[sticky entry] Sticky: Welcome to Queering Holmes

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
Entry tags:

Sherlock (BBC) thread

So, has everyone watched the BBC "Sherlock" that aired on Sunday night? Consider this your thread for discussing queer themes in it. Comments will undoubtedly contain spoilers!

(Speaking for myself, I'm halfway through it, and making high-pitched squeaking noises.)
oursin: Photograph of James Miranda Barry, c. 1850 (James Miranda Barry)
[personal profile] oursin2010-07-24 04:29 pm

PSA of possible interest

Perhaps relevant to the interests of this community:

Lad's Love: An Anthology of Uranian Poetry and Prose, Vols. I and II, Edited by Michael Matthew Kaylor, new from Valancourt Books:

These two volumes constitute the first substantial anthology of Uranian poetry and prose compiled since Men and Boys: An Anthology in 1924. It is a representative sampling of the diverse texts written by the English Uranians, ranging from William Johnson's Ionica (1858) to Samuel Elsworth Cottam's Cameos of Boyhood (1930). Forty-seven writers of Uranian poetry and prose have been included in the two volumes of this anthology. This anthology also includes a substantial new introduction by Michael Matthew Kaylor, editor of Valancourt's editions of Forrest Reid's The Garden God and Edward Perry Warren's A Defence of Uranian Love, as well as of the forthcoming edition of Reid's Tom Barber.

naraht: (Default)
[personal profile] naraht2010-07-19 09:44 am

Three useful books and one website

I have a bunch of books out of the library now so there's more where this came from...

Website: The Trials of Oscar Wilde
Includes some of Wilde's love letters, significant excerpts from his trials, and other resources.

A quote from his testimony in the first criminal trial:

G--What is the "Love that dare not speak its name"?

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

Interesting to note that Holmes/Watson *doesn't* quite fit his definition...

Merlin Holland. The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
Haven't read this yet but it's the full, uncensored transcript of the libel trial. Looks to be very useful.

Karl Beckson. London in the 1890s: A Cultural History.
Not an academic book but a good general guide to the major cultural and literary currents of the period. Includes chapters on socialism, prostitution, the New Woman, the cult of Wagner, the occult, and so on. Particularly relevant to this community's interests, there are also chapters on: Decadence, the Uranians, and Wilde's trials.

An interesting passage:

In the late 1880s and 1890s, there were many popular novels that, as one critic states, "featured male duos and trios acting as collective heroes," the response to an increasing sense among men that "their prowess [was] being threatened, rather than flattered, by women," who were increasingly asserting themselves. Such male companionships and solidarity were celebrated in King Solomon's Mines, Three Men in a Boat, A Study in Scarlet, Trilby and Dracula. Because of the Wilde trials, WT Stead feared that such emotional relationships between men would be suspected as homosexual. To Edward Carpenter [!], he wrote: "A few more cases like Oscar Wilde and we should find the freedom of comradeship now possible to men seriously impaired to the permanent detriment of the race."

Oliver S. Buckton. Secret Selves: Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography
Really fascinating book on how the practice of secrecy in writing can reveal what seems to be concealed and conceal what seems to be revealed. Chapters on Newman, Wilde, Symonds, Carpenter and (in an epilogue) Forster. Writers of first person Holmes/Watson could find this very useful in terms of thinking about how Victorian authors conceptualized and wrote about same-sex desire.

jm barrie = queer?

i watched Finding Neverland over the weekend

there's an unnamed character with only one scene, where he explains to barrie that everyone thinks barrie's relationship to the Davies boys is ... problematic

in the commentary, the film makers point out the character was meant to be conan doyle and then they try to defend barrie's moral uprightness by saying "he wasn't at all a pedophile, if anything, he was asexual"


anyone have more of a clue?

i'm interested in barrie's relationship with doyle

as well as potential interpretations of barrie as closeted queer rather than the stereotypical slander of pedophile

(and, if this post is inappropriate for this comm, please let me know. i check the rules and i'm hoping i made a proper choice)
starlady: Mary, Holmes and Watson at home in Baker Street (not impressed OT3)
[personal profile] starlady2010-06-06 09:56 pm
Entry tags:

Rec & review: Their Majesties' Bucketeers

As a follow up to [personal profile] spacefall's fandom books post, I'd like to rec (and hopefully discuss!) a fandom book that actually does manage to queer Holmes pretty thoroughly. By making Holmes a trilaterally symmetrical trisexual sentient crustacean, that is.

No, I'm not making this up. The book in question is Their Majesties' Bucketeers by L. Neil Smith, and I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to say that everyone in this community would probably find it fascinating if only for the Holmes AU aspects. It's pretty awesome on most levels: depending on your point of view, this book is either a science fiction novel depicting a society of trilaterally symmetrical trisexual sentient crustaceans in the rough equivalent to Britain's Edwardian period, or it's a professionally published Sherlock Holmes OT3 AU.

I first heard about this book from [personal profile] melannen, in this long post about subordinate Holmes canons, and all in all Smith does not disappoint (though I ought to warn for colonialism and libertarianism in the background). (The following text is c&p'd from my longer review of the book here, with some discussion of queer and transgender experiences in this setup in the comments.)

Our narrator is Mymy (Mymisiir Offe Woom, to give rher full name), the surdaughter of the Empire's first surmale surgeon; rhe aspires to follow in rher surfather's footsteps, and has elected to join Their Majesties' Bucketeers to train as a paracauterist to that end. Mymy is quite proud of rher achievements in joining the Bucketeers, and in being rher surfather's child: deservedly so, given the gender-based discrimination surmales confront daily and the barriers that rher family's upper-middle class insistence on "decency" also present.

In the Bucketeers Mymy meets Mav, a brilliant Senior Inquisitor who is beginning to devise not only crime scene investigation techniques but also the science of detection, though Mav (a two-thirds-caste ex-Air Navy officer who nonetheless enjoys an unassailable social position in Imperial society) clashes often with his superior officers's traditionalism. When Mav's old friend and teacher Srafen, the devisor of the theory of ascension, is murdered at a public lecture, Mav seizes the chance to put his theories and ideas about detection to the test, with Mymy's help. Along the way Mymy meets Mav's friend Vyssu, a true original who has come up from the capital's mean streets through an unbeatable combination of luck and ingenuity, and comes to value her for her own sake as well.

It's hugely interesting to see Smith redistribute the traits of the major canonical Conan Doyle characters (Holmes, Watson, Morstan, Adler) amongst his crustaceans; to take just one example it's Mav who has the limp, because he's the one who served in a colonial war, because females don't join the military, period, and surmales only serve in the medical branches. It's also hugely interesting to consider what the lamviin's trisexuality means, for society and for queerness; Smith does a decent job of teasing its repercussions out despite the book's brevity, but of course there's always more to say. In the end, of course, one can't help but draw comparisons with humanity, which is definitely part of the point.
oursin: Photograph of James Miranda Barry, c. 1850 (James Miranda Barry)
[personal profile] oursin2010-06-02 07:08 pm

A couple of links of possible relevance

An article on polari (which one feels Holmes would have been familiar with in its late C19th version, even if he didn't use it himself).

A digital version of John Addington Symonds' A Problem in Modern Ethics being an inquiry into the phenomenon of sexual inversion, addressed especially to Medical Psychologists and Jurists has recently been made available via Project Gutenberg, which has already done the same with A Problem in Greek Ethics, Being an inquiry into the phenomenon of sexual inversion. Sean Brady (author of Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain, 1861 - 1913) is said to be producing a critical edition of Symonds' essays on homosexuality, but I don't think this has yet appeared.

[personal profile] spacefall2010-05-26 12:00 am

Some Fannish Books

Following on from a trip OT on a previous thread, here are a few fannish books that touch on the subject of Holmes/Watson, sexuality, gender, etc...and I do mean 'touch' as mainstream fandom has been violently allergic to approaching the topic seriously. :p In no particular order...

Read more... )

As a relevant PS: one story considered part of the Holmes 'apocrypha' may be of interest. Doyle's "The Man With The Watches" makes only the most oblique reference to Holmes, but the mystery has a strong queer subtext for many readers. At a gay comics panel in 2008, David Shenton mentioned that it was one of the best gay stories he'd read recently. The story was written after The Final Problem, when Doyle had apparently 'killed' Holmes for good and all. Best described as 'bloody sad'.

A bit of fun...

On a lighter note in re: print publication of queer Holmesiana, please propose articles you would like to read, or which at least amuse you to contemplate. The more overblown and faux-academic the title, the better.

I'll kick it off with:

Worth a Wound: Penetration and Metaphor in the Holmes Canon

The small print: suggesting a title does not in any way obligate you, or any other person, to write the article in question.

Queering Holmes: The Book... Zine... Journal... Thingy.

When I started this community, it was because [personal profile] lotesse and I had been talking a lot about how frustrating it was not to find any books/journals/articles talking about the sorts of things we wanted to read about: Holmes and queerness and gender and subtext and context and yada yada. And as we were talking about it, we came up with the crackpot idea of starting our own Sherlockian Journal to talk about those issues, or maybe of trying to write something for Transformative Works and Cultures or talk them into doing a Sherlock Holmes issue, or... well, we didn't really know what, but something.

And then I remembered that my friend [personal profile] brainwane and her partner had done a project last year called Thoughtcrime Experiments. Basically they edited and self-published a short story anthology so that they would get to see the sorts of stuff they wanted in print. They wrote all about their process in an appendix to the book, with a step by step guide to doing a similar project yourself if you should want to.

We want to. But we weren't sure whether anyone else would think it was that good an idea or not, so I said, why don't we set up a DW community and see whether anyone else is interested in the queer aspects of Sherlock Holmes? Which we did, and here we are, and I think we can fairly safely say that people are interested.

So, now I guess I just wanted to raise the idea of a book/zine/journal/thingy on the same sort of subject area as this community, and using a similar process to the one outlined in the Thoughtcrime Experiments appendix linked above.

What do you think?
oursin: Photograph of James Miranda Barry, c. 1850 (James Miranda Barry)
[personal profile] oursin2010-05-21 09:59 pm

Science, medicine, sexual identity and sex reform in the later C19th

[personal profile] kindkit expressed an interest in hearing something about the medicalisation of homosexuality in the Victorian era, and I offered to oblige.

Thinking it over, I was not entirely sure that what was happening was medicalisation, because the vast majority of doctors Did Not Want To Know About Icky Sex Stuff of any description (as delineated in an article which is unfortunately not accessible online, L A Hall, '"The English Have Hot Water Bottles": the morganatic marriage between the British medical profession and sexology since William Acton' in Sexual knowledge, sexual science: the history of attitudes to sexuality, edited by Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich, Cambridge University Press, 1994).

True, some of them were approaching the subject of male homosexuality via e.g. forensic medicine, venereology and psychiatric practice. I find that Ivan Crozier's 'The Medical Construction of Homosexuality and its Relation to the Law in Nineteenth-Century England', Medical History, 45, 2001 is freely available via PubMed, and while I do find some of Crozier's work in this area a bit problematic, this is quite a useful contextualisation of the background to Havelock Ellis' work. (Crozier has recently published a critical edition of Ellis's Sexual Inversion. I haven't read the published version.)

However, I think a plausible case can be made that what was going on over the course of the C19th was an endeavour by men who identified as homosexual (or 'inverted' or 'Uranian') to use the resources of science and medicine to construct same-sex desire as a part of nature, a natural thing, rather than 'against nature' or an 'unnatural offence'.

There's a useful website on Karl Ulrichs, the pioneer of this approach.

For more on the thinking that was developing in continental Europe, see Harry Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature: Krafft-Ebing, Psychiatry and the Making of Sexual Identity, University of Chicago Press, 2000. Krafft-Ebing's famous or notorious Psychopathia Sexualis was available in English translation from the early 1890s. I can't recall whether either Watson or Holmes are said to be able to read German (although in Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Per Cent Solution, 1974, movie 1976, Watson takes Holmes to Vienna so that Freud can cure his cocaine habit, I'm not sure of the canonicity of Watson's acquaintance with cutting-edge Continental ideas): there were other works in German e.g. those of Albert Moll. Also some French works.

I would not think it entirely improbable that H&W could have got hold of John Addington Symonds' A Problem in Greek Ethics (1873/1883) and A Problem in Modern Ethics (1891) - although Symonds had these privately printed and disseminated them carefully they were rapidly pirated. Or Edward Carpenter's 1894 Homogenic Love: and its Place in a Free Society (which was left out when the series of essays of which it was part was published as Love's Coming of Age, 1896, though added back into later editions). But these were men of letters/social reformers, even if they were using various scientific studies and theories to support their arguments.

I think H&W might very well have acquired a copy of Havelock Ellis's Sexual Inversion, 1897, possibly even the original edition with Symonds as co-author, which his executors had pulled from sale and destroyed and rewritten to keep Symonds' name out of it out of respect for his widow and children. Ellis was a doctor, but had qualified essentially to give himself cred when researching the psychology of sex, which he considered his life's work. He had a massive knowledge of the contemporary and historical literature on the subject.

What all these were about was toleration and acceptance for the wide diversity of human emotions and affections. I.e not fixing, not curing, but destigmatising and decriminalising. (Krafft-Ebing was a signatory to the petition to repeal the relevant section of the German Penal Code.)

I'm not sure anyone's looked at this in much detail, but my own feeling is that the upsurge of medical attempts to 'cure', whether by hypnosis, hormone treatments, various psychiatric therapies, etc, really only starts manifesting in the C20th, possibly not even until after the Great War (I don't think courts were recommending psychiatric evaluation/treatment until maybe the 1930s, and then only sporadically). It's a while since I've read Forster's Maurice, but as I recollect his family GP totally poohpoohs the idea that a chap like Maurice could be 'an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort' and tells him to go and have a prostitute (this was certainly one thing that was anecdotally prescribed). Though I think he also sees a hypnotist, without much success?

I hope this is some help.

[personal profile] spacefall2010-05-19 06:15 am
Entry tags:

Book Rec: Slumming by Seth Koven + two more

One thing that fascinates me about Holmes is his sometimes cracky use of disguise, and the ease with which he slips across social boundaries. By transforming from professional consultant to idler, opium addict or clergyman, he manages to penetrate almost every class of London society. Probably the most famous of his disguises are those in which Holmes adopts a 'lower class' role to undo criminals who would consider themselves his betters. Satisfying ... though perhaps more in a spirit of practicality than pure egalitarianism, if his seduction of Agatha in CHAS is anything to go by. :p


Slumming : sexual and social politics in Victorian London by Seth Koven
Read more... )
Entry tags:

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

(How much am I loving these discussion threads? THIS MUCH! If you have any more ideas for interesting discussion topics, post them in the discussion prompt gathering thread.)

This is a spin-off discussion that came up in comments on the H/W pairing as type or trope post from a week or so back. You can see the comment thread here.

[personal profile] ingridmatthews wrote:

Book!Canon Watson admits that he is of 'a Bohemian mind', considering himself an writer/artist first, doctor/soldier/husband second. His life with Holmes is considered an exercise in classic Bohemianism, at least to Watson. His attachment to Holmes is partly due to his rejection of rigid male roles, making him queerly delicious.


To be a classic Victorian Bohemian is to place oneself outside of conventions that are supposed to control your life from the moment of waking to what you wear to sleep. For him to self-identify as one is a big thing, at least from my understanding of the movement, which stresses independent thought, rejection of social mores and stress on intellectual arts over appearances (which were *everything* to a Victorian).

Holmes is described as a perfect Bohemian because his use of his vast intellect is his art. (Being a big old drug addict, social disaster and slob probably added to the effect. ;) Watson may be more concerned than Holmes about his standing in society, but like wrabbit said above, there is a little something about him that simply doesn't fit into the Victorian puzzle.

What do we know about bohemianism in the late 19th century? Can anyone recommend things to read on the subject? (I'll mention Cook's "London and the Subculture of Homosexuality", which has a couple of chapters on on Wilde, decadence, aestheticism, bohemianism, Paris, etc.)

To what extent did Holmes and/or Watson actually fit the bohemian stereotype? Does their bohemianism signal queerness? Is that something that readers of the time would have picked up on (think of the publicity around the Wilde trials)? Is Holmes's bohemianism/outsiderness important to his role as detective? And what on earth does Mrs Hudson think?


Changes in Sherlock Holmes fandom over time

So, this came up in a sub-thread on the asexuality post, and was threatening to get pretty tangential/deraily, so I thought it was worth creating a new post for it.

Sherlock Holmes fandom goes back a very long way, of course. And people have been writing H/W slash for a long time, too. Now we have this new movie, there's a whole new generation coming to the fandom who don't have experience with the older phases of the fandom, and while there is a lot of interesting stuff coming out of the newer fans' engagement with the canon, there are also older fans shaking their walking sticks at those kids on their lawn.

Personally, I'm fascinated by older Sherlock Holmes fandom even if I don't feel very much a part of it. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who was involved with Holmes fandom in its earlier/older incarnations -- any of the Sherlockian societies, or zine-based slash fandom, or mailing lists, or even LJ/DW fandom prior to the 2009 movie -- about your experiences and the changes you've seen.

And to bring it round to the subject of this comm, I'm especially interested in talking about how different groups or generations of Sherlock Holmes have addressed his (potential) queerness. Obviously it's changed over time -- we can have another go-round on the Watson Was a Woman thing and whether or not Stout was really trying to point out Holmes and Watson's queerness, if you like, and if anyone has any other pointers to older Sherlockiana on gender/sexuality issues I would love to know about them!

As for fic-writing fandom, I know when I read older H/W slash online I find it has a different aesthetic and different tropes than modern LJ/DW-centred slash fandom commonly uses. We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other is part of it, for sure. I feel like slash fandom has really changed the way we address homosexuality in recent years, based on the fic I've read. We seem much more likely to show our characters having had previous homosexual experiences, or being happily and openly bisexual, or being connected to a homosexual subculture, or being non-heteronormative in other ways (genderqueer/transgendered, asexual, kinky, etc.) At least, I *think* we're more likely to do that... am I missing stuff from the older fic, and if so, where can I find the fic that talks about these things? And, is this happening because newer generations of fans are more likely to be queer, more likely to be out as queer, more likely to be used to discussing and dissecting queerness online?

Bringing in another post that I found this morning (via), by [personal profile] obsession_inc on the subjection of "Affirmational" vs "Transformational" fandom, do you think Holmes fandom is shifting from affirmational to transformational, and is that a generational shift? (I like obsession_inc's observation that "fixing" the story so that our beloved characters have sex is one of the most common forms of transformation.) I found myself pointing at obsession_inc's post and saying YES THIS and I know I'm going to be pointing to it a lot in future because it resonates very strongly with me, and I'm definitely feeling that resonance in what I see of Sherlock Holmes fandom in its various incarnations.

What do you think?

ETA: I know we're getting linked pretty regularly in LJ comms like [livejournal.com profile] holmesian_news, so if anyone comes in from there and would like a DW account to comment on posts here (or post your own), here are three invite codes:

ilthit: (apples are red)
[personal profile] ilthit2010-05-14 10:11 am
Entry tags:

Irene Adler's crossdressing and - bisexuality?

This post is based on a suggestion in the discussion prompt gathering thread, which is still taking suggestions for new discussions if you have them.

Okay, here goes.

[personal profile] marshtide said:

Kind of following on from the general stuff about queer womanhood that's being discussed at the moment, I'd love some more specific discussion of Irene Adler as a possible bisexual character.

Some commenting re: sexual preference vs gender expression and "sex inversion" followed. The thread is here.

I'm better at making associations and connections than conclusions, but here are some subjects I'd love to see discussed:

1) If Victorian sexologists conflated of sexuality and gender, i.e., a woman who wants women is like a man, would that also work as a woman who is like a man necessarily wanting women? There were popular stories of women dressing up as boys for practical reasons or to follow their male lovers, like Viola in Twelfth Night, Fidelio and Sweet Polly Oliver, but on the other hand people would also be aware of the legend of the bisexual La Maupin for example. Also see point #3. 

2) Do you think Irene Adler may have been inspired by scandalous 19th century crossdressing women? I'm thinking of George Sand. 

3) Have some caricatures of women's rights activists wearing trousers and "reducing" their husbands to the role of the wife. 

4) Pornographers were certainly aware of woman-on-woman sex acts, and I vaguely remember (sorry, I have not prepared this post) reading an excerpt of a courtesan advising a recruit to playfully put on a man's jacket and hat to arouse her client. I've also seen an erotic drawing of a woman in trousers with her excited male lover saying "Miss, may I help you with your trousers?" and the cover of a turn of the century magazine where a beaming man is surrounded by a crowd of women in jackets and trousers, boasting "bifurcated girls". That was in The History of Girly Magazines, and the text claimed that women in trousers were quite naughty because it clearly showed that women had legs. Hum. So, does anyone know if there was a lesbian subculture that engaged in crossdressing or if this would have been more of a game for male-servicing brothels? What do you think Doyle was referencing with the character? 

5) Could Irene or her fellow female (real and imagined) gender rebels from the era compare to modern genderqueer identities? There's no way of knowing which of the many "women" caught "dressing like a man" throughout the history would now be identified as trans men, and how many were in it for the benefits, or could fall into some other category of trans. 

In other words, do you think her crossdressing closer related to "sex inversion" and lesbianism, female liberation, gender rebellion or straight titillation - or other, or all of the above? 

Entry tags:

Asexual Holmes?

This post is based on a suggestion in the discussion prompt gathering thread, which is still taking suggestions for new discussions if you have them.

[personal profile] melannen suggested:

How about Holmes as asexual, in the context of queer readings of Holmes, modern asexual identities, and the ways previous commentators have used asexuality to refute his queerness?

I don't really have much to add to that, other than a resounding YES. There's a lot to talk about here -- Holmes's behaviour in canon, how we interpret it, whether asexuality is a form of queerness in itself, the co-existence of asexuality with hetero- or homo-romanticism. [personal profile] ilthit had some comments in the suggestions thread, here, which are also worth quoting:

I've been trying to write Holmes/Watson fic and I'm finding it extremely difficult, because any way I play it Holmes turns out to be an asexual. Even if we assume he's asexual and aromantic by choice, having rejected sensuality on intellectual grounds, that doesn't make his asexuality any less legit.

I got no further than positing Holmes and Watson as a couple in love that doesn't have sex or talk about being in love, having it merely tacitly understood, with Holmes as a repressed bisexual rather than naturally asexual and Watson as a healthy sensualist who used to consider himself heteroromantic (though he wouldn't use that word of course) before Holmes.

Do you agree?

If you're interested in finding out more about modern asexual identities, AVEN is a good place to start. There's also [community profile] asexual_fandom here on DW.
oursin: Photograph of James Miranda Barry, c. 1850 (James Miranda Barry)
[personal profile] oursin2010-05-11 08:27 am
Entry tags:

Queer womanhood in the late C19th

(Forgot to mention, this is in response to suggestions on the Discussion Prompt Thread.)

What did it mean for a woman or women to be 'queer' in late C19th Britain? Given that it was seen as natural and normal and even admirable for women in a largely homosocial world to have deep and romantically expressed devotions to other women and an appreciation of feminine charms?

The 'New Woman' - moving out of that world (sometimes on a bicycle, sometimes not). Seeking new transformed relationships with men. E.g. Olive Schreiner, the South African novelist, walking the streets of London at night having passionate arguments about philosophy and politics with her male friends, and nearly getting arrested as a prostitute on at least one occasion. Edith Lanchester, who did a science degree at University College London, was a member of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (and at one point worked as Eleanor Marx's secretary), and decided to live in free union with a male comrade. Her middle class professional family, possibly as much appalled by the fact that he was a railway clerk as by the living in sin aspect, promptly had her certified as insane and taken to The Priory (whence, happy ending, she was soon released through prompt and effective action by her comrades). The vociferous campaigners against the double standard of sexual morality ('these women are worse than prostitutes'). The women who thought that they should be informed about the existence of and the dangers posed by sexually transmitted diseases. Women who were birth control advocates (hai, Annie Besant!) Etc etc. In context, in Dracula, Mina is perhaps queerer for being a self-supporting career woman with workplace skills than for having a devoted female friendship with Lucy.

However, there were women who had emotions towards other women and were involved in relationships that would, I think, be on the lesbian rather than the devoted friendship end of the spectrum. Specific individuals: Mary Benson (wife of Edward Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury); Amy Levy, poet and novelist; Vernon Lee, pseudonym of Violet Paget, writer on aesthetics and art history; 'Michael Field' (Katherine Harris Bradley) and her niece and ward Edith Emma Cooper), collaborative poet; the novelists Somerville and Ross, Edith Lees Ellis, novelist, writer and lecturer on social questions, wife of Havelock Ellis, friend of Edward Carpenter.

These were all fairly privileged women (except Edith Lees Ellis), and we have much less sense of non-middle class women and their relationships. However, Alison Oram's book Her Husband Was A Woman, although it is about cross-dressing women in the C20th, does include material that sheds light on the C19th, including some discussion of the very popular male impersonators of the music halls.

NB it wasn't illegal to be a lesbian in the UK (the first time sexual activity between women was featured in legislation was 1956), and it was not a matrimonial offence for the purposes of divorce. And there was absolutely no reason why anyone would have thought of including it in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, so it really wasn't omitted by Royal decree. Srsly. But this is one reason why it's so much less visible and studied than male homosexuality at the period - no legal records and no aghast newspaper reports. Which also relates to the fact that if it was happening, it was happening in private spaces rather than in public spaces where it was potentially visible to other people, or at least to the police.

Suggestions for reading:
Lilian Faderman's Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (1981) remains a classic, even if subsequent scholars have nuanced her arguments.
Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Women Since 1500 (2007). This is very much a work of synthesis, and I found it a bit superficial, but it is actually a useful guide to the territory and the literature.
Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1 928 (2004) deals largely with women who enjoyed privilege and resources (e.g. were able to live in the supportive community of women artists and writers in Rome!) but has some very interesting analysis of the ways in which these women conceptualised their relationships, drawing on letters, diaries, etc.
Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007). I found some of the chapters a bit problematic, but there is some remarkably acute and provocative stuff in this book, including the observation that Victorian novels, not to mention letters, diaries and memoirs, have women being romantically devoted right up front and without delving into the subtext.

I've already mention Oram's book on cross-dressers. There are also biographies of several of the women I've mentioned. Not yet seen, but sounds interesting: Jill R. Ehnenn, Women's Literary Collaboration, Queerness, and Late-Victorian Culture (2009) (wicked expensive)

Useful on New Women more generally: Martha Vicinus, Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women (1985), 1850-1920 Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight (1992), and Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: English feminism and sexual morality, 1880-1914 (1995). Unfortunately a lot of New Woman scholarship is heavily based on literary texts.

On new definitions of 'the lesbian' or 'female invert', the classic sexological texts are Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, numerous and ever expanding editions from 1886, Havelock Ellis, Sexual Inversion (1897) and Edward Carpenter, Love's Coming of Age (1897) and The Intermediate Sex (1909). But all contain far more about male homosexuality. And because of the theory of 'inversion' with which they were working, can just about get their heads around butch-presenting lesbians (or at least those who demonstrate various markers associated with masculinity), but couldn't quite see, or analytically account for, more femme versions.

Holmes/Watson - the pairing as type or trope

This post is riffing off [personal profile] wrabbit's suggestion in the discussion prompt gathering thread, which is still taking suggestions for new discussions if you have them.

Holmes and Watson weren't the first detective/sidekick duo, but they were one of the earliest pairs to achieve enormous popularity. Since then, similar pairings/duos have become a recognisable type in pop culture.

What are the distinctive traits of the Holmes/Watson pairing? Who are some of the more recent pairings/duos that draw on H/W? [personal profile] wrabbit mentions House and Wilson, of course, but it seems to me that the very common pairing of an exceptional/brilliant and possibly anti-social hero with a partner who's a stabilising influence or a source of exposition or both, owes a lot to H/W. There are plenty of detective duos, of course, especially on television. When wrabbit posted her comment I thought of Jim/Blair from the Sentinel (a police detective with an academic partner), and then last night, watching Hornblower with a friend, I realised that Archie is a bit of a Watson in a way: he exists in the TV canon to make Hornblower less solitary and internal and help the story move along, is Horatio's best friend with whom he shares everything, and is loyal and straightforward to Horatio's awkward brilliance. C. S. Forester didn't originally write Archie as a partner for Horatio in the book series, and Bush (who shows up later in the chronology of the series) doesn't fit the H/W pairing mold at all, but perhaps by the 90s when the TV writers came to develop Archie as Horatio's partner, that type of pairing had become more standardised?

H/W has also been called the archetypal slash pairing and the first slash fandom (btw, does anyone know whether anyone was actually publishing H/W slash in zines before Star Trek slash came along?) If the H/W pairing is a discernable "type", is that type inherently slashy or queer? How many H/W-influenced pairings have considerable slash followings?

Discussion prompt gathering

Over on [community profile] podficmeta they did something for 3W4DW that I think might work well here. One of the moderators, [personal profile] zvi, posted asking people to suggest things they'd like to have discussed on the community. So, I'm going to do the same, lifting most of the phrasing from her post ;)

Please comment to this post if there's a discussion you'd like to see happen on this community. If you have a full fledged entry, you can tell me that you'd like to do the posting. If you just have an idea you'd be okay with me riffing on, say that and I will.

I'll then post top-level posts prompting discussion on the subjects suggested.
Entry tags:

Book review: Graham Robb, "Strangers: Homosexual love in the nineteenth century"

So, I know a handful of people here have been reading this book, and I figured at least one of us had probably better write a review, so here's mine :)

Graham Robb, "Strangers: Homosexual love in the nineteenth century", W. W. Norton & Co, 2004.

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

"Strangers" is one of the best books I've read about gay history. It's more international in flavour, has more to say about lesbians (which is admittedly still not a whole lot), and is more optimistic than anything else of it's kind that I've read. Its tone is extremely readable, but there are extensive end-notes and what looks like a pretty comprehensive bibliography of works cited.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part talks about the legal and medical background and about the scandal of "outings". The second part talks about homosexual lives and homosexual subcultures in various places. The third part talks about gay literature and how homosexual people in the 19th century found reflections themselves in various texts.

In the chapter on the legal/judicial side of things, Robb looks at arrests, prosecutions, and convictions for buggery/indecency/etc... and then asks us to throw all that away, because there weren't all that many really, and it was far less important than you might think. He points out that we place undue emphasis on it because legal reports are such an easy source of information, but that the actual incidence of court cases was pretty minor relative to the population. Charts (in the appendix) show the number of convictions in the UK per 100k of population, from 1800 to 2000. The figures run around 1 conviction per 100k of population per year through the 19th century, then steadily grow through the 20th, peak around 16/100k/year in the mid 1950s, and are still hovering around 10/100k/year in 2000. That is, you were approximately 10 times as likely to be convicted of buggery or a related homosexual offense a decade ago as you were in the Victorian era. He points out that the Wilde trials belong more properly (culturally speaking) to the 20th century than the 19th.

Having more or less set aside the "easy" (but negative) sources of information in part 1, part 2 is a much more pleasant read. Lots of cute anecdotes, accounts of people's lives and relationships, excerpts from letters, etc. I found it kind of fluffily interesting but it didn't make me think much.

Part 3, talking about gay literature, will be of particular interest to Sherlock Holmes fans as it talks about how homosexual people, in the absence of explicit depictions of their type, will read for subtext. The first chapter of this section describes the more overt depictions of homosexuality (from moral tales to trashy porn) and then moves on to more subtle ones like the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. The second chapter deals with Christianity and gay-friendly interpretations of the Bible. The third and final chapter is all about homosexual detectives. Starting with Poe's Auguste Dupin, moving on to Holmes (about whom there are several pages of subtextual analysis, ranging from the "worth a wound" scene to comments on the use of terms like "queer", "languid", and of course "earnest" in the Holmes canon) and then to early 20th century sleuths of a similar nature, he talks about how homosexuality -- dual nature, disguises, outsider-dom, the ability to discern other people's secrets -- is actually an integral part of the detective's character and role, and how similar themes emerge repeatedly even among authors who couldn't have read each other's work.

Also included among the plates in the book is Paget's engraving from SCAN, with the caption, "Sherlock Holmes disguised as 'a Nonconformist clergyman' and Irene Adler as 'a slim youth in an ulster'" -- elsewhere in the book Robb cites "nonconformist" as a Victorian euphemism for homosexual.

So, in summary: very readable, and what's more, pleasant to read (not just in style but in content). Plus, a fair bit of Holmes-specific material. Highly recommended.