Apr. 27th, 2010

damned_colonial: The lamp outside 221B Baker St (221b)
[personal profile] damned_colonial

I created this community this morning after chatting with [personal profile] lotesse. We've been commiserating lately over the lack of serious discussion of queerness wrt the Sherlock Holmes canon (especially in academia or old-school Sherlockian circles), and we've both been posting about that sort of stuff on our own journals, so it seemed like a good opportunity to set up a community to encourage those sorts of discussions and give them a home.

I see this community as being somewhere that we can post thoughtful fannish meta, academic discussion, and everything in between. The community profile suggests some possible areas of discussion:

* history of homosexuality in the Holmesian era
* queer interpretations of the text
* reviews of related books/articles/etc
* close readings/recs/reviews of pastiches/fanworks in light of queer history/theory/etc
* investigations of gender/masculinity/etc in Sherlock Holmes
* discussions of eg. orientalism, colonialism, class or other related subjects/approaches

(Please feel free to pick apart that list, suggest other things to add to it, or whatever. It's just what I came up with on the spur of the moment.)

One thing I'd really love this community to do is build a bibliography/reading list/reviews of books, articles, etc that are relevant to Sherlock Holmes and queerness. To that end, I'm going to create a post just after this one where we can start doing that. If you make any other posts along those lines (book reviews/recs, that sort of thing) please tag them "bibliography".
damned_colonial: The lamp outside 221B Baker St (221b)
[personal profile] damned_colonial
This is a round-up post for suggested reading related to this community's subject matter.

Bibliography )

If you have suggestions for additions to the bibliography, please drop us a comment. The bibliography tag on this community is another place to look for book reviews and the like.
damned_colonial: Convicts in Sydney, being spoken to by a guard/soldier (damned colonial)
[personal profile] damned_colonial
Please feel free to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your interest in this community.

Speaking for myself... I identify as a fan and as an amateur history nerd. Most of my fandoms -- at least, those that I am most deeply involved in -- are historical fandoms, and I enjoy learning and thinking about the history of the periods in which they are set. When it comes to history, I lean most towards social history, especially women's history and queer history, and I'm fascinated by the similarities and differences between Britain and its colonies during the colonial period. As far as Sherlock Holmes is concerned, I read the books and enjoyed them years ago but didn't fall head-first into the fandom until the 2009 movie came out. Since then I have been immersing myself in reading every related thing I can find, especially about homosexual subculture in late-Victorian London. (Previously, my main historical fandoms centred around the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.) I don't have an academic background but I enjoy reading and discussing scholarly texts with smart, interested people, and I'm hoping this community will give me more opportunities to do that.
damned_colonial: Austen-esque young lady reading a book with ships in background, saying "I read history a little as a duty." (reading history)
[personal profile] damned_colonial
[ This is a partial repost of this post in my own DW last week. If you're interested, you might want to click on over there to read comments or whatever. ]

The book in question:

Matt Cook, "London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914", Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Amazon, Book Depository, Abebooks, Worldcat (public libraries), Google Books (partial).

My short rec:

If you are interested in Holmes slash, you need this book. It's a fairly short, very readable volume that is more or less the non-fiction companion to H/W. I dare you to read it and not go "oooh!" at some interesting fact every few pages.

[ excised a bunch of fannish rambling about the Sherlock Holmes movie, comparing it to the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" and why I liked both of them, which is at least partly to do with a "sense of place" ... ]

"London and the Culture of Homosexuality" is all about London-as-a-place and how one might navigate it if one were a homosexual man during Holmes's era. He talks a lot about physical/geographic places: Piccadilly, Cleveland Street, the East End, Covent Garden, the Embankment. He also talks about how, moving about those places, one might see signs and implications and choose to read them if one were interested in what they had to say.

Here's a passage which reached out and grabbed me (it's talking about the "unspeakable" crime of male/male sex, of course):

These spaces and bodies gained added importance in the newspapers since, as Cohen demonstrates, they stood in for mention of the sexual acts themselves. The newspaper reader often had to gather clues from details of place and appearance in order to discern the crime, which was often not made clear. Whilst the courts heard descriptions of sexual acts, the newspapers referred to "gross indecency" or "unnatural", "infamous" or "unnameable" offences. Sometimes references were even more oblique and the reader was left guessing what was at issue. In the 1912 case against John Hill and Robert Freeman it was unclear from press reports what they were saying to the men they approached in Charing Cross Road. Earlier in 1898 Robert Clibburn was convicted of blackmail and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, but the threats he issued to Charles Deck were only suggested by the fact that Deck was on the Embankment at night with an actor when he was approached, his fur coat stolen and money demanded for its return. Acute readers might have remembered Clibborn as one of hte men who attempted to blackmail Wilde, and deduced from this -- together with the implications of a night-time walk along the Embankment and the theatrical company -- the possible nature of the threats he used to extort money.

You see what I mean? (I dithered about whether to call out "gather clues" and "deduced" in the above passage or whether it was too obvious, but in case you're skimming, well, take it as pointed out.)

Speaking of newspapers, one of Cook's main sources is a scrapbook maintained by George Cecil Ives, an early gay rights campaigner. He read all kinds of newspapers and kept clippings of any report relating to homosexuality, much as Holmes himself read all the papers and kept "commonplace books" to help him in his investigations. (I'm not saying Holmes is based on Ives, as Ives was very secretive -- just that it's interesting that they operated the same way, especially in the context of the above quote from Cook about careful readings of news reports and what one could deduce from them.)

And on the subject of the Embankment (the scene of the above-mentioned blackmail attempt), it comes up repeatedly in Cook's book as a gay cruising ground, hence Cook's mention of "the implications of a night-time walk along the Embankment". Keeping that in mind, let me show you something from "The Five Orange Pips".

The client:

The man who entered was young, some two-and-twenty at the outside, well-groomed and trimly clad, with something of refinement and delicacy in his bearing.

He's in fear of his life. So Holmes says he'll take on the case, and will see the guy in the morning. He advises him to go straight home and to take care. In the morning, however, the newspaper brings the news that the man has been found drowned in the Thames. Holmes is upset.

“That hurts my pride, Watson,” he said at last. “It is a petty feeling, no doubt, but it hurts my pride. It becomes a personal matter with me now, and, if God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang. That he should come to me for help, and that I should send him away to his death—!” He sprang from his chair and paced about the room in uncontrollable agitation, with a flush upon his sallow cheeks and a nervous clasping and unclasping of his long thin hands.

“They must be cunning devils,” he exclaimed at last. “How could they have decoyed him down there? The Embankment is not on the direct line to the station. The bridge, no doubt, was too crowded, even on such a night, for their purpose. Well, Watson, we shall see who will win in the long run. I am going out now!”

(emphasis mine.)

If I were George Ives, reading that in the 1890s, I know what I would think.

There are other similar mentions in canon. I found a couple of them a while back when I was looking for something else and came across the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work on Google Books. An article about male prostitution in Victorian literature mentions:

Finally, in his mainstream Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle makes oblique references to two London scandals involving male prostitutes. Holmes -- now resonant of the classic fin de siecle homosexual aesthete -- asks his accomplice, Dr. Watson, to flee to the continent with him after Holmes almost dies in Vere Street, London, the site of the notorious scandal involving a male brothel named the White Swan. Although the Vere Street Coterie was convicted in 1810, before Queen Victoria ascended the throne, the scandal remained in the public consciousness throughout the nineteenth century. In another story, Holmes adopts a 14 year old "telegraph boy" as his valet, a reference that Conan Doyle's readers no doubt would have associated with the recent Cleveland Street Affair, when "telegraph boys" serviced aristocratic patrons and subsequently gave incriminating testimony.

(Notice how these scandals all seem to have the names of streets?) Anyway, the Cleveland Street scandal was huge news in 1890-1891, and everyone would have heard of it. Taking a telegraph boy as a valet would be like one of your friends saying his girlfriend used to be a White House intern.

It seems to me that the Holmes canon actually reads *gayer* if you happen to be familiar with London's late 19th century queer geography. There are bits of subtext there that we're not even noticing, unless we know the period (and the queer subculture) very well indeed.

Cook also talks, at length, about bohemianism, Oscar Wilde, and the stereotype of "the classic fin de siecle homosexual aesthete" as found in literature, discussed in court, and reported in the press. There's a lot about Dorian Gray (which, you may know, was written after ACD had dinner with Oscar Wilde -- see [personal profile] hradzka's awesome post about it for detail and a fun poem), and then it goes into talking about the Wilde trial and the way people conflated aestheticism and bohemianism with "gross indecency":

The Evening News labelled Wilde "one of the high priests of a school which attacks all the wholesome, manly, simple ideals of English life, and sets up false gods of decadent culture and intellectual debauchery."

Some of the things associated with "indecency" included: being clean-shaven (no beard or mustache), excessive particularity or unconventionality in dress, oriental interior decoration, sitting inside with the curtains shut, anything French, and the city -- London -- itself. Homosexual men were also thought to be particularly subject to neuraesthenia. Sound like anyone we know?

Now, I'm not saying Guy Ritchie didn't take his vision of Holmes, and of Holmes's London, a bit far. I'm not saying he didn't get things wrong. But... it resonates for me. I like my Holmes messy, dissolute, and thoroughly embedded in his city. If you do, too, you should read Cook's book.
damned_colonial: Convicts in Sydney, being spoken to by a guard/soldier (Default)
[personal profile] damned_colonial
Posts of note:

Welcome / mod post (a good place to discuss what this community is for)

Introductions post (feel free to introduce yourself there)

Bibliography of relevant works
lotesse: (holmes_secrets)
[personal profile] lotesse
I'm [personal profile] lotesse, feminist, geek, and Victorianist. Like [personal profile] damned_colonial, I don't have a terribly long history with Sherlock Holmes: I read some stories as a kid, didn't think much of them, and then saw the movie over Christmas. Since then I've also eaten the Granada series, which I think I like rather better than she does.

I'm currently finishing the first year of study towards a PhD in Victorian literature with a focus on gender issues, so it's been exciting having Holmes as a conduit between my fannish life and my academic one. I've been banging my head a bit against the Way Victorian Scholarship Deals With ACD, though!

I've been in and out of historical fandoms for a while, and I got my start in hobbitslash, which is pretty much alt!Edwardian, but this whole being able to use journal articles for slash porn thing is pretty new and exciting for me.
lotesse: (Holmes/Watson)
[personal profile] lotesse
-Barsham, Diana. Arthur Conan Doyle and the Meaning of Masculinity. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2000.

This ... is not entirely a recommendation. It's an interesting book; Barsham clearly has had contact with progressive ideas about gender and sexuality. It's mainly interesting for the glimpse it provides of just what exactly a non-queer reading of Sherlock Holmes looks like. Gender without the sexuality, if you will. Fascinatingly enough, she sees Holmes as some sort of Masculinity Fix-It Machine, repairing the excesses of masculine evil and feminized weakness in British society. Obviously, I disagree.

-Miller, D. A. The Novel and the Police. University of California Press, 1998.

This is ... also not quite a recommendation, though I think it's a much better book than Barsham's. But D.A. Miller articulates the theory that's come to really dominate non-Sherlockian criticism of the repressive relationship between detective fiction and social liberation or deviance. Very valid politically, but a bit depressing if you don't like your Holmes to be the Kyriarchal Avenger!

-Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

Showalter comes from the earlier parts of the feminist literary criticism movement, and so this book bears some traces of the various issues with second-wave theory. Most of the text was printed as articles in the 80s, so don't let the publication date fool you: this is definitely not 90s crit. It's a bit gender-essentialist and a bit kink-shy, but the work Showalter does connecting the various sexual and gendered shakeups at the end of the century make her more than worthwhile. Lots of stuff on theater, Wilde, 19th-century feminist movements, and intersections between sex & gender. Nothing directly on Sherlock Holmes, but so much good context.

-Weeks, Jeffrey. Inverts, Perverts, and Mary-Annes. Journal of Homosexuality 6.1 (1981): 113-134.

Older article, not directly regarding Holmes - but a fantastic rundown of the legal conditions of homosexuality, inversion, and prostitution in late Victorian England, esp. the Labouchere amendment.

-Wiltse, Ed. “'So Constant an Expectation': Sherlock Holmes and Seriality.” Narrative 6.2 (1998): 105-122.

This frood cites Henry Jenkins, proving himself to be a thoroughly excellent chap. The article draws some really cool connections between queerness, drug use, and serial fiction - Wiltse basically argues that serials refused to end properly, and so kept going in a sort of depraved addictiveness.

I also posted an anti-rec, with bonus bad quotes for Christopher Redmond's In Bed With Sherlock Holmes: Sexual Elements in Arthur Conan Doyle's Stories of The Great Detective a couple of days ago.
damned_colonial: Sherlock Holmes holding a small, ineffectual hammer. (holmes)
[personal profile] damned_colonial
So this might be a bit rambly, in which case I apologise in advance. Hopefully I can express myself at least sort of clearly.

One of the things I loved about the 2009 movie was Hans Zimmer's soundtrack. I found it atmospheric and interesting and very different from what one would expect, and I quickly downloaded it and have listened to it a lot over the last few months.

(ETA: if you haven't heard it, or don't recall it, and want to refresh, you can listen to previews on Amazon. It's also in the iTunes store with 30 second previews of each track. "Discombobulate" and "I never woke up in handcuffs before" are probably the best to listen to as examples of what's described below.)

Zimmer in interviews:

Holmes is such a quintessential English subject, but I didn't want to go over the Elgar ground, or the Vaughan Williams, or whatever... and I very consciously wrote with a Kurt Weill, Brechtian accent in the thing. [...] With Guy it was... Guy, what do you think of banjos? What do you think of Hungarian cimbalom?

We just talked about music that we liked, and somehow we got to Irish folk songs, and then I got to gypsy music, and suddenly we're talking about what was London like in those days? ... I believe Holmes is interested in other cultures, I think Holmes would be interested in how a gypsy violinist plays... Let's try and make music that's as quirky as the character, and as opinionated, and as outspoken... One thing that was important to me from the word go was to tell the audience, it's going to be different, this is not the Holmes you're used to. The first notes you hear are out of tune piano, out of tune Hungarian cimbalom, and a banjo.

So I find it interesting that Zimmer's really working the "outsider" vibe -- that Holmes, despite being English, has a soundtrack that is pan-European and non-orchestral and all about virtuosity and individualism rather than about fitting in and belonging.

It got me to thinking about Holmes's canonical French mother, and the fanon (I think originally propounded by Baring-Gould? it's described at length in his book "Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street" but it seems pretty widely accepted) that Sherlock Holmes spent a lot of his earlier life on the Continent. He certainly speaks many languages (eg. German in SCAN, and French of course, which was also shown in the movie) and knows his way around various parts of Europe (eg. the cases mentioned at the start of REIG).

It's also interesting that Zimmer talks about Weimar Berlin as a strong influence for the soundtrack, since the Weimar Republic was known for its sexual license and homosexual subculture. Berlin was known as a gay centre in Holmes's era too: looping back to my earlier post on Matt Cook's "London and the culture of homosexuality, 1885-1914", there's a lot of stuff in there about homosexual culture in cities like Berlin, Paris and Vienna; about the dominance of continental sexology (Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, Bloch, Krafft-Ebing, etc); and about Paris as the centre of fin-de-siecle decadence and the aesthetic movement that was so closely tied to Wilde and his circle. (Lest it seem that I'm ignoring Zimmer's comments about Irish folk music in favour of the Continent, Graham Robb points out (in "Strangers") that there was also a Victorian correlation between Ireland and sodomy: he writes, "it is remarkable that so many of the famous British sodomy scandals had an Irish connection," and gives a list of them, the most famous of course being Wilde.)

So to me, at any rate, the European-ness/non-Englishness of Zimmer's soundtrack doesn't just say "outsider" in a general way (though I'd love it for that alone), it also has some fairly strong queer overtones. Which is pretty much in keeping with the rest of the movie, really.

Anyway, I feel like I'm forever going on about how much I love Guy Ritchie's directorial choices, but I can't help but add the soundtrack to the list of things I love, for the way it helps flesh out Holmes's otherness.
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