a place, watching and listening and think­ing rather than . . It’s because of my job, as an artist I don’t have a sense of work and leisure time. The gay world, what you’d call the scene, is about leisure time. As an entertainer I make things that people consume in their leisure time ­books and performances — so that gives me a very unusual relationship to that culture. If I’m in a pub I’m quite likely to be sitting there thinking ‘I wonder what is the film or book that this lot could come and see’. So immediately they’re ‘them’ ­because I’m in a relationship to ‘them’ in so far as I make things that they consume. I sell and they buy. I think that’s a useful way of describing my position. An outsider.

It’s a bit of a problem when someone beautiful comes up to you and says “Hello” and you think ‘Oh!’ and you look at them and then they say “I’ve just read your book.” And you think ‘Yes. Yes. Later. Let’s talk about it much later — like over breakfast!’ That’s very odd. When you’re writing a book there is something peculiar­ly frightening about putting what you really think about life down on paper. And when it’s finished, someone you don’t know (and you don’t even know they’re doing it) can pick it up and open it and think they know what you know about life.

Being held responsible for one’s work is sometimes very hard! And you mustn’t think about that whilst you’re making it, ’cause if you do; forget it! Your hands freeze . . .

RICHARD: Don’t you think straight people are going to find the book rather baffling?

NEIL: Well, people say that but . . . Jeanette Winterson gets asked the same thing and says “I never had any trouble understand­ing Wuthering Heights.” That’s the good answer. Books are about other people’s lives. I don’t know. I think the book will be castigated for being baffling. They’ll say “Who could possibly be interested in what a few men do in a bar late at night?” There’s nothing you can do about that. It’s certainly not a book written to please people. Sometimes you want to write something that’s going to be totally in-penetrable to anybody but your immedi­ate peers.

PETER: Couldn’t that cause people to level at you the accusation that you suffer from a ghetto mentality?

NEIL: The idea of a ghetto mentality, is a joke in this country . . . If there were a ghetto here I’d go and live in it.

You know you get people saying “Does being gay influence your work?” I just look them in the face and say “Oh, no, not at all.” It has become a redundant question to me, finally, which is great because I’ve had enough of that question. If someone can’t see that I am as much a gay artist when I am producing a play written three hundred years ago about an eighteen year old girl as I am when I’m doing a cock-sucking scene in the new book, then’ I give up. My work is a sufficient answer to that question.

Quotations:

“But do go back and amend my description of Boy so that he is, some way, if you see what I mean, your type. Make him fit the bill; imagine for him the attributes that you require.”

” O was always at Madame’s right hand, though never intimate with her. “By sheer force of will power,”

`the kind of wanting which extends beyond the night into the day.”

`will always be handsome. And Boy will always be beautiful, I think.”

After six nights in a row with 0, Boy spent the seventh night on his own; he went to his own place. He slept immediately and deeply, and then got up at six am to turn the television on and make the tea ready for when the man he lived with got in from work. They had their tea, then Boy went back into the living room to watch the breakfast television, which was sport, and -then the–ptio-ne-rang. t was 0, calling Boy up for the very first time.

The man took the call in the kitchen.

He was surprised, since for all Boy’s nights out, during which, as the man correctly assumed, Boy had sex with many different men, he never received visits, calls or letters from the men he had been sleeping with. The man did not think that Boy ever gave his address or phone number to anyone. He wondered sometimes if Boy even told people what his real name was.

And now there was someone on the phone saying, Is Boy there?

The man dried his hands and took the phone through to Boy, then walked back into the kitchen. Then he heard Boy say ‘Yes’, and then he heard the TV change; Boy had got up and turned it over to a boxing match, which was something Boy never usually watched. Wanting very much to hear (because he was sure that this was a lover calling, from the voice), the man used the boxing match as an excuse, and he came and stood in the kitchen doorway with a wet plate and the cloth in his hands, and looked at the televi­sion. And on the screen was a blackhaired, whiteskinned, nineteen-year-old boxer. His lip was split, and he was bleeding.

What had happened was that 0 had been at home, not sleeping, thinking about Boy at six in the morning, and he had called up and said, ‘Are you watching TV,’ to which Boy had replied, as the man had heard ‘Yes,’ and then 0 had told Boy to turn over to the boxing; he’d just said, ‘Get up and change to the third channel. I’m watching it, and I want you to watch it too. It makes me think of you.’

Though it was so strange and cryptic, Boy understood this call, because he began to understand now that there are different kinds of wanting someone. He thought, there is wanting to go to bed with someone, which is really just an erection; and there is the kind of wanting which extends beyond the night into the day, the kind where you spend all day waiting, sometimes several days. Sometimes you are waiting for a phone-call–and sometimes for a touch. You think about the person all the time, I think about you all the time, that’s what you say. And you begin to say things that don’t make any sense to people who don’t know what’s going on between you, but you know that the other person, to who what you’ve said is really addressed Will know what you mean even, even though he may not actually be there.

And also, as he watched the Boxer on the television, Boy began to think that there are two kindsof sex; the kind of sex where you say do this, do that, or you manoeuvre yourself into position for a particular kind of pleasure; and then there is the other kind of sex, where you want to say, do anything. Do anything you want to me, you can do anything you want, I give you entire permission over me. This feeling and especially those words cannot actually be. spoken, because the words are too shaming; but for the men I know and for myself certainly I know that it usually comes out as fuck me, please fuck me, though that may not be exactly what you mean. I mean it is not necessarily about wanting to be actually fucked this feeling. It’s more to do with the way my women friends use the word ‘fucked’, when they say I fucked him, or I didn’t want to fuck him — for us it still means I literally fucked him, he got fucked by me. What I mean is, sometimes you are on top of him, you have the back of his neck in your teeth, and you still find yourself wanting to say to him, fuck me, go on, go on, even though you are on top of him.

This is all so hard to tell someone, so you try to do it with your body. When you see a man bury his face in his pillow, he is doing it  to avoid saying all this; to escape from the words he hears himself wanting to say, to silence himself, because he knows that your face is just six inches from his but still he cannot look at you or say what he means.

You noticed this when 0 and Boy were out together. They were always very close to each other, but would never seem able to look one another in the eye, as if afraid of some terrible blush. They avoided each other’s eyes in different ways: 0 would stare away as if checking some man across The Bar; Boy would often as not still look down ail the floor as had always been his habit, as if he were indeed living up to his name, as if he were indeed some young and inexperienced Boy who 0 had just fucked into the ground. As if he was unused to having his body turn on him and shame him by admitting that it wanted these things to happen to it. As if reluctant to acknowledge it in public that it was indeed his body and not someone else’s body that had done those things the night before or the afternoon before. As if he was not responsible for his actions. As if suddenly he might be able to help himself and sudden­ly right there in the middle of The Bar he would say out loud: Fuck me. Please fuck me, take this body of mine right down into the deep with you, pull me under the earth, drag me under the sea; pinion my arms, put your mouth over mine and pull me under these heavy waves I’m feeling, drown me.

When 0 put down the phone at the end of his first call, he did not know how to say goodbye, to Boy; he did not know what name to use. He would remember this later, this not knowing what to call him. Boy or Darling or whatever. One night, later in their affair, 0 woke up in the middle of one of his long and noisy dreams and lay there for a long time looking at Boy’s face as he slept. And then, very deliberately, as if this was what he had decided, 0 said, very quietly, but very defi­nitely, out loud, baby.

This time there was no knife, they just got him on the floor and it was just a fist which had come down on the man’s face again and again. And it happened just two streets away from The Bar. He came into The Bar with blood everywhere. He was trying not to cry, and he kept on saying I’m shocked, I’m just a bit shocked that’s all. He wasn’t as badly hurt as he looked, actually, but it was enough to make us all think at least twice.

People say to me that I must be keeping a list of all the attacks I hear about. They say it’s morbid, they say what are you trying to prove anyway. They say why do you have to talk about that just now. They say to me, how many of them do there have to be before you think you’ve got enough on your list. They say when are you going to stop it, and I say, when am I going to stop it, when am I — it was the second night they were in the bar together after their week of absence I remember. When the man had had his face washed (by Stella) and been given a drink, and one of the barmen had called for a taxi, Mother got right up and got on the stage and told Gary she was ready for her song now. She did her own intro. And if ever I thought it, that was the time I thought that Mother knew what she was singing about.

First she dedicated her song that night to the man who was bleeding (he was still in The Bar, the taxi hadn’t come yet), and then to the ‘ men who had brought their fists down on his face just two streets from her Bar. Then she went on and dedicated her song to all those men here tonight who are still hunting, all of those who are unhappy in love, all of those who are putting up with second best, all of those who are not getting what they want. Don’t waste another night, she said; if there is somebody here you want then go right up and tell him about it, you just tell him, because he may not be here tomorrow night. If you want him to beat you, then you ask him; if you want him to stop beating you, then tell him. If you want him to take you home, go right up now and ask him, sure he will.

She then proceeded to recite a bitter list of  all the failed marriages which we had in our midst or knew of. She named the names of all the broken, hearts. She dedicated her song to all the boys who had really regretted doing it, all the men who had ever said, naming no names, it took ten years of my life, and now I can truly say that I never want to even talk to him again, never to see him. And then, just when people were looking genuinely shock­ed by what she’d said — remember that this man, who we all knew, was still sitting there with the blood just washed off his face, as if to remind us that she wasn’t joking — then she said, don’t be scared boys.

She said, don’t waste any time, Boys, because you don’t have any to waste.

She looked right at 0 and Boy when she said this and it was as if she was trying to scare them in particular, even as if she was trying to frighten them away from each other, as if she was saying, to them, and to all of us, this is what you have to go through, right?

She said, I want you to listen to this song very carefully tonight. I want you to ndte that I am not singing just ‘take my back, because it’s my best feature’ (in the mirror we could see her beautiful strong back in the low cut of the dress, and of course we could see ourselves too). I am not singing ‘Take my body’. I am not singing ‘Take my head and my heart and all my bad habits but by the way I’m sorry that you have to put up with all that but they’re just part of the package you see.’ I am not saying take me on my good days. I am not saying take me like I look tonight and pretend that’s all you’ve got to take. I am saying take me when there’s blood on my face. What I am saying most specificially is take all of me — and here of course Gary began the melody on the piano and we all smiled and then she sang, sang her song, and believe me we did all listen to the words that night, we knew that the man who had been attacked was there, and we knew that 0 and Boy were standing shoulder to shoul­der in our midst, we saw them in the centre of the mirror, saw ourselves standing beside them and standing by them and give me a drink now because I had such hopes of a lover of my own on the evening and here I am.

Give me a drink. You know I have always wanted to get married, not for always, but just for once in my life I wanted to live out my love for a man like they did. I suppose you think I mean I want to walk down the aisle in white with my friends watching, but that’s not it, that’s not what this feeling is to do with. Or not all of it, because of course I would love to do that. But that’s easy to laugh at. What I want is to hold his hand in public. And what I want then is to hold his hand in front of the television for several evenings a week, and if you don’t understand that, and if you don’t know what that feeling is, if you don’t know what it’s like that then you know nothing, nothing, nothing.

I’m sorry.

I mean, Gary says you dream about mar­riage the same way you dream about some­one coming down your throat; it’s not some­thing you’re going to actually do, not these days, but that doesn’t mean you don’t dream about it. It doesn’t mean you can’t actually almost feel what it would feel like.

O held onto him, but Boy said, don’t try to stop me from crying. Boy said, I am not crying because he’s dead. I am crying for the life he led. And it isn’t my fault and it wasn’t his fault but I wish there was somebody to blame, if he wasn’t to blame then who was to blame, who was it, oh I want to hurt them, I want to hurt them, I want to hurt them.”

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Realms of Strife (En los Reinos de Taifa): The Memoirs of Juan Goytisolo

FT 3For Spain to join the EU, despite the latter being a capitalist club, would be a socialist move in that trade union would have to be recognised.

A lot of it is tedious name-dropping, with the exception of the long section on Genet.

The subtitle misleadingly suggest that the memoirs cover the period 1957 to 1982 in Goytisolo’s life. In fact, this volume deals almost solely with the 1960s and early 1970s, only briefly touching on later times.

Goytisolo’s approach is also different from that in Forbidden Territory. Neatly divided into longer chapters (seven of them), Goytisolo offers chunks of his life, focussing around specific events and people.

Living mainly in Paris with long-time companion Monique, Goytisolo achieved quick critical success with his first novel. Though Goytisolo mentions his books at various points, in particular to point out what life-experiences later influenced his work, he writes surprisingly little about the success and reaction to the various books, acknowledging only that his first book was the only one that was practically universally acclaimed. He is surprised by his initial success — which was indeed fairly impressive: My name appeared after Cervantes in the list of most-translated Spanish writers published under the auspices of UNESCO in an annual survey of world literary activity relating to 1963.

He acknowledges that “The phenomenon entirely omitted specific literary factors: it developed exclusively from the world of publishing.” Nevertheless, it made him a man of note in the literary world in which he then moved.

Much of Goytisolo’s early time in Paris was centred around the French publishing house, Gallimard, where Monique worked and where he also was involved in finding Spanish authors and books to translate. Goytisolo moved in illustrious literary circles, including Sartre and de Beauvoir.

Trips abroad to Cuba and later the Soviet Union are among the more significant events offered. Goytisolo remained a soft sort of Marxist, critical but supportive. He had disappointments in Cuba, but seemed genuinely taken by the Soviet Union.

Politics play a large role. One longer section on the troubles surrounding the magazine Libre may be of literary-historical interest but, to those not familiar with Spanish and Latin American literary and political concerns around 1970 and the petty (and not so petty) infighting among the various characters, it is largely baffling and boring.

Goytisolo also continues to move towards acknowledging his sexual inclinations. He and Monique (and her daughter) live together as a nice little family, but Goytisolo finds that he is irresistibly drawn to a certain type of young Arab male. He finally admits his yearnings (and that he acted on them) to Monique in a letter, most of which he prints here verbatim. Monique isn’t too shocked and they continued to live happily together, finally getting married in 1978, fourteen years after he revealed his secret lustings. (Goytisolo explains a lot regarding his sexual preferences, but it does not seem quite enough.)

There is a fair amount of introspection — especially regarding sexual preferences, but also about having children (Goytisolo adamantly refuses to have any), and his own stature and place as a writer. Though not necessarily honest, Goytisolo is certainly brutally frank, especially towards himself.

Goytisolo’s adventures in what he calls the ” Sotadic zone,” or the world of macho Arabs who swing both ways. The term seems top have been coined by Richard Burton, who asserted that there exists a geographic zone in which homosexuality (referred to by Burton as “pederasty”, at the time a synonym) is prevalent and celebrated among the indigenous inhabitants. The name derives from Sotades, a 3rd-century BC Greek poet who was the chief representative of a group of writers of obscene, and sometimes pederastic, satirical poetry.

Realms of Strife is an interesting document, though it lacks the power of the first volume of his memoirs. The shifting foci makes for a more episodic read. The details are good and well-presented, but they do not fit together to provide the big picture. Gaps remain.

Quotations:

As far as I am concerned, the mismatch between life and writing was not resolved till some years later, when hand-to-hand combat with the latter, the exploration of new areas of expression and conquest of sub­jective authenticity, gradually integrated the former in a universe of text: the world conceived as a book ceaselessly written and rewritten, rebel­liousness, struggle, excitement fused in life and script as I was consumed by the delights, white heat, torments of the composition of Don Julian.

Seven months later I embarked with Monique on the visit to Almeria, postponed because of Octavio Pellissa’s arrest; we left her daughter in the Valencian village of Beniarjo and paid a return visit to our friends in the pension Zamora in Garrucha. In – a small four-horsepower Renault we drove round the villages and communities of the area: Huercal Overa, Cuevas de Almanzora, Mojacar, Palomares, and Villaricos. Monique was deeply impressed by the forlorn poverty we saw: she did not share the personal motivation nor secret affinities which drew me to that land, and she was horrified by the idea of vacationing, sunbathing, enjoying life with the reptilian indifference of a Swedish blonde in a landscape that was luminous and beautiful while harsh and poverty stricken. That was the starting point for our frequent discussions of the subject: Monique would reproach me from then on for my aesthetic fascination for places, regions, and landscapes where living conditions inevitably offended anyone with a minimum of social awareness. I was more hardened than she to the spectacle of poverty and strangely attracted by human qualities and fea­tures that have been inexorably swept away by the leveling commercia­lization of progress: my attitude was indeed ambiguous

The attacks directed at a writer are very often the proof that his work exists, that it wounds the moral or aesthetic convictions of the reader-critic and, subsequently, they provoke his reaction: in short, they enter a dynamic relationship with him: you yourself see them usually as a paying of respects and, fortunately, there is no lack of professional swashbucklers: an innovative work stirs up a defensive response from those who feel threatened or under attack from its power or novelty: the phenomenon is as real today as in the day of Gongora.

The novel that avoids the easy well-trodden paths inevitably creates a tension, collides against the unformulated expectations of readers: the latter are suddenly faced with a code they are not used to, and this code poses a challenge: if that is accepted and the reader penetrates the meaning of the new artistic system, the victorious hand-to-hand combat-with the text is itself the prize: the reader’s active enjoyment.

If your books were one day welcomed with unanimous praise, that would show they had become harmless, facile, and anodyne, very quickly they would have lost their power to repel and their vitality.

an unsettling sense of alienation and detachment in respect to our milieu: a furtive awareness of being an impostor, a result of not matching up to the role you were playing; the tedium of nighttime living, only tolerable thanks to the use and abuse of alcohol. My recent political disappoint­ments and the bitter certainty that I had created a work that had perhaps satisfied my civic responsibilities but fell totally outside that dense, purifying, initiatory zone forged by literature was now joined by the sudden realization of my homosexuality and the distressing clandestine nature of relationships, which I will describe later. The combined essence of all this could be summed up in one word: weariness. Weariness with the bustle of literary publishing,- political militancy, functional writing, my ambiguous image and usurped respectability. So I felt more and more sharply and clearly the need to concentrate my physical, intellectual, and emotional energies in those areas I deemed vital and to throw all else overboard.

Journal du voleur, which a friend had lent me two years before on my first brief stay in Paris. The reading of that book had an enormous moral and literary effect on me. The author’s strange, per­sonal, fascinating style accompanied an introduction to a world totally unknown to me; something I had sensed darkly from adolescence but that my upbringing and prejudices had prevented me from verifying. I can remember the person who gave me the grubby copy of the work once pointing out an individual in his thirties, looking defiant and insolent, heading for the cafe terrace exactly, opposite ours—it was called and I think it’s still called La Pergola, next to the Mabillon metro station—and muttering knowingly: “That’s Genet’s friend.” Days later, when I returned the book, he asked me whether I had masturbated as I read it. I said I hadn’t, and he looked taken aback, a mixture of disappointment and incredulity. He said, “I did dozens of times. Every time I read it, I jerk myself off.”

I have never liked this kind of confidence and I cut short the con­versation. As Genet told me years afterwards, he found nothing more irritating than the inopportune homage to the pornographic virtues of his work: he gave no credit to the opinion of homosexuals and appreciated only the praise of those outside the ghetto described by him, who took his novels for what they were, that is, an autonomous world, a language, a voice. As for the so-called friend singled out by my initiator into the novels, it must have been Java or Rene, considering the date. “But neither of them used to go around Saint-Germain-des-Pres,” Genet observed when I mentioned the incident to him, “both of them were pimping in Montmartre or robbing queers in lavatories or in the Bois de Boulogne.

on social inequality a very similar role in the interplay of the complementary and opposites to that normally played by difference of sex, would later deepen, become sexual, as it reached out and went beyond the limits of my language and culture into the incandescent brilliance of Sir Richard Burton’s Sotadic Zone. But at that stage it represented only a strange trait perceived by some third person as a whim or eccentricity.

Monique was passionately drawn to the world of masculine friendships: to the extent that she did not feel rejected, she was attracted by my ambiguity. On the beach at Peiliscola she had once seen me tipsily caress or let myself be caressed by one of our fisherman-friends who had stretched out next to me by the side of the boats, and the spectacle really stirred her up: it didn’t go any further and I made love to her in the hotel—still smelling of him, she said—while my friends drank and dived in darkness, drunk and naked. The Sunday meals in Rueil-Malmaison went on for some months: once or twice, in response to our friends’ invitations, we invited them to the rue Poissonniere. Monique’s diary for 2 December 1956 pinpoints a detail: seventeen Spaniards in the house! Vicenta and Antonio prepared paella for everybody, and the banquet went on till very late, much to the excitement and happiness of Carole, spoiled and entertained by those nostalgic expatriates separated from wives and children.

Along with this chance invasion by Jose’s worker-friends began another, slower, more furtive, and interstitial: Vicenta’s brothers, sisters, and relatives gradually disembarked in Paris, appearing at our flat with their bags and big old suitcases. We had to help find them jobs and accommodations and, through Jadraque and Monique’s friends, we managed to salvage some of them. The fresh migrants from Beniarjo trundled leisurely along from the rue Poissonniere to the Piles bar and from there to the vast pavements of the rue de la Pompe. Sometimes, Vicenta extended the sphere of her recommendations to other villages in the region: the girl dressed in mourning who came to our flat asking after her, she’s from Benifla, Vicenta said, but she’s a good soul. After a time, we had combed the entire field of our friends and acquaintances, and closed down our free employment agency with a feeling of relief. The untimely appearances and visits became less frequent. We had been drained by those months of intense Spanification and, as we admitted to each other, laughing at the end of a particularly hectic, rowdy day, we’d about had enough of it.

Your immense vitality allowed you to ride roughshod over the needs of sleep, take on the boreal rhythm of arctic nights: writing a novel or following the timetable at the publishers, reading for pleasure or out of duty, chatting at length after supper, drinking calvados in your favorite bars, going to transvestite haunts, getting drunk and making love. While you devoted the weekends to visiting Rueil-Malmaison or towns on the Normandy coast with Carole, you finished off your respective days with a tour of the cabarets on the rue de Lappe, next to the hotel where Genet was then staying, or with dinner in one of those modest Vietnamese eating-houses in the environs of the Gare de Lyon. Then night seemed young and somnambular, and you did not notice the first signs of aging and wrinkles till the early morning. Your body obeyed every caprice and decision without rejecting any, as if it were a mere appendage or instrument of your will. There was no such thing as tiredness, and you bravely fought off the impact of alcohol with Alka-Seltzer in the course of the long evenings. At that time Monique professed a real worship of queens. Guided by her cousin Frederic, you began to explore their lairs and hiding places: you sometimes went to dine at Narcisse, a restaurant where you joined in an extravagant reveillon with streamers, confetti, and hysterical shouts from a group of Spanish males decked out in mantillas and combs, as if on the lookout for the hero of Sangre y arena or some remote, improbable Escamillo; at other times, you dropped in on the dance at the Montagne de Sainte-Genevieve, where a huge, brazen queer, also from your country, performed a number of acts with a profusion of obscene gestures, propelling, whirring his tongue round as fast as an electric fan. Genet later told you that the most audacious, provocative queens he came across in his wanderings and stays in the prisons and red light districts of Europe were always Spanish. Whether beautiful repellent, pathetic or derisory, their rejection of any notion of decency, their defiance of all norms and good manners, the waggles and grimaces their laboriously recreated bodies endowed them with an exemplary moral hue. The fact that Spain forged and exported the most outrageous specimens was no product of chance: it revealed the great power of the social stigma that marked them. Their excessive response was directly related to that excessive rejection. Unlike the Sotadic Zone; where extended, diffuse bisexuality erases and removes the frontiers of illicit and becomes secretly and implicitly integrated in the marrow of society, the gravitational pull of the Hispanic canon determines existence of centrifugal, extreme, disproportionate reactions. The plentiful numbers and aggression of the queens, Genet explained to you, response to the oppressive atmosphere that shaped them: it was the of constrained official machismo, its lower, lunar, cleft face, its visage.

In the company of Frederic and Violette Leduc, who had been discharged from the sanatorium where she had been held, you the rather sordid haunts by the Gare de Lyon or Montmartre

unable to take reality by the horns, I sought refuge in militancy as if in a protective religious order: but neither Marx nor Lenin nor the working class had anything to do with my real worries. In truth, my case was quite similar to those middle-class youths who, as Octavio Paz would later write, “transformed their personal dreams and obsessions into ideological fantasies in which the end of the world takes on the paradoxical form of a proletarian revolution without a proletariat.”

My previous homosexual experiences were negative, and from the time we started to live together up to a year ago, I had no relationships with men, nor did I even contemplate one except fleetingly. Your love had inspired me with a self-confidence that I lacked, and for a long time I thought my homosexuality was a thing of the past. You attracted me physically and I felt secure in myself. Things began turning sour when  came by, when my cycles of depression and impotence started as a result of my jealousy and loss of that previous certainty—in spite of the ephemeral nature of your adventures and my conviction that you preferred me to everybody else. Consequently, I lived through some difficult years and, on the rebound, I made you suffer them too. Don’t think I attribute to you the least responsibility for what then happened: circumstances, as I see now, only contributed to showing the precariousness of my physical relationship with women. You should think rather that without you I would probably never have known a female love that was requited. There were many ups and downs, periods of calm and relapses. The jealousy got worse in my case because after the first cycle of depression I again fucked women but with difficulty, and two out of three times I was impotent. For months, as you know, I went to bed with whores from Saint-Denis until repeated failures made me bring the experiment to an end. In those circumstances, the feeling you were in love, even only transitorily, with other men was unbearable for me. I seriously contemplated suicide and loathed myself for not having the courage to go through with it. Afterwards there was Cuba, the need to hold on to something, to find another door. With_____, I reached a point of intense jealousy, depression, desire to throw everything overboard. I had no release with women and lost control of my actions: the only things I am ashamed in my life are a product of this phase; I was not responsible for myself yet was nevertheless aware of the moral degradation. Then, gradually, I had the impression I had touched rock bottom, realizing that henceforth I could not jealous of you. The day I saw Luis, I explained the situation to him and told him the only possible way out was some kind of homosexual life. It was then that spoke to you, and you mentioned the conversation to me, but I was still probing was unable to respond with any certainty.

It must be about a year ago that I started to go out with Arabs and I ne few weeks to recognize the evidence: I did recover my equilibrium and coal with you once again; but I also discovered that I was totally, definitively, vocably homosexual. From then on, as you must have realized, our relationship improved; although differently, I began to love you more than before and reached a kind of happiness that I had not attained in the past. I felt at peace, pl share life with you, to have you and Carole at my side. As you can imagine, I wanted to tell you what had happened; but our well-being seemed so fragile was afraid of undermining it. Then there was your need to leave Galli write about your mother: I wanted to support you on both fronts, not to decision that was central to your future. Despite my secret, life in 1964 was happy the year when our relations firmed up and I recovered my lost peace of mind decided to keep my silence, to help you cut loose from Paris and the to support you as you support me. I went to Saint-Tropez prepared to the new life I had discovered, content to dedicate myself to the novel, you, Carole. The months we have spent together have shown me how far I feel ly and emotionally united to both of you.  But they have also shown me I cannot do without real homosexual life. The (ambiguous) friendships I have are not enough and, although I am happy in your company, I am choked by chastity toward my own sex. In Paris I could have kept my secret without creating suspicion; in Saint-Tropez it is impossible, and if at times I wanted to go with _____, I put the idea to one side because of you, your status in the the possible scandal that could flare up, the gossip. The reality of life there rendered impossible the dual sexual life I was leading and confronted me with need to confess the truth to you fully. 1

I could not care less about what others think. Since I have been sure of my homosexuality, the only problem worrying me is in relation to you and Carole—the damaging impact that its discovery would now have on her. I am the opposite of an exhibitionist, and my sense of shame and attachment to secrecy are deeply rooted; but I am not afraid of the truth, and the few people I can rely on are you, Carole, and Luis. I told him all about this on my last trip. It remained only to tell you.

This letter explains my anxiety. I know too well what effect it will have on you, and yet I am forced to write it even with the risk. I am thirty-four, I love you, and I love Carole, I cannot live without you, I feel a boundless affection for you. What should I do? The void that life alone would be terrifies me, but I will accept it if that is what you decide. I would have wished from deep down that things could have been different, that my deviation had not happened but what I know of myself now is eating me away and, surrounded by our Saint-Tropez friends, I am suddenly aware that I am a usurper, that our friendliness is fictitious and based on deceit, that I must cast off the esteem of those who would be disgusted if they knew the truth. How often I have wanted to walk out slamming the door behind me when they were talking about me as if I were one of them, toclear off and live friendless in a country where no one understands me, in total isolation. I am obsessed by the destiny of Jean (Genet). Sometimes when I wake up at night I want to shout out. I then say to myself that this is my truth, that all the rest is fabrication, facile deceit. That if I am to do anything morally valid, I should make a clean break with everything. I am now on a knife-edge. I can suggest nothing, promise nothing at all. Your reaction fills me with anguish, but secretly I want to know. I realize I am destroying my happiness close to you, yours when you are close to me, which I feel to be so strong. I have begun the letter time and again with a timid heart. I pray you do not see it as a breakup although I am powerless if you do. I am afraid of life without you: your face, your capacity for love, your eyes, your affection. I have never been closer to anyone than I have to you.

“Which country are you from?”

“From Spain.”

“Where did you say?”

“Spain.”

“Spain, Spain .. Whereabouts is that in the Soviet Union?”

One observation that will interest you: while European homosexuals usually reveal themselves by imitating women, here, in contrast, they take on an extra layer of exaggerated virility. That’s what attracts me to them and helps me to distinguish them without fail, since naturally there are plenty who aren’t.

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The Sins of Jack Saul – The True Story of Dublin Jack and The Cleveland Street Scandal by Glenn Chandler

Our group was disappointed in its written style – it’s tabloidy, sensationalist and even judgmental in places – and found lots of misprints and misspellings. Lots of material is crammed in which should have gone in footnotes. It needed a good editor? Was it vanity publishing?

The author seems to be obsessed by his subject and even fantasizes about how he feels – in the absence of diaries, how could he know?

And why a dark-haired model on the front when we’re told that Jack was fair?

Despite all this, many found it to be an enjoyable read and were particularly engaged with the meticulous research towards the end as to how people turned out and what happened top them.

The name entered the public consciousness through the libel trial that came about as a result of the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889 at which a man calling himself Jack Saul turned witness for the prosecution and his theatrical performance on the stand shocked sensibilities with its unapologetic self-incrimination. Saul’s outspoken testimony, and the subsequent failure of prosecuting Saul for any of it, is something that scholars are still trying to wrap their heads around.

The judge and barristers running the trials seemed more intent on humiliating the accused by making jokes at their expense.

Little is known about John (Jack) Saul except that he was supposedly a male prostitute in London originally from Ireland known as ‘Dublin Jack’ and that he was admittedly involved in at least two scandals involving male homosexuality and prostitution in the late nineteenth century. The first such case was the Dublin Castle Scandal of 1884 which involved “rumours of a homosexual ‘ring’ in Dublin Castle, the centre of power of the [English] colonial administration [in Ireland]” brought about by two Irish Nationalist Members of Parliament who ran a libellous story in the militant nationalist journal United Ireland accusing other officials of indecent acts. Because of the accusations made by the members, Saul was brought to Dublin from London to testify for the Crown in the libel case that ensued against United Ireland. The allegations of the scandal came to involve high-ranking individuals from the Irish Parliament but “none of the evidence was published either in the Irish or English newspapers, and…all court records were destroyed in the Irish civil war” so no record of the allegations or Saul’s testimony survives except in brief allusions from his future testimony in the second, and much more widely reported, scandal five years later in London’s West End at a male brothel located at 19 Cleveland Street. It became known in the British media as the West End Scandal and is better known historically as the Cleveland Street Scandal. Like its Dublin Castle precursor, the Cleveland Street Scandal involved various high-ranking gentlemen caught up in male prostitution and Saul turned witness for the Crown testifying in a libel suit brought about by one of the alleged clients, Earl of Euston, against a newspaper that accused him of having patronized the brothel. This time, however, the testimony has been largely preserved and Saul is on record as admitting to living the “same kind of immoral life in London as he had previously done in Dublin”. The Earl of Euston won his libel suit even though Saul, an avowed prostitute at Cleveland Street and other bawdy houses, admitted to being party to a number of incriminating acts with the Earl. Saul’s openness in testifying to these acts left him open for prosecution, though he was never charged, much less prosecuted, to the chagrin of Henry Labouchere, of the Labouchere Amendment that convicted Wilde. It is entirely plausible that Saul’s admissions were so shocking and new that lawmakers were simply overwhelmed or felt that Saul, the common prostitute, would not make a good example of the new Criminal Law Amendment Act. This was, of course, left to the prosecution of Wilde five years later.

Mention is made of a ‘Mr. Dolling’. Nobody who knows his stuff would refer to the Irish and infamous Fr. Dollling of Mile End Road thus. He kept ‘open house’ for sailors and ‘rough lads’.

There is a reference, at the end, to an early form of hospice.

The author: I became intrigued by Jack.  Who was he?  Where did he come from?  How old was he really?  And what happened to him afterwards?  During the writing of Cleveland Street The Musical, I came across his infamous memoir, written eight years before the scandal broke, called The Sins of the Cities of the Plain.  It was basically pornography, but how much of it was pornography and how much autobiography?  Was any of it reliable?  And how did he come to write it, if indeed he did?  On page five he introduced himself to the reader.  Jack Saul of Lisle Street, Leicester Square.  Ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time.  Most people now associate the Jack Saul of The Sins of the Cities of the Plain with the Jack Saul of the Cleveland Street scandal.  But I was determined to find out for certain.  Could the name of the author possibly have been a pseudonym, adopted by some later rent boy at the Cleveland Street trial who did not want his real name known?  Many people involved in selling sex used aliases.  Saul never revealed his age, or address, or anything about himself other than that he had a mother in Ireland.  After stepping out of the dock, he vanished, never to be heard of again.

My fascination with Jack was re-kindled when I wrote the musical Fanny and Stella, The Shocking True Story.  This was about the Victorian transvestites Boulton and Park, otherwise known as Fanny and Stella, who were put on trial in 1871 for conspiracy to commit sodomy.  Jack wrote about them in The Sins of the Cities of the Plain, ten years after the event.  He had known them intimately and described riotous sexual encounters with them.  He knew Boulton’s lover and ‘husband’ Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, and described being taken to a garden party by Lord Arthur where he was briefly introduced to the Prince of Wales.   Infact, Jack was the first person, other than the newspapers, to write about Boulton and Park.  Jack would go on to meet a number of aristocrats in his ‘professional’ life.

Using my skills as a genealogist, and putting together all that I knew about Jack Saul from the existing records, I determined to track down the real person.  This took me to Ireland, from the east coast to the west coast, from Dublin and the gentle slopes of the Wicklow mountains to the wilds of County Galway.  Jack Saul may have been an enigma, a mystery, but he did leave one or two footprints in the sand, clues to who he really was and where he came from.  And just as importantly, what happened to him.  The answers reveal much that is new about his part in the Cleveland Street affair and throw a new light on his involvement with the writing of The Sins of the Cities of the Plain.

Quotations:

The clients of the brothel at 19 Cleveland Street included Members of Parliament and the House of Lords, wealthy bankers, high-ranking figures in the military, and very possibly the grandson of Queen Victoria and Heir Presumptive to the throne, Prince Albert Victor Edward, Duke of Clarence. Prince Eddy’s role was never proven, but the merest hint of the involvement of the son of the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne elevated the affair into the major sex scandal of Victoria’s reign.

The other factor, which made the brothel infamous, was that telegraph messenger boys from the General Post Office were recruited to sell their bodies to supplement their wages.

That case was the first in a twenty-five year period of Victoria’s reign, which culminated in the trial of Oscar Wilde and his imprisonment in Reading Gaol. Between them, in the course of that quarter century, lay the so-called Dublin felonies, during which a number of men had their lives laid bare and ruined

Jack’s story is also the story of Charles Hammond, with whose life his became inextricably intertwined, the wily, unscrupulous, money-grabbing pimp and brothel owner about whom it is impossible to say anything very kind. Except perhaps that he too, like Jack, had a family he loved and was a survivor. Many monstrous men love their families. Had he lived today Hammond would have been branded a paedophile. His crimes however were of their time and while it is no excuse to say that in Victorian London child prostitution was rife, he was certainly not the most guilty of the guilty. Which is more and landed gentry who used his services.

 

Nothing much, it seems, changes. At the time of writing, the British media is obsessed with the subject of VIP sexual abuse of minors.

for research purposes, I had pho­tocopied a police statement signed by Jack from our own National Archives, and subsequently filed it away. I still had it. I dug it out and looked at Jack’s signature. The signatures on the police statement and the much later householder’s census form were unmistakably those of the same person

James took care with the horse. The hooves tended to slide on the paving stones between the tramlines, which the Tramways Company once spread with sand in the days when they were horse-pulled. Since electrical traction had been introduced, the company had neglected the roads. The jarveys who drove the horse-drawn cabs were the casualties of that neglect. There had been numerous court cases involving injuries to horse and driver, but the Dublin roads remained in a dreadful condition.

At Harold’s Cross, Jack Saul had plenty of time now to look back on a life that had been described in court as one of ‘infamy’. He knew that in the great reckoning — he had been a Catholic all his life if not a good one ­he hadn’t been completely bad, even if his family con­sidered him to be so. He had at least done one good thing, had stood up to the establishment and to the foreign occupier of his country of Ireland no less, in order to prevent an injustice. Was one good thing enough to balance the books?

Jack’s parents could not afford a doctor. Such gentle­men were expensive and indeed beyond the pockets of most slum dwellers. The stigma of poverty was attached to those who were forced to attend the infir­mary, and many used it as a last resort. Everyone became their own chemist, mothers and aunts and grans in particular dispensing homemade ointments and herbal medicines.

It was a Trojan undertaking for a family to lift itself out of the Dublin slums, and it took much more than the money earned by a cabdriver to do it. The most it anyone could hope for was a change of address, which frequently meant flitting from one hovel to another, often with the purpose of escaping a grasping landlord and escaping a demand for rent.

Grafton Street itself was like a lady in a beautiful skirt. Lift the hem and the vermin and filth were just inches from her dainty feet.

There was a system of National Schools in Ireland decades before they appeared in England. Jack’s educa­tion was strictly denominational. The State had created them in the hope that they would unite Catholic and Protestant children, but by the time Jack went to school (possibly the one in Mill Street) they had become, after strong intervention by the respective churches, strictly segregated. No Irish was taught. Jack learned English, and anyway, it was the language that you needed if you ever decided to emigrate, as hundreds of thousands did.

As a Catholic Jack was taught about Heaven and Purgatory. It did not matter how poor people were or how grim the living conditions, there was always a picture or a small statue of Our Lady lit by a votive candle in the corner of the room. Jack knelt down and prayed that someone so young as William might go straight to Heaven, for how could the soul of his little brother not be cleansed enough of sin so that he might go immediately to Heaven and sit with the angels? And while God and the Virgin were at it, could he please have another brother instead of more sisters?

His prayers were answered nine months later when James was born. Like Jack, James would survive into manhood. From an early age, Jack was raised with a second brother, Edward. There appears to be no baptism at Duke Lane for Edward Saul. He may have been adopted, though there was no official adoption in those days. When relatives or close neighbours died and young children were left orphaned, they would often be taken in by other members of the family.

What Jack didn’t see were the ravaged bodies of young abandoned country girls, thrown out of their families because of unwanted pregnancies, who would end up in the notorious Lock Hospital dying of venereal disease, some reputedly smothered to death out of kindness by nurses when they were past all hope. What price a wealthy admirer then? Of wealth in Dublin, Jack glimpsed a great deal. But it was all Protestant wealth. As a Catholic boy growing up he was made acutely aware of being a second-class citizen.

intercourse itself carried a penalty of life imprisonment, which in real terms meant a period of incarceration for not less than ten years. So foreplay was okay, oral inter­course had been deemed not to constitute buggery, but any movement towards anal intercourse could be inter­preted as attempted buggery, which was also a crime.

The taboo against such social classes mixing was almost as great as that against homosexual acts, if not actually greater…. What his parents would think of him even stalking to a soldier, seen as a tool of the British occupa­tion of their country, let alone becoming romantically involved with one, he didn’t care to think about.

The loss of the breadwinner was the worst thing that could happen to a family. There was no pension, no insurance. Widows were expected to work if their husbands died and that meant only one thing — charring or taking in laundry. There were no jobs better than that for a forty-year-old woman who could neither read nor write.

Jack’s new friend did not want a depressing tale of boys going hungry on the streets, bodies in dark alleyways, encountering violence, catching disease, visiting hospitals for doses of mercury. It wasn’t to be a story of raw survival shortened lives…. There is no hint of Irish famine here or potato blight. Everyone in the farm of Jack’s imagination is plump and well fed and monstrously virile.

 

They went to a Dublin clergyman they knew, a Mr Dolling, who was working in the East End of London helping the poor of Mile End and begged him to give them the money to go home. Mr Dolling knew nothing of their circumstances. He gave them the money and they escaped briefly

The reader from another planet, assuming he had learned English, might have thought it was a criminal offence to ride around in cabs, visit botanic gardens, play music, buy presents, go to balls, write letters and act in amateur dramatics. He might have come to the conclusion that to wear a check suit was an indication of guilt. Thirteen years earlier, at the trial of Boulton and Park, while The Times duly told its readers that certain evidence was unfit to print, Reynolds News was not afraid to refer to dilated anuses and the insertion of foreign bodies into those orifices.

Medical examinations in such cases were fraught with controversy, and there were some very weird deeply held convictions. (A doctor in the Boulton and Park case had stated that abnormal penis size was indicative of sodomitical activities, and given evidence in court that their sphincters were much dilated

James was not quite old enough to make sense of the exotic, effeminate Jack with his theatrical airs who had disgraced the family by ending up in court twice and who admitted to being a sodomite and a criminal, who moved within outlawed circles in London, who slept with soldiers and sold his body for money. Brother

Jack was truly beyond the pale.

Edward was old enough. The money Jack sent ho in regular postal orders was tainted, and he knew it.

As for Eliza Saul, mothers are, after all, mothers a Jack was possibly still the good Irish son who had j fallen in with the wrong people. He would find a job in London, another position as a valet in a respectable house, mend his ways and get married.

The Crown simply didn’t have the stomach to see eminent, respectable citizens and army officers given life sentences for such unmentionable crimes.

In the end, an elderly grocer and two lowly brothel keepers had received prison sentences while the more eminently respectable Captain Kirwan, Gustavus Cornwall and Surgeon Major Fernandez walked free.

Heat and light came from a single candle. Most of the time prisoners just sat in the cold and dark. A visit to Kilmainham Gaol today is a sobering experience that makes one feel almost ashamed to be British.

though it wouldn’t stop Jack giving his name to the police.

One of the more bizarre characters who drifted in and out of the house was The ‘Reverend’ George Daniel Veck, forty years old and the son of a publican from Alverstoke in Hampshire. Veck was not there to give the boys religious instruction. Far from it. He had been a telegraph clerk with the Eastern District Post Office until he was sacked for improper conduct with messen­gers. He had then become a student of theology, or at least professed to have been one, though the descrip­tion may well have been as fanciful as the title Reverend. As far as anyone knew, he had never taken holy orders.

Dressing as a man of the cloth gave him power, and limitless opportunities to pick wayward youths off the street to give them a bed for the night. He anticipated the notorious Roger Deakes, the self-styled Bishop of Rochester, who decades later in the ‘sixties was part of a gang who collected runaway boys at railway stations, recounted in the book Johnny Come Home.

There was always a room for Mr Veck and a youth at 19 Cleveland Street.

Hammond had met Veck in Gravesend where the latter had run a hotel and tavern, the Terrace, just a few yards up the hill from the pub outside which Hammond’s father had drowned. Veck’s charm had worked on Hammond’s mother and brother Ted, where he was a welcome guest. Who would not welcome a man of such religious convictions? Unfortunately his convictions did not run to paying what he owed. His house in south London had been repossessed after The Midland Railway Company who owned the property threw him out and took him to court for arrears of rent. He also absconded from Gravesend, for non-payment of rates.

But the Lord looked after those who looked after themselves. At Cleveland Street, Veck became inordinately fond of the young GPO clerk Henry Newlove and charmed his way into his home to meet his mother. It might not be an exaggeration to say that he fell madly in love with him.

Mrs Newlove was delighted that her son, already in la coveted position with the Post Office, should be keeping company with a man of the church. What could possibly go wrong with such a friendship? It could only be to Henry’s good. The boy had been without a father almost since the time he was born, and I she had worried about the influences on his life. She need not have. Veck became such a regular caller at the house that Mrs Newlove began to recognise his knock and would answer the door instantly before immediately putting the kettle on.

The Duke made it clear that he did not indulge in sodomy, at least with young men. That was no problem. Not everyone was a sodomite, as Jack from experience well knew, though the popular conception regarding men who had sex with other men was that they were. The same misconception holds true today.

What the Duke wanted was foreplay. Jack undressed, lay on the silk sheets, and duly obliged

It would be many years before the law caught up with Andrew Grant, but at some point in his illustrious criminal career he lost an eye, which was presumably put out by somebody. For the rest of his life, he wore an artifi­cial eye in the right socket and a scar on the right side of his nose. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

Abberline at this point must have realised that this s a case which could elevate his reputation after drubbing it had got during the hunt for Jack the pper. For here were real names, real identities, no fleeting chimeras around the back alleys of Whitechapel but men of flesh and blood who had addresses. And pretty respectable addresses too.

Lord Salisbury. Such matter wouldn’t normally bother the head of state, but with names like Lord Arthur Somerset and his links to the Royal Family, one couldn’t be too careful.

Peers of the realm, Members of Parliament, high-ranking members of the military establishment ­all were involved. Abberline was not too far off retire­ment. Would this make his career or break it? It was a serious consideration.

Jack was a walking Debrett’s.

the initials PAV might of interest…. He realised of course that PAV stood for Prince Albert Victor.

The letter mentioning PAV resides in the files of the Director of Public Prosecutions kept at the National Archives in Kew. DPP 1/95/1-7

Just to make matters quite plain and to give them the Royal seal of approval, the Prince of Wales wrote Lord Salisbury the Prime Minister expressing his great satisfaction with the way things had been handled.

The editor desperately needed someone to help him in his defence, which was to be one of justification. Parke was intending to say that essentially the libel as true and that Lord Euston had been a visitor to 19 Cleveland Street, as the newspaper had implied. Jack was someone who had actually taken his Lordship back to the brothel and had sex with him. Would Jack get up in court and say so? Or put another way, would Jack stand up in court and admit to crimes that might end up in him going to prison himself?

Jack said he would do it. They had something in common, Jack and Mr Parke. The unlucky young editor had been screwing the establishment just a few months. Jack had been doing it for years.

But Jack, while having Oscar’s bravery and some of his vanity, did not have his wit and self-assurance. He felt morally obliged to talk of his life of shame, to agree with the makers of the law that their intimacy was criminal. As he truly knew and believed it was.

`No proceedings should at present be commenced against Saul. As regards perjury, I see no means by which sufficient evidence can be produced to prove the offence of perjury. As regards sodomy, it would be both unprofitable and in my opinion improper to try Saul for the offence, the only evidence against him being his  own confession contained in his statement.’ Unprofitable. Indeed it was. Improper. Of course it would be. Nobody wanted to sully their hands any further with this dreadful business. No one knew what else he might say in court in his defence.

An editorial in Labouchere’s Truth demonstrated just how lucky Jack had been. It was taken up verbatim by number of provincial papers and was unflatteringly headed, THE “CREATURE” SAUL

To be trusted again was important to Jack after what he had been through. No one ever officially informed him that he was not to be prosecuted after giving his evidence in the Parke trial. As far as he knew, it was still hanging over him.

The Attorney General had written that at present no proceedings should be commenced. Had Jack known, it would have concerned him even more. The police had been severely criticised for letting him carry on unmo­lested picking up men around the West End. Inspector Abberline had been mauled for not acting on his state­ment. At any moment, now that the dust had settled, the police could come for him. There were scores of people who would not bat an eyelid at giving evidence against Jack if it meant saving their own skins.

Jack worked, and waited. Perhaps if they came now they would find him in a respectable place with respect­able people, just like Mr Violet had been. Jack always wanted to be among respectable people.

He was also claiming to be thirty-two whereas he was actually forty-three. While vanity obviously once again played a part, the Irish traditionally used the Government census as a way of getting one over their English rulers by lying through their teeth every opportunity.

The Sisters knew how the dying wanted to die. They could not be treated as ordinary patients but had to have a better diet than would be offered in any hospital. Tubercular patients tended to have increased appetites so the food bill was high. Charitable bequests made up a substantial portion of their funds.

Jack was well fed for the remaining weeks of his life. (Which would probably have annoyed hanging Judge Hawkins if he had known). The ward into which Jack

was placed was kept as cheery as possible by the Sisters. The four poster beds were covered by pink and white dimity curtains, and there was an open fire with a singing kettle for constant hot water and soothing drinks at any time of the day. One nun with one maid ran each ward.

When not in bed, Jack had the use of a large sitting room, and for fresh air — regarded as essential for tubercular patients — there was a balcony at the back of the hospice. In the grounds was a smoking pavilion. If one did not wish to smoke, one could walk in the rose garden.

Not all of the patients with whom Jack shared Our Lady’s Hospice were poor. Nor were they all Catholics, for the Sisters did not make any division between t religions. Protestants, doctors, solicitors, soldiers,

None of those mentioned in Jack’s statement or by Hammond’s boys were ever prosecuted. Of the occupants of the house, the self-styled Reverend George Daniel Veck was perhaps proof of the adage that God pays his debts without money. Although he lived to the ripest old age, it was certainly not the happiest. He became a doctor’s assistant but, by his late sixties, he was destitute, an inmate of St Marylebone Workhouse. Veck lingered on for another three decades until 1937 when he died ‘of no fixed abode’ and in extremely bad health at the age of ninety-eight.

There is no Jack Saul industry to erect a stone in Glasnevin Cemetery. The plot of neat, green grass across the Irish sea will likely remain such for a very long time, unvisited and largely unknown.

We lose touch with our past at our peril. Pendulums swing, and swing back again. What was a dreadful unmentionable sin then is no more, at least in the eyes of the law. Others see it differently. There will always be others.

In the course of his sins, Jack Saul undoubtedly gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. I only hope he got some in return.

There are two websites dedicated to his memory:

Victorian Pornography Part IV: Jack Saul

and specifically about this book

 

 

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The Sins of the Cities of the Plain by Jack Saul

Written 12 years before Teleny, The Sins of the Cities of the Plain purports to be the memoirs of Jack Saul, a young rentboy or “Mary-Ann”. In the book Saul is picked up on the street by a Mr. Cambon. After they have dinner, Chambon invites Saul to recount his life story.

While some have accepted it as a genuine account, it is more likely to be an early form of the non-fiction novel. It is certainly pornography and even praises pederasty.

John Saul, also known as Dublin Jack, certainly existed. Although he managed to by-pass involvement in the trial of Fanny and Stella, he featured in two of the other major gay sex scandals of the Victorian era, the Dublin Castle and Cleveland Street affairs. The Cleveland Street scandal involved telegraph boys engaging in extra-curricular activities and at one of the ensuing trials in which the Earl of Euston sued a newspaper editor for libel, Jack’s testimony against his lordship was so frank as to be deemed “not fit to print” by the Times. Not surprisingly the jury preferred the word of a peer of the realm over that of a self-confessed and very cocky rentboy and the editor got jailed. Jack was lucky to escape prosecution himself but perhaps this was because he knew too much about the sexual peccadilloes of those in high places. In his memoirs Jack seems to be having a whale of a time relieving toffs and aristos of £50 notes and enjoying a champagne lifestyle. But his testimony at the Cleveland Street trial, which took place about ten years after the publication of Sins, suggests a somewhat harsher reality – £8 from his punters in a good week and at the time of the trial a mere ten shillings a week pocket money from a detective agency (presumably for agreeing to spill the beans about Lord Euston) which he was sending to his mum in Ireland. By then Jack would have been about 36 and was perhaps starting to lose his boyish looks.

Gamahuche = To perform oral sex, especially cunnilingus

Quotations:

it appeared as if a tremendous length of sausage had been stuffed down along the thigh of his right leg’ and ‘was it natural or made up by some artificial means?’

“ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time.”

“On 19 August, the police burst into a house at 2 Howland Street just off the Tottenham Court Road, hoping to find George Daniel Veck. The self-proclaimed Reverend gentleman was not at home, but his ‘secretary’, seventeen-year-old George Barber, was lying in bed. Interrogated, Barber said that his employer was in Portsmouth, where Veck had probably been visiting his family. The police went to Waterloo Station and arrested Veck when he came off the train.

In his possession were various documents including letters from Algernon Allies, asking for money and mentioning a ‘Mr Brown’. This was the youth whom Lord Arthur Somerset had taken under his wing after the burglary at his club (or at the residence of Lord Colville of Culross, whichever one prefers) and put up at 19 Cleveland Street. Allies was much addicted to writing letters asking for money.”

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The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

TEOESet in Hallencourt in the Somme, a small and isolated factory town of 1,300 people where Louis grew up, the book is a stark tale of his life below the poverty line, punctuated by his father’s drunken violence – the rage of the humiliated working-class male: racism, homophobia and casual daily brutality.

Eddy Bellegueule (Louis’s real name, which means “beautiful face” in French) is an effeminate child; as a “faggot”, “queer”, “poof”, as he is regularly reminded, he is even worse than an “Arab”, “Jew” or “black”.

Another oft-repeated phrase – “just who do you think you are?” – serves to remind him who he is, where he comes from and where everyone assumes he is going. Instead, Bellegueule forges a new path, via a scholarship and one of France’s elite university schools, writes everything down and changes his name.

Its unemotional style is similar to Zola’s work, though the author claims not to have read him.

It’s non-stop misery, like Gypsy Boy. It’s vidid, powerful. The writing is violent and there is no escape for the reader. There’s no humour, c.f. Oranges are not the Only Fruit.

He suffers not for doing something but for being something and looking like something.

The shed scene is unbelievable: not because boys don’t get up to this but for the seeming enjoyment of a ten-year-old, getting an erection whilst being raped. However, he seems to have wanted this to happen. On p., 130 he speaks of repressed desire, relishes the smell of the older boys and leaps at the chance of wearing women’s clothes and jewellery.

We wondered why he didn’t avoid the bullies. Well, on p. 25 he says that he didn’t want others to see him being beaten up because they’d then know he was gay. On p. 136 he speaks of fear of retaliation.

It jumps about in time a bit. Then again, people with a traumatic past get confused about chronology.

The only black person in a racist village is seen as OK because different.

There’s a vivid and memorable description of his first orgasm.

Were they really that poor in the 1990s? More like the 1950s. And homophobia was much less marked in British schools then.

Is it novel or autobiography? Was it written too son after the event? Not enough perspective?

One chapter title quotes the King James Bible ‘Stait is the gate’. A postgrad student, of English no less, though this was about sexuality.

Who is Tristan at the end? Is he a positive to balance the book’s negative beginning?

The French title has a different nuance: Doing Away with Eddy.

TEOE2Quotations:

‘Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me. In truth, confronting my parents, my social class, its poverty, racism and brutality came second. From early on I provoked shame and even disgust from my family and others around me. The only option I had was to get away somehow. This book is an effort to understand all that.’

From my childhood I have no happy memories. I don’t mean to say that I never, in all those years, felt any happiness or joy. But suffering is all-consuming.”

“from my eye towards my lips, ready to enter my mouth”

“As far back as I can remember I can see my drunk father fighting with other drunk men leaving the café, breaking noses and teeth,”

“into a plastic supermarket bag” and swinging it against some cement edge “until the bag was filled with blood and the meowing had ceased”.

“the still-warm blood” “it’s the best, the blood you get from an animal right when it dies”.

“Every day I came back, as if we had an appointment, an unspoken contact . . . There was just one idea I held to: here, no one would see us, no one would know. I had to avoid being hit elsewhere, in the playground, in front of the others.”

[S]he was already standing frozen, unable to make the slightest sound or the smallest gesture . . . Her gaze never left mine; I don’t remember what that gaze held. Disgust perhaps, or anguish – I can no longer say.”

“Don’t you ever do that again . . . ”

“Wasting petrol for this theatre shit of yours, really why should I?” Yet he does drive him.

TEOE 3“On the day when the amount of the allowance at the start of the school year was raised, my father, with a joy we rarely saw because he usually played at being the man of the house who could not show his feelings, shouted: ‘Sunday, we’re going to the seaside.’ And indeed we went, six of us in a car big enough for five. I rode in the boot.

It dont make sense, when he says we should kill all the ragheads but then when he lived in the Midi his best mate was a raghead.”

He wasn’t embarrassed, he didn’t feel the violence the prosecutor was exercising, the class violence that had excluded him from the world of education, the violence that had, in the end, led him to the courtroom where he now stood. In fact he must have thought that the prosecutor was ridiculous. That he spoke like a faggot.

There’s a revealing interview with the author here.

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The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale – Gerard Reve

TEGerard Reve (1923-2006) is considered one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors, and was also the first openly gay writer in the country’s history. His 1947 debut The Evenings was chosen as one of the nation’s 10 favourite books by readers of a leading Dutch newspaper while the Society of Dutch Literature ranked it as the Netherlands’ best novel of all time. It’s been dubbed ‘one of the finest studies of youthful malaise ever written’

Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – finds life absurd and inexplicable. There is a lack of much to do after the War. Meeting friends, going to the cinema and dancing are the only options, if you have enough money. Otherwise there is sitting at home and listening to the radio. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.

This is the story of ten evenings in Frits’s life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city streets and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.

Some of our group found it quite boring –  but that’s the point! How do you write a book about boredom that isn’t boring? It was a page-turner because people wanted to see if the protagonist did something daring, like kill someone. Was his adolescence (he’s annoyed with and rude to his parents) delayed by war and occupation? Is the obsession with food a result of previous starvation and rationing?

It’s well-written. The descriptions of the weather are vivid. One person found it quite hypnotic.

Is his teasing s form of flirtation?

That the gay author is the same age as the protagonist and this being his first book, is there a suppressed gay element? For example., the bar upstairs where you have to ring a bell to get in – one assumes it is a casino but there’s dancing but only two women. Is it a clandestine gay bar?

He is obsessed with baldness.

Although not a churchgoer, he knows and quotes his bible.

The cover and feel of the book are pleasing.

All in all, people were pleased that they’d read it though one gave up half way through.

Maybe he should join a book group!

Quotations:

“I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is all”

This afternoon is perhaps worse than others,” he thought. “I have four hours to go till evening.”

“It is,” he thought, “only a quarter to three, but still this day will fill itself like any other.”

“If no one else says anything,” he thought, “I have no choice but to keep talking.”

“I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is all”

“‘All is lost,’” he thought, ‘everything is ruined. It’s ten past three.’”

“will be a day well spent.   This will be no wasted and profitless Sunday.”

Oh but you are becoming quite bald,” he tells one man. Listen Joop, without meaning to be nasty your scalp is really almost bare. It will not be long before you can count your hairs on the fingers of one hand… Do you count the hairs in your comb each morning? If you did you would see that there are more of them each day. Slowly but surely. I would be horrified to know that I was going bald. I would lose all desire to live. But please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to discourage you.

A loss,” he mumbled softly, “a dead loss.  How can it be?  A day squandered in its entirety.  Hallelujah.

A pity that I have to leave.”  “But where are you going?” his mother asked.  “Well,” he said, “we shall see.”  “So you don’t know where you’re going yet?” she asked, “but you say that you have to leave.”  “The one does not necessarily rule out the other,” Frits said.  “One may need to leave without having to go anywhere.  Those are the cases in which one must go away from somewhere.”  “Stay and have a nice cup of tea,” she said.

“What is the weather like?”  his mother asked.  “Normal,” Frits said, “not so very cold.  “When it’s cold like this,” she said, “I don’t much feel like leaving the house; father and I were planning to go out this evening to Annetje in Haarlem.”  “That’s true,” Frits said, “you told me this morning.”  “What’s it like outside now?” she asked, “is the wind very cold?”  “It’s blowing, but it’s not a cold wind,” Frits said.  “But what do you call cold?” she asked, “is it that humid cold?”  The air is moist,” Frits said, “but the wind is actually quite sultry.”
“Let’s go anyway,” his father said.

“‘The empty hours,’ he murmured, turning away”

“‘I just sit here and don’t do anything,’ he thought”.

Gritting his teeth he watched as the man speared three potatoes from the platter with his own fork. “That is unclean,” he thought, “a violation of every precept. But we stand powerless.”

I’m only waiting for them to hang themselves or beat each other to death. Or set the house on fire. For God’s sake, let it be that. So why hasn’t it happened yet ? But let us not despair. All things come to those who wait.

“The devil take me,” said Frits, “it is a delight to me each and every time. Those reports like: child killed by exploding grenade. Glorious. Deferred suffering from the war. That is always a joy. They always start of so cosily, those reports,” “the seven-year-old son,” he said in an impassive voice, “of the Karels family, agriculturalists in Breda, attempted on Wednesday afternoon to dismantle a small anti-aircraft shell with a claw hammer.”

“What an evening,” he thought, “what an evening. When is it going to end ?”

“There is no going back,” Frits thought. “Let us adopt an impassive or, if need be, even cheerful expression.”

Things take place around us. Yet we barely notice them. We have ears, but we hear not, eyes but do not see.

“I just wish I could figure out when you’re being serious”.

“‘Don’t pay him any mind,’ his father said, ‘he’s only blathering'”.

“‘And now the moment for tears has arrived,’ he thought. His eyes grew moist.” — breaking the hard shell of indifference he tries to maintain

“All in all, it is dreary,” he thought, “most dreary.”

“It is no disaster to be unhappy,” Frits thought, “but how discouraging must it be to know that there is nothing to pin the blame on, outside oneself ?”

“Help us, O eternal one, our God. See us in our distress. From the depths we call to you. Hideous.””

“Deliver me from baldness,” he said, pushing back his hair and examining the hairline. “It is a gruesome infliction.”

The Year is no more, I am alive, I breathe, and I move, so I live… whatever ordeals are yet to come, I am alive.

‘I just sit here and sit here and don’t do a thing,’ he thought. ‘The day’s half over.’ It was a quarter past twelve.

‘Why do I think that way?’ he thought then. ‘What right do I have to be so blasé?’

‘This day was empty,’ Frits thought, ‘I realize that.’

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