Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb

Evelyn Waugh, Age 26 (1930) Henry Lamb (British, 1883-1960) Collection of Lord Moyne
Evelyn Waugh, Age 26 (1930)
Henry Lamb (British, 1883-1960)
Collection of Lord Moyne

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh ; Boston : Little, Brown and Company, 1945
Boston : Little, Brown and Company, 1945
Opening during World War II, Captain Charles Ryder's British military unit relocating in the middle of the night. Upon waking he learns that they are now stationed at Brideshead, a large family estate that has been repurposed for the war effort. What follows is Ryder's memories of Brideshead and the Flyte family who lived there and whom he came to know during the interwar years. This is a fascinating time when large estates are in dire financial situations and many can no longer be supported. Extreme social changes are also underway after the end of the first world war. 

Charles meets Sebastian Flyte while at university and begins to spend more time with him and his small group of friends including Anthony Blanche, a flamboyant and open gay man who may be either Spanish or Italian, as this is not completely clear in the text. As many of the circle of friends move away, Charles and Sebastian become even more inseparable. It's clear that Charles has strong feelings for him and is honest with himself about them.

Sebastian invites Charles to spend time with him at Brideshead but seems intent on keeping his family distant, planning visits when he knows family will be away. Sebastian seems to be most himself away from his family who have opinions about what he should do and how he should live. When Charles does finally meet Sebastian's family, the magic in their relationship begins to disappear and the relationship with Sebastian becomes contentious. Sebastian's fears are realized when Charles works with Sebastian's mother to control his behavior. 

Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard by John Banting (British, 1902-1971)
Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard
John Banting (British, 1902-1971)
Brideshead Revisited is a classic of gay literature and this is most likely tied to the character of Anthony Blanche. Evelyn Waugh attended university with Brian Howard and it is said that Anthony Blanche is largely based on him. Howard was said to be brilliant and funny but in the end didn't accomplish much in his short literary career. Like Blanche, Howard was openly gay and made no secret about his life. There is a nice write up of Brian Howard's life including his appearance as Anthony Blanche in Brideshead at The Esoteric Curiosa.

What may be overshadowed by the more obvious gayness of Blanche is the less obvious love between Charles and Sebastian. It's a quieter relationship that doesn't announce itself as much as it just exists. Later in the novel, when Charles is speaking with Julia, Sebastian's sister, he acknowledges that his first love was Sebastian and really that his subsequent marriage did not compare to that first  love. Even as Charles attempts to form a relationship with Julia, one wonders if it's simply a more socially acceptable relationship that would allow him to feel closer to Sebastian in some way.

Throughout the novel there are themes of love, family, religion (Catholicism) and duty. The Flyte family is so encompassing that any individual relationship is controlled by the family itself. This is why Sebastian feared introducing Charles to the family because 'they would win him over to their side.' While some members of the Flyte family are more devout than others, in the end the Catholicism of the family wins out in nearly every decision and interaction. One can't truly escape one's family and religion. Even Charles who holds strong anti-religious feelings and often has arguments with members of the Flyte family, in the end learns something and is changed by the family's religious devotion. 


Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (II); Garde (OTP, a**); Mattachine Review (III); Young (4022)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Boy Reading by Henry Lamb


Boy Reading (1956) Henry Lamb (British, 1883-1960) Oil on canvas 39.3 x 49.6 cm.
Boy Reading (1956)
Henry Lamb (British, 1883-1960)
Oil on canvas
39.3 x 49.6 cm.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Rushing Nowhere by Tom Chetwynd


Rushing Nowhere by Tom Chetwynd ; London : Anthony Blond, 1958
London : Anthony Blond, 1958
Rushing Nowhere, a coming of age novel set in the early 1950s, is the story of Guy Wentworth from the time he is in a Catholic preparatory school through the beginning of his military service. He struggles to find his way, never quite satisfied with anyone he meets or anything he might decide to do. 

While in prep school, Guy befriends Fotheringay, a boy who struggles with the typical boarding school issues. After Guy is warned off of a regular interaction he has been having with one of the housemasters, he suddenly tells Fotheringay that they shouldn't hang out all of the time. There is a suggestion that these relationships might turn into something that is too close or inappropriate. Fotheringay is crushed by the hurtful way that Guy cuts things off and shortly afterward he is found drowned in a bathtub. Guy struggles from this point forward, not knowing wether the death was an accident or if their final words to one another led to the boy's death. 

This critical moment seems to have had a major affect on Guy's life. While he seeks out relationships with women and other boys (and at one point befriends an older gay man), he consistently stops short when it's clear that everyone has their own agenda. He can't find the organic closeness he had with Fotheringay with any of these people. This inability to connect with others also manifests itself in his inability to stick with any plan for a career or work. His adventures in trying to find himself traveling through Europe come to a close with his being called up by the army, a trap from which he won't be able to escape.


Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (III); Garde (OTP, b*); Young (651)


Friday, August 7, 2020

Constructed Head of a Man in Profile by Albrecht Dürer

Constructed Head of a Man in Profile (c. 1512-1513)  Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528)  Pen, brown ink and dark brown wash on paper  9 9/16 x 7 7/16 in.  The Morgan Library and Museum
Constructed Head of a Man in Profile (c. 1512-1513)
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528)
Pen, brown ink and dark brown wash on paper
9 9/16 x 7 7/16 in.
The Morgan Library and Museum

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The World Next Door by Fritz Peters

The World Next Door by Fritz Peters. New York : Farrar Straus, 1949
New York ; Farrar Straus, 1949
David Mitchell was handcuffed and put in the back of the police car. His mother is distraught and his step-father, John, hoping to calm him down, accompanied him in the cruiser. David didn't know for sure where he was being taken—maybe to prison, possibly to his execution.

When he arrives, David doesn't know where he is and vacillates between believing he is an American spy being protected by the British and being a prisoner of war being held by the Nazis. It's possible both are true and he can't understand why he isn't being protected from the Nazis.

It's 1947 and it soon becomes clear to the reader, that David has been taken to a psychiatric ward. He doesn't understand why he's there and his agitation and inability to do as he is told lands him in the pack unit, where patients are wrapped tightly in wet sheets, a 'sheet pack', in an effort to calm them down.

Upon his arrival to the unit, he believes, no, he knows that he is Jesus Christ. He has the cigarette-burn stigmata to prove it. What he wants more than anything is for someone—anyone to believe him and to believe in him. When one of the night attendants attempts to rape him, he creates an unbelievable scene and manages to get the priest and the doctor to come to the ward. There he makes a convincing argument for a psychiatric patient's rights. Of course the doctors are going to believe the attendants—the patient is obviously crazy. What kind of power does that put into the hands of the staff? He lives in constant fear of saying the wrong thing. Will it make them angry with him? Will he be punished? There is a powerlessness that is all encompassing. Even as his mind begins to clear, David doesn't trust his own thoughts. David describes being in love with attendants, doctors or other patients who are nice him. He later realizes that it isn't love that he feels, but a sense of gratitude for the gentle way they treat him.

Mr. Newton suggests that David's accusation against the attendant might stem from his own homosexuality. There was also a similar claim in David's file from the army where a general "tried to get funny". David is clear that he had slept with another man in his 20s but is not a homosexual. "I was in love with him, that's all." David's mother had shared with Mr. Newton these earlier experiences "as a possible cause of [his] illness." What's truly at the heart of his illness is a spiritual and moral collapse brought on by an inability to reconcile his spiritual beliefs with the horrors he witnessed during World War II.

The World Next Door by Fritz Peters ; FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: [1] New York : Harper's Bazaar, July 1949 (excerpt)   [2] London : Victor Gollancz, 1950   [3] New York : Signet/NAL, 1950   [4] Le Monde à Côté, French translation by Amélie Audiberti, Paris : Éditions Denoël, 1953   [5] Die Welt Nebenan, German translation by Utta Seifert-Roy, Hamburg : P. Zsolnay, 1956   [6] London : Victor Gollancz, 1967
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: [1] New York : Harper's Bazaar, July 1949 (excerpt)   [2] London : Victor Gollancz, 1950   [3] New York : Signet/NAL, 1950   [4] Le Monde à Côté, French translation by Amélie Audiberti, Paris : Éditions Denoël, 1953   [5] Die Welt Nebenan, German translation by Utta Seifert-Roy, Hamburg : P. Zsolnay, 1956   [6] London : Victor Gollancz, 1967

The World Next Door is a fictionalized version of the author's own experiences and shows the horrors of psychiatric treatment during the 1940s and 1950s, including the use of wet sheet packs, insulin shock and electro-shock therapies. It was very well received upon publication and shown a bright light on psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric practice broadly, and issues within Veteran's Administration hospitals in particular. Mary Jane Ward, the author of The Snake Pit (1946) wrote the single critical review for The New York Times. She called it 'sincere' and then proceeded to pick it apart. One wonders if this isn't a case of feeling like another author was muscling in on her turf. The book had a significant enough impact that you still find it in medical libraries across America, unusual for a novel. The World Next Door was excerpted in Harper's Bazaar, released in several English editions, translated into both French and German, and was performed in France as a radio play.


Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (III); Garde (OTP, a***); Mattachine Review (III); Young (3021)


Friday, July 17, 2020

Academic Study by Edourd Joseph Dantan

Academic Study (19th century)  Edouard Joseph Dantan (French, 1848-1897)  Oil on canvas
Academic Study (19th century)
Edouard Joseph Dantan (French, 1848-1897)
Oil on canvas