Those Victorians. For decades the prevailing presumption was that mid- to late-19th-century British sexuality was completely repressed, or at least hidden by shame-filled secrecy. Then, in the 1960s, historians began understanding the complexity and often shocking blatancy of Victorian eroticism. In Secret Selves: Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography, Oliver S. Buckton argues that literary "secrecy"--the very act of holding back information in a novel or memoir--was a primary and provocative indicator of Victorian homosexuality. Examining confessional writings by Edward Carpenter (whom many consider the moral and political forefather of the gay movement), John Henry Cardinal Newman, John Addington Symonds, and Oscar Wilde, Buckton discovers that all of them say a great deal more than they seem to by quite consciously saying much less.
While Buckton's logic feels, at first, counterintuitive, it is ultimately extraordinarily convincing. His chapters on Carpenter and Symonds are strong, though a little predictable; his exegesis of Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua is stunning; and his scanning of Oscar Wilde's work--particularly the already much-analyzed The Importance of Being Ernest and The Picture of Dorian Gray--is original and constantly surprising. Secret Selves promises new, invigorating thinking about gay writing and history, and it delivers in full. --Michael Bronski
"In this major new study, Oliver Buckton widens the range of canonical works within Victorian autobiography by making a convincing case for the importance of John Addington Symond's "Memoirs" and Edward Carpenter's "My Days and Dreams" in addition to more familiar titles such as Newman's "Apologia pro Vita Sua" and Wilde's "De Profundis". Buckton demonstrates the special importance of this genre in the social construction of modern homosexuality and the fact that desire between men is a much more varied phenomenon, more closely tied to particular rhetorical strategies than is usually taken to be the case. This book will change the course of both Victorian and gay studies."--Richard Dellamora, author of "Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism"See all Editorial Reviews