ROMANTIC SAME-SEX FRIENDSHIPS:AN ATTEMPT AT A BALANCED VIEW

I shall try and look at this complex and vexed subject commonsensically, with an attempt an presenting an unbiased viewpoint. Throughout the Victorian era the relationships between man  and man , and between woman and woman,formed a CONTINUUM; I shall describe the end-points and the middle areas of that continuum, but remember it WAS a CONTINUUM, so the important point is that ALl shades of grey and overlap existed along it. I shall concentrate on literature of the period, though one can obviously extrapolate outwards from this to make psych-social-historico points of view.

There was a culture existing in this era that pre-marriage emotionally(and physically!) close relationships between members of the opposite sex were not de rigeur, for obvious reasons; so people filled this vacuum by forming intense, close(what are sometimes called passionate and romantic) relationships with friends of the SAME sex. This was not largely frowned upon,or a blind eye was turned at worst(unless you happened to be in the Jesuit priesthood,like Gerard Manley Hopkins, where even asexual friendship was deemed suspect). However, with the LaBouchere Amendment(1885), this perception, in society outside religious orders, changed-for the worse. Homosexual acts were forbidden(lesbians were not even thought of as existing so were, in one sense only, spared)and people became more suspicious of these close friendships, as being the “love that dare not speak its name”, the “abominable” sin/acts of sodomy and its associated (non-anal!) felonies. In fact, the differentiation bewteen same sex and opposite sex sexual expression had only come about when the nomenclature of both homosexual AND heterosexual had been coined by Karl Ulrichs in 1869, in his attempt to get Uranians(the “third sex”) accepted.

So this is where we have the vested interests, in academic scholarship, and  in reading-for-pleasure, take over; a miasma of contradictory postions, defensive stances and a an unending dialectic where the thesis and antithesis rarely reach anything like a synthesis(I except Graham Robb’s excellent fair and unbiassed “Strangers:Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth century”{2003}).

Ranged on one side are the Queer Theorists/critics,and the lgbt critics/theorists(and I am aware I am eliding the two here- but see my verbal exposition of the differences betweeen the two disciplines on You Tube-“stevskaskov”-link at bottom of blogroll on right of this page) who I think are SO very necessary to right the imbalances in hegemonic readings of Victorian texts, where, because of censorship and societal attitudes, subtexts/parallel readings, only obvious to those (gay and their friends) people in the know, are marginalised and invisibilized on grounds that there is “no evidence”, or that the texts should be “universal”(an argument that is never used to justify not investigating the love life of non-gay writers, who are assumed, by some academics and writers to speak for everyone, viz  “”universally”); so this queerizing NEEDs to be done else the true interior life of some of our greatest Victorian writers-Balzac, Tennyson, Hopkins, for instance-literally vanishes, in the same way it was made to vanish, to everyone but a knowledgeable coterie, in the period itself; queer literary theorists/critics are making a political point in this sense , and re-claiming writing which includes a same-sex affect from an invisibilising and oppressive hegemony in academia and in much of the world outside its enclaves.So we very much need them; thank you!{Of course, Sebald, is de facto,also, obviously, as I have else-where shown on this blog,  a proponent of this reclaiming of invisibilized gay people]

Then we get, on the far, opposite/opposed, side of the contimuum, those people, including academics and literature students and readers, who say “No; there cannot POSSIBLY be a homoerotic/same-sex sub/parallel text”;( or even an OVERT one, on the rare occasions when this has not been policed by censorship or internalized SELF-censorship) The most risible example is a woman in a literature class I once did who said this in connection with the famous marriage bed love and sex scene between Ishmael and Queequeg in “Moby Dick”, where they are described as being like man and wife together, as in a marriage bed; sex is more or less described(read the chapter, is near the start of the book!). Usually, however, the heterosexism at best, and outright homophobia, at worst, is used in connexion with more hidden meanings, so gay people are accused of having “a one-track mind”, “trust you, Steve{Me!} to find a gay reference/subtext”; gay people even accused of being “obsessed” , merely about elliciting our history from texts of the period where writers usually had to go underground(Melville and Whitman are rare, OVERT exceptions);”lets concentrate on the universal” in the text, then they move on to other issues but INCLUDING opposite-sex relationships. To be fair, one or two literary classes I have attended(and one I still attend)have had as tutors, and-mainly as participatory students-people who, luckily do not adopt this approach, especially as about a third of the texts chosen have been by pretty overtly homosexual/gay writers.But it is still rife- in “close-reading” university literature departments, where, again to be fair every line/sentence has only one “SET” meaning anyway, to be determined as the “correct” one or as the author’s intention, and, whilst, there is obviously SOME truth in this, its point being at the EXTREME opposite to the “Death of the Author” type {bastardized }version of Barthes, there is no budging from this extemely polarised thesis of the dialectic. Then there is the less extreme-we are now moving towards the CENTRE of the continuum-idea that, yes, every(or most, anyway) wrote, at least partly,  from their OWN experience, however sublimated and/or projected and/or re-envisioned in their characters (and their emotional lives).

So this dalectical, polarised opposites stance can be seen in macrocosm in literature studies of all kinds; but is particuarly virulent and active, in microcosm, on the subject of whether Victorian same-sex friendships could even POSSIBLY be sexual as well as “Platonic”(which is misued anyway, because Plato’s descriptions of same-sex friendships said they could either be pysical or non-physical or both).Again, commonsense, and non-dialectical positioning should come in here, it seems to me:

1. Some were “just” non physical friendships,where the affect, on both sides, was towards(or primarily towards) the OPPOSITE gender

2. as above, but one of the friends loved the other in a sexual way too, ie unrequited PHYSICAL

love

3. One or both friends wanted physical expression of this love and the other didnt/couldnt, because of specious, but understandable in the era, usually “religious” reservations or forbiddings(Gerard Manley hopkins-see my poem in “Towards Utopia” blog-link in blogroll to right)

4. there WAS physical/sexual expression and fulfilment on both sides, though this was often not without guilt(but not always-see Robb’s often joyful account of the Victorian gay underworld and successful relationships).

So, finally, I think we need to keep this overview in mind; and having read the lgbt and queer theorists and critics and allowed them to redress the imbalances of marginalisation and prejudice, in literature like in life, look at the other permutation of these friendships too.

And, finally finally, does it matter? Well, yes and no; see above for the dire, essential need for re-clamation of same-sex affect(physical or not); but when, and ONLY WHEN , we do have this level playing-field of total equality, wordwide, then, we can say; no, it doesnt; these two men or women LOVED each other: it doesnt MATTER if they did or didnt express it physically/sexually,  whether they had same-sex “inclinations” or not; they LOVED each other. Friends can love each other in very many ways.

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Published by: decayetude

ENTHUSIASMS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, ESPECIALLY OBSCURE ROMANTIC COMPOSERS; BACH/HANDEL LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-WRITTEN(STYLISTICALLY)NOVELS W G SEBALD WALTER BENJAMIN THEODOR ADORNO(JUST BEGINNING!) AESTHETIC PHILOSOPHY GAY MEN'S WRITING;QUEER THEORY STIMULATING DISCUSSIONS(EMOTIONALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY) GOOD RICH THICK ESPRESSO MICHAEL PONTI SPRITUALITY/LIFE'S "AURA"(BENJAMIN), WHATEVER TRANSCENDENTAL THING YOU WANT TO CALL THIS MEMORY-the elusiveness thereof. LOST TIME AND AN ATTEMPT AT ITS REDEMPTION(NON THEISTICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY)

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