The Editor of RALPH RALPH:
I swear, you white people just can't tell. But you do write pretty good. Just like everyone else; but everyone else is not so dumb with culture.I'm 24, I just graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia and I'm a reporter. I swear I don't like computers for this very reason, but go ahead and take this info and send me what you got.What is with this Anglican font, you bloodless Brits? If you want to creep me out, mission almost accomplished. And your bard can't hold a candle to the narration of Dostoyevsky, that sweettoothed fascist. Yap, yap, yap. You UKers really don't know what a tongue is for in life. And ain't it damp all the time in that fog. Ugh!Do you have any of the pigmented peoples working under your proud aegis? Any of those earthy ones whose hair grows out and not down? How do you get a job with your firm?
P.S. If we don't look mean toothless white people will eat you alive.
And now I feel sick. But I don't care about that.--- R.M.
I was delighted to read your review of J. R. Ackerley, My Father and Myself. I would, however, direct your attention to a misleading remark in the discussion of Ackerley's sexuality. I read:
He was gay, but typical of 20s and 30s England --- it was a country that traditionally put gays in prison --- he was secretive, ashamed, and turned his shame into a bitter self-flagellation.
Now, the statement may be accurate for Ackerley himself. But the interjection that England traditionally put gays in prison is false. Until the mid-19th century buggery was punishable by death, but almost never enforced or prosecuted. In the mid-1880s, fueled by the Maiden Tribute affair, Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. For the most part it was designed to head off white-slavery prostitution, particularly that involving young girls.
In the midst of the debates a backbencher named Henry Labouchere inserted a provision that made indecency between men of any age, in public or in private punishable by one year's imprisonment. Another MP suggested raising the penalty to two years, and the motion was added without further discussion. Later, commenting on the Wilde trials, Labouchere wrote an editorial for his newsmagazine Truth in which he lied and said that he'd sought seven years imprisonment.)
But to the best of my knowledge, the rigorous enforcement of the Labouchere Amendment did not begin in earnest until the 1910s, when lots of people worried about homosexuals in the army, etc. By the 1920s, police began to scope out public lavatories and the situation was fully as bad as you suggest. But there was nothing that was traditional about the policing of homosexuality; rather, very much that was modern, recent and in its dubious way, sophisticated about the persecution Ackerley might have feared.
Thank you for bringing Ackerley back to life. For your pleasure, I've included in the postscript a short list of books that may shed additional light on the subject of homosexuality in early 20th-century Britain.--- Matthew Thrond
- Paul Robinson, Gay Lives. Comparative readings of American, French, British autobiographies by, you guessed it, gay men. Too heavy on summary for my taste, but quite accessible and often eloquent. This author, who is gay, teaches history at Stanford and also wrote on Ellis in The Modernization of Sex. Profile at http://www.stanfordalumni.org/mig/news_
- Richard Ellmann.Oscar Wilde. A very fine biography, possibly the only one on Wilde that is any good at all.
- Douglas Murray. Bosie. Good in parts, wonderful on Bosie's school days, but weak in context, uncritical and, on the subject of Lord Alfred's anti-Semitism, prone to whitewash.
- Havelock Ellis. Sexual Inversion. Something of a classic from the eminent sexologist, this book was co-written during the 1890s with J. Addington Symonds, who died before the Wilde trials. The Symonds essay, "A Problem in Greek Ethics," traces modern homosexuality back to Greek pederasty (possibly one of the first such explicit links); it also had been circulated privately throughout the 1880s.
- Montgomery Hyde. The Love that Dared Not Speak its Name. A rather Whiggish, but lucid and informed attempt to trace English legal attitudes toward homosexuality prior to the Wolfenden Committee's repor. He argues that the Wilde trial was the first real public test of the new official heterosexism, but that the Labouchere Amendment (supplanted in 1967 by the Sexual Offences Act).
- Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight. Great book, somewhat specialized vocabulary, but brilliant analysis of the London underground as it came to public view in the late 19th century. Good account of the Maiden Tribute, neglects homosexuality.
- Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, Vol. I. Obligatory for its thesis that the diagnosis of repression operates within the same set of (potentially dangerous) assumptions as the practice of repression. Not really historical in focus.