This novel, written by Rose Allatini under the pseudonym A.T. Fitzroy, is a landmark in gay and lesbian literature, and in the literature of pacifism. It was unavailable to readers for more than half of the 20th century: the British government seized the unsold copies in 1918 and arrested and prosecuted author Allatini and publisher C.W. Daniel under the Defence of the Realm Act. This was a dangerous book on several counts. Although the author was prosecuted for the political content of the book as detrimental to war morale, the trial judge also took pains to denounce the book’s advocacy of homosexual rights. Just two decades after the Oscar Wilde trial, gay men and lesbians were still not allowed to plead equality. In a Wellsian peroration near the end of the book, reminiscent of that author’s
The Food of the Gods, and certainly influenced too by Edward Carpenter’s Towards Democracy, Allatini stakes a claim for a gay and lesbian consciousness as part of humankind’s evolution, demanding not only tolerance, but acceptance. Allatini equates the gentleness and empathy of gay men and women with an inherent antipathy toward the destructive stupidity of war. The British penal system seems to have agreed with her in part, declaring pacifists and homosexual persons as criminal bodies, to be isolated and punished. It seems no coincidence that the sentences meted out to men who would not fight was the same as that accorded to convicted homosexuals: imprisonment, hard labor, and abuse by jailers. Every pacifist was an Oscar Wilde. Writing before women had the right to vote in Great Britain, Allatini offers a free-spirited lesbian heroine who suffers a painful self-acceptance. She depicts brave women who, because there are fewer other choices available to them, become helpers and companions to pacifists; on the other side, she skewers the conventional women who are complicit in the war fever that sent their sons to meaningless deaths in the trenches. Closer to Dickens than to Virginia Woolf in method, Allatini nonetheless has the ability to dissect the patriotism-crazed society around her. She works her plot to convey in strong terms that, for the middle-class English mother, the price of unthinking patriotism was the dreaded telegraph from the front, or the return of the amputated soldier. When Allatini enters the narration in the guise of Dennis Blackwood, she conveys his torment, and his much more tortured self-acceptance, in a convincing way. The all-too-British reticence, evasions, panic, and finally, self-awareness make us see that whoever “made her understand,” was an extraordinary confidante. This book might have saved lives, had it been available in the pre-Stonewall decades. Despised and Rejected was reprinted in 1975 as part of the series Homosexuality: Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History and Literature, under the editorship of Jonathan Ned Katz. After one more reprint in the 1980s, the book seems to have dropped from sight again.