Drift: Verses (1900) – Horatio Brown

I’ve decided to share with you today a small poem from Horatio Brown’s extremely uncommon anthology “Drift: Verses” which made a limited appearance in 1900. It was suppressed before publication due to its homoerotic nature. Brown spent most of his adult life in Venice, a dedicated aficionado of Italian history and young gondoliers.

BORED

[At a London Music]

Two rows of foolish faces blent

In two blurred lines; the compliment,

The formal smile, the cultured air,

The sense of falseness everywhere.

Her ladyship superbly dresses –

I like their footman, John, the best.

 

The tired musicians’ ruffled mien,

Their whispered talk behind the screen,

The frigid plaudits, quite confined

By fear of being unrefined.

His lordship’s grave and courtly jest –

I like their footman, John, the best.

 

Remote I sat with shaded eyes,

Supreme attention in my guise,

And heard the whole laborious din,

Piano, ‘cello, violin;

And so, perhaps, they hardly guessed

I liked their footman, John, the best.

Left to Themselves (1891)

Left to Themselves: Being the Ordeal of Philip and Gerald (1891)

By Edward Irenaeus Prime Stevenson

Known to scholars as the author of the first openly American gay novel, Edward Irenaeus Stevenson remains a largely forgotten and neglected writer. Over a decade before the publication of his ground breaking literary milestone, he published Left to Themselves a fascinating young adult novel, which in my humble opinion is a gem that deserves a revival. Stevenson writes with gusto as we follow the adventures of two boys, who united in romantic friendship, overcome the most incredible obstacles. It’s really hard to believe that such an enthralling novel with a shipwreck, an attempted kidnap, an equinoctial tempest and a relentless predator could have remained out of print for over a hundred years! It was reissued only earlier this year by the excellent Valancourt Books.

steamer

Summary

Patrick Sip, a seasoned tramp, is grumbling about life, after his fifth escape from the workhouse. He is asking himself what people find so attractive about nature when he can’t even get a morsel to eat except berries in season. He sees the twelve year old, well-to-do, Gerald Saxton, who is fishing and decides to harass him for his hamper. The startled boy sprints towards a farmhouse and the chase is only cut short by the intervention of an older boy, Philip Touchstone.

Philip and Gerald bond instantly on their wagon journey to the Ossokosee Hotel. Gerald notices how Philip becomes red in the face when he talks about his father. At the lodge they overhear General Sawtelle discussing Philip’s deceased father, and Philip decides it’s only fair that Gerald should hear the truth before they become firmer friends. It transpires that Mr. Touchstone was involved in the infamous Suburban Trust Company robbery for which he was later sent to prison. After his release he died of consumption. His wife also died, and Philip was left an orphan. The chapter concludes with a closer intimacy between the two boys, with Gerald declaring he doesn’t believe what people say about Philip’s father.

The following day Mr. Marcy and Gerald go to the river to watch the annual regatta. Gerald is excited and hopes to see Philip rowing for the Ossokosees crew. The Ossokosees have been beaten three consecutive times by the Victors, so many have turned up for the race. The race is beautifully narrated by the author and we see a glorious victory for the Ossokosee Club. At the end of the chapter we are told Philip and Gerald go to sleep, ‘Gerald with one hand under his yellow head, and the other just touching Philip’s arm’.

Mr. Marcy receives a letter from Gerald’s father requesting his presence in Nova Scotia. Philip is asked to escort Gerald on the long trip, and the boys are delighted with the idea. On their train journey to New York they fail to notice a strange man listening to their conversation. He reads the letter that Gerald has carelessly dropped and disappears. Minutes later the train arrives at the next station and the supposed ‘Mr. Hilliard’ greets the boys with some alarming news. His apartment has apparently been involved in a fire, and he suggests the boys come to the Windsor hotel for the night. Of course, Philip is suspicious, but Gerald thinks it will be fun! Thankfully, the train experiences engine troubles and stops for repairs. The passengers decide to stretch their legs until they are summoned back by the whistle. During the interval, ‘Mr. Hilliard’ sees to some business, and the boys explore an abandoned cellar. Suddenly, they hear the whistle, but they arrive too late and the train departs without them! Finding themselves in a quandary, they catch the adjacent freight train, and alight somewhere in up-town New York. They find Mr. Hilliard’s apartment and ask the butler where he is. Curiously, Hilliard is upstairs on the second floor, and it appears there was no fire! The boys are astonished when they meet the real Mr. Hilliard, and conclude the other must have been an imposter!

The next day Mr. Hilliard takes the boys to the Old Province steamer and they sail for Halifax. It’s a rough passage and the seasick Gerald retires to his cabin. Philip removes to the dining room where he notices the imposter ‘Hilliard’ sitting with a gentleman in the corner. Returning to the cabin, he finds that Gerald needs some ice for a headache. Philip locks Gerald in his room and goes looking for a porter. He meets the imposter and agrees to a private meeting. Philip learns that Belmont (the imposter) intends to kidnap Gerald. He has informed the captain and the authorities that Gerald is ‘his’ boy, and he plans to leave the ship at Martha’s Vineyard in the morning. Philip is outraged by this audacious story. Belmont says he will also accuse Philip of kidnap if he tries to interfere. After a prolonged battle of wills, Belmont says he will call the Captain and Mr. Arrowsmith, the mate, so they can decide who is bluffing. Suddenly, there is a terrifying explosion and Philip and Belmont are thrust together. After much commotion, the captain announces that the explosion (in the hold) has broken a hole in the bow and the steamer is sinking! In the ensuing chaos the boys are safely stowed with the secondmate in a little raft and pushed out to sea. Belmont attempts to board the same boat, but is stopped due to lack of room. During the journey they hear a distinct bell and realise they must be close to land. A lady on board then loses her balance and her baby is tossed into the water. In a desperate frenzy she upsets the entire raft, and everybody including the cargo gets cast into the sea! The only remaining passenger is Gerald ‘stopped by the gunwale’, and Philip who is holding on for his life. Eventually, Philip climbs back on board, but the excitement has been too much for Gerald and he swoons in Philips arms. The next day the newspapers publish the sinking of the steamer and both Philip and Gerald are reported drowned. However, the boys are quite alive, and after several days at sea they finally wake to a bright blue sky and see land in the distance. They then dock in a small cove and make their way towards a farmhouse.

Philip leaves Gerald resting while he heads to the farm. The doors and windows are wide open, but nobody is at home when he arrives. He decides to collect Gerald and take the liberty of resting for a while. Philip prepares some food and notices Gerald is feverish and listless. He puts him to bed, and heads to the area where they left their boat. The vessel is gone and after hours of talking gently to Gerald, they fall asleep, until the return of Mr. and Mrs. Probasco. The boys tell their story to the astonished couple, while Mrs. Probasco nurses Gerald. Philip and Mr. Probasco then devise a plan to sail over to the town on the following morning to dispatch letters and telegrams. Unfortunately, the next morning they wake to an equinoctial tempest, and it’s impossible to attempt a crossing. Cooped up in the house for several days they observe the storm, and during the course of one evening, the Probascos reveal the history of the shady Mr. Jennison, their current landlord. Mrs. Probasco explains how he once came to the house with a bunch of dubious characters who were later embroiled in the Suburban Trust Company robbery. As Philip muses whether it is prudent to question her further about his description, Mrs. Probasco tells the boys she has a photograph of him somewhere upstairs. Philip has some reservations and discreetly prompts Mrs. Probasco not to continue the discussion until Gerald is safely asleep. Later in the evening he is shown the photo, and instantly recognises the imposter, aka Belmont, who had caused them so much trouble on the steamer. Philip tells the Probasco family the whole story and explains how Gerald and he must leave the island as soon as it is conveniently possible, as a further encounter with Jennison could be disastrous! The weather clears a little, but due to his Rheumatism, Mr. Probasco is unable to take the boys over the water. A local fisherman is then engaged to ferry them to Chantico, and from there they take a stagecoach to Knoxport.

When they arrive at the hotel they notice Gerald’s father and Mr. Marcy have already checked out. Philip tries to send a telegram, but the lines are frustratingly down due to another huge storm. Mr. Banger (the manager) suggests they inform the papers about their miraculous survival, but Philip is concerned it may alert Jennison prematurely. In the end Philip agrees to the publicity and Banger tells a journalist about their incredible story. The following day there is still no news from Marcy or Gerald’s father and the boys start to worry. Indeed, Mr. Banger also begins to doubt the boys’ story. Retiring to bed Philip hears Jennison’s voice in the lobby. He extracts some information from the proprietor before leaving on his horse.

Philip and Gerald decide that if there’s no news by the end of the day, they will make their own way back to Ossokosee. While Philip is out, the despondent Gerald encounters the persistent Mr. Hilliard-Belmont-Jennison. The imposter attempts to persuade Gerald to leave with him under the ruse of being sent by his father. At that moment Philip arrives and there is a heated altercation. A group of detectives then turn up at the hotel and arrest Jennison (actually known as Billy) for forgery in Boston. The party is further interrupted by the arrival of both Mr. Saxon and Mr. Marcy. Overcome with emotion they relay their story to the dumbfounded men. It transpires that Jennison had been seeking revenge for an earlier failed investment. As they are concluding their adventures, a policeman reappears and tells Philip that Jennison wants to see him at the courthouse. Jennison gives Philip the evidence to exonerate his father from the infamous bank robbery. It appears that Sixsmith the bank janitor had been bent on revenge and causing Mr. Touchstone grief. Philip reads Sixsmith’s deathbed confession and returns to the hotel. He sits with Mr. Marcy and they talk about his interview down at the Courthouse.

In the final chapter the author ties up the loose ends. Saxon, Gerald, Philip and Marcy now live together in the Osokosee Hotel, and Mr. Saxon considers Philip his second son. Later, the two boys (financed by Saxon) go off to college together. The novel concludes with the following observation: ‘But- if one yields to the temptation to be among the prophets, and closes his eyes, there come, chiefly, pleasant thoughts of how good are friendship and love and loyal service between man and man in this rugged world of ours; and how probable it is that such things here have not their ending, since they have not their perfecting here, perfect as friendship and the service sometimes seems. Therewith the inditer of this chronicle sees Philip and Gerald walking forward, calmly and joyfully, and in an unlessened affection and clearer mutual understanding – into their endless lives’.

A Crown of Friendship (1921)

Although slightly later than the Victorian period I usually write about, I wanted to post a little blog about an obscure poet called Fabian S. Woodley, who wrote the unusual and extremely scarce anthology A Crown of Friendship. It’s unusual in the sense that all his poems have a distinctively ‘Uranian’ tone. Woodley clearly had a passion for young men, and declared that ‘Boyhood was the only ideal worth following’. This is apparent in all his extant poems.

After the First World War, Woodley wrote for a local newspaper, the Somerset Country Gazette, before settling on a teaching career (I’m not sure this was entirely appropriate given his penchant for youth!). He worked as an English teacher at several well-known schools, including Wellington College, and it was during this period that he published his collection A Crown of Friendship. I have chosen to share his poem ‘The Beautiful’, as it’s the best piece in the collection, IMO.

 

The Beautiful

Long years ago there came to me in sleep
The vision of a boy divinely fair;
His eyes were moon-kissed seas, serene and deep,
Elysian blossoms crowned his golden hair;
Light flowed around him, gently fell his voice
Like a soft-singing shower of silver dew,
Long time he gazed, then smiling, spoke ” Rejoice!
Seek only Me, for I alone am true!”

 

Straightway he fled upborne within a maze
Of mighty wings and music wonderful,
Whilst all the air grew dizzy with the praise
Of voices crying loud, ” The Beautiful.”
Heavenward he vanished — but his radiant face
Still haunts me — a pure spiritual joy,
And well I know he makes his dwelling-place
In the clear honest eyes of any boy.

Oscar Wilde and Masking

Masking and disguise in Oscar Wilde’s plays ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’. What might these masks and disguises tell us about Victorian Society?    (D.P. Baker)

Oscar Wilde is reported to have said ‘I will never outlive the century. The English people will not stand for it.’ He is now more frequently thought of as a man born into the wrong time, a heroic but ultimately doomed castaway in an unsympathetic age, set against the repressive forces of a period’ (Warwick, 2007, p.2).  He led a double life, being both married and having a relationship with an aristocratic man. He led a deceptive life in the higher class society of London, but he wasn’t careful enough.  His tempestuous relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and his sexual relations with rent boys led to his eventual arrest and imprisonment. This was the society Wilde lived in. The strict moral and social rules that regulated Victorian society led to a whole section of society that lived double lives, deceiving their friends, their families and sometimes even themselves. It is within this context that both The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan were written and ultimately performed. Both plays satirically depict Victorian aristocratic life. By giving examples from the two texts I hope to demonstrate how masking plays an important part in high society during the 1890s.

It has been said that the ‘social reality of the 90s was one of power, dominators vs. dominated, and in every passage of The Importance of Being Earnest there is continuous conflict’ (Stone, p.33). Wilde tackles these themes with his epigrams and witty puns which permit his audience to ‘vicariously participate in a sparring contest between “X” and “Y.” These points and counterpoints fluctuate until their blurred differences create an alternative ‘other’’ (Crawford, 2005). This ‘other’ is an important point to remember if we are to take Wilde’s use of language and humour and to see beyond it to the figurative masks worn by the characters.  Although The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan can both be considered comedies, the plays resonate on many different levels of understanding. In a letter to the St James Gazette (26th Feb, 1892) Wilde wrote (on Lady Windermere’s Fan) that he did not want the play to be viewed as ‘a mere question of pantomime and clowning’ but that ‘he was interested in the piece as a psychological study’ (Mason, 2007, p.390). As for the Importance of Being Earnest it has been suggested (Crawford, 2005) that the play is a satire of Wilde’s own life and that Jack’s actions quite often mimic Wilde’s personal life. ‘Jack as an infant is literally exchanged for a manuscript; Wilde exchanges himself and his sexuality for the ‘cucumber sandwiches,’ ‘smoking cases,’ and ‘Bunburyism’ of his characters’.

If we begin by looking at The Importance of Being Earnest we notice that the two principle characters Jack and Algernon are leading double lives. Jack is a land owner, dependable and respectable who has invented a fictitious brother called ‘Earnest.’ He uses this invention to escape his responsibilities and to indulge in immoral behaviour in London. Likewise, Algernon, who is a delightful but idle bachelor has invented a fictional ‘invalid’ character that he can run off ‘visiting’ to escape his commitments. Both of these alternative personas have been created to allow the characters to fulfil their needs and natural instincts in a strict and moral society. In addition to these restraints there was also the issue of class divide. At the opening of the play we are introduced to Algernon and his manservant Lane. Algernon is playing the piano and addresses his servant ‘did you hear what I was playing, Lane?’ To which Lane replies ‘I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.’ Here we can see ‘regulative social conventions’ (Crawford, 2005) at work with the lower class ‘knowing their place.’ In the first instance it would not have been ‘polite’ for Lane to have ‘listened’ and in the second, he is not really being asked his opinion anyway. Whether Lane is telling the truth about hearing the music or not is irrelevant as it is the correct social convention to follow.

Jack and Algernon’s discussion on Algernon’s imaginary, invalid friend, Bunbury, introduces another case of masking within the play. We see in the line ‘My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist.’ One interpretation of this phrase could be ‘you are orally-fixated’ to which Algernon replies: ‘Well that is what dentists do… I have always suspected you of being a confirmed and secret Bunburyist; and I am quite sure of it now.’ They continue with this guarded and heavily disguised language culminating in Jack saying ‘what on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist’ and Algernon replying: ‘I’ll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparable expression as soon as you are kind enough to inform me why you are Ernest in town and Jack in the country’. This coded language is understood by both men but could be read as nonsense if not a little baffling to anybody outside of their ‘circle’.

The play if rife with homosexual and homoerotic masking. According to Demarest (2007) The Importance of Being Earnest exists like a secret code, within and between the words, sharp and teasing and seductive, for the enjoyment of gay society that had to remain so carefully concealed in the margins of society. Of course, homosexuality was illegal in Britain during this time and it was considered a custodial offense if one was found guilty of physical consummation.

A cigarette case was considered a potent symbol for homosexuality in Victorian England and this item plays an interesting part in The Importance of being Earnest. The silver cigarette which Algernon and Jack fight over in Act 1 was a gift Oscar Wilde was known to have given to several of his lovers. If we look at an extract from this scene we see a visible case of homosexual masking and deceit being played out between the two characters. Algernon begins with: ‘Yes; but this isn’t your cigarette case. This cigarette case is a present from some one of the name of Cecily, and you said you didn’t know any one of that name’. To which Jack retorts: ‘Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens to be my aunt!’ So who was Cecily? According to Demarest (2007) ‘Cecily, the name of Jack Worthing’s ward, was a contemporary term for a young male prostitute’.

There are further examples of homosexual masking in the play. For instance when ‘Jack and Algy fight over buttered muffins, apparently blissfully unaware of all the double entendres for buttocks and lubrication or the fact that food is such a very obvious symbolic substitute for sex’ (Demarest, 2007).

If we now look at the second play Lady Windermere’s Fan we notice that this play follows similar themes to that of The ‘Importance of Being Earnest’. And like The Importance of Being Earnest there is a ‘baffling combination of perfect seriousness in its internal structure with perfect frivolity in its apparent structure’ (Stone, p.31). Again we find conflict and pretence, people hiding from the truth and people with mistaken or secret identities. The lies and deception paint a vivid picture of society in Victorian England. The upper classes often had no occupation other than an endless round of social engagements and pleasure seeking activities. Their conversations reveal the boredom which existed within their class system and gives us a view into the world of appearances in which Victorian people lived.

The character of Mrs Erlynne is a major theme in the play. There are numerous opinions about this mysterious woman including her identity, her moral values and her social position. The artificial world of social protocol and etiquette and the hierarchical structure of Victorian society was a game that every member of the upper classes adhered to. It would appear that most ‘decent’ people wore their conventional figurative masks ‘publically’ to retain their place in society. We only have to examine the different attitudes to Mrs Erlynne to see this. At the end of Act 1 we see Lord Windermere agonising over whether he should reveal the identity of Mrs Erlynne to his wife to change her negative opinion, only for him to declare: ‘Margaret! Margaret! [A pause.] My God! What shall I do? I dare not tell her who this woman really is. The shame would kill her. [Sinks down into a chair and buries his face in his hands].’In Act 2 we find further evidence on how important ‘image’ was in Victorian England when Lord Augustus Lorton (brother of the Duchess) asks Lord Windermere how Mrs Erlynne can gain ‘respectability’ as he wishes to marry her!

As with The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde also uses the power of ambiguity in Lady Windermere’s Fan. Wilde often uses meta-language to hide the true intentions of the characters. Stone (p.28) explains how ‘analogically the concept of meta-language can be extended into literature by differentiating between an actual and an implied statement or word-set. Meta-activity is occurring when actual and implied word-sets and the reality they both claim to relate to are being dealt with together.’ A good example which supports this argument is Lord Darlington’s quote in Act 1 ‘Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.’  Another good example can be found in Act 3 where Mr. Dumby consoles Lord Darlington ‘I congratulate you, my dear fellow. In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.’

Marriage is another theme explored by Wilde in Lady Windermere’s Fan. In Act 1 we have Lord Darlington announcing to the Duchess of Berwick: ‘It’s a curious thing, Duchess, about the game of marriage – a game, by the way, that is going out of fashion- the wives hold all the honours, and invariably lose the odd trick.’ And in Act 3 we have a rather interesting conversation between Dumby, Lord Windermere and Cecil Graham where Dumby announces ‘Good heavens! how marriage ruins a man! It’s as demoralising as cigarettes, and far more expensive’. Both these quotes suggest a view marriage as an ideal that men felt obliged to mock publically even if their private views were totally different.

The various disguises and masks adopted by the characters in both The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan reveal an artificial world of protocol, reputation and petty upper class concerns which seemed to dominate their day to day existence. Perhaps this was due to a lack of occupation which invariably led to boredom and idleness.  Another reason might be the fascination the aristocracy had with fashion and role playing. Whatever reasons Wilde had in mind when writing these two plays, what is certain is that he demonstrated aptly the hypocrisy prevalent in Victorian society and used witty language and dialogue to reveal the extent to which people masked their intentions, their true feelings and often their weaknesses.

REFERENCE LIST

CRAWFORD, J. 2005. Point, Counterpoint, Thrust: Wilde’s Pun Burying in The Importance of Being Earnest [www] http://www.crawfordsworld.com/jaimie/professional/oscar.htm (10/01/12/12)

DEMAREST, J. 2007. Directors Notes, The Importance of Being Earnest [www] http://www.rudemechanicals.com/earnest/notes.shtml (10/01/12)

MASON, S. 2007. Bibliography of Oscar Wilde. New York: Haskell House Pub Ltd, p.390

STONE, G. n.d. Serious Bunburyism: The Logic of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ [www] http://eic.oxfordjournals.org/content/XXVI/1/28.full.pdf (10/01/12)

WARWICK, A. 2007. Oscar Wilde. Writers and their Works. Devon: Northcote House Publishers, pp.1-2

WILDE, O. 1974. Oscar Wilde Plays. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd

BIBLIOGRAPHY

SULLIVAN, N. 2003. A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

 

 

Mrs. G Forsyth Grant

Here’s a little post about one of my favourite Victorian authors: Mrs. G. Forsyth Grant.

Largely forgotten now, she wrote five mawkish and sentimental novel length boy’s school stories that were quite popular in their day: The Boys of Penrohn (1893); The Hero of Crampton School (1895); Burke’s Chum: a Story of Thistleton School (1896); Chums at Last (1898); and The Beresford Boys (1906).

A contemporary review in the Spectator said of The boys of Penrohn that ‘boys and girls, except the hysterical ones, could only laugh at the excessively feminine idea our author has of the young men and the way they behave’. To some extent I would agree with this statement, and there are indeed some flaws: her descriptions of cricket matches and sporting events are both naive and inaccurate. She also depicts a surprisingly large number of sensitive boys in her works, and she places too much emphasis on their looks.

The novels are set in fictional British boarding schools with classrooms that abound in romantic friendships. This is evident in dialogue such as ‘Jolly little fellow. Hasn’t he got a jolly little face. Look at his hair … isn’t it pretty and curly’, and in soppy descriptions like ‘Arnold was exceedingly pleasant looking, a nice mannered boy, who was very much liked and respected’, and ‘Burke had a sort of secret admiration for Arnold – an admiration suppressed and hidden’. Be this as it may, her books also have merit. She creates many enjoyable boyish adventures with ‘moral dilemmas and their consequences’ that are aptly suitable and interesting for young readers.

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There is something quite beautiful about her quaint and tender-hearted novels, but after reading all five of them, I am definitely left wondering if Mrs. Grant ever met a real boy!