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Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century Paperback – February 17, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
With an impressive oeuvre comprising acclaimed biographies of Rimbaud, Balzac and Victor Hugo, Robb returns to spoof the poststructuralist convention that homosexuality, because it was not then categorized or "named," cannot be said to exist prior to 1880; he also argues that homosexual men and women in this period were not automatically persecuted. For Robb, Oscar Wilde's "martyrdom" and similar cases were exceptions to the rule of, if not acceptance, then a grudging knowing. He unpacks now obscure layers of contemporary allusion to show evidence of gay tolerance in many kinds of literary work, from high to low, from Continental, U.S. and U.K. fiction to the most obscure, nearly unreadable pamphlet. And some of the material is decidedly and hilariously antiliterary. "In Weiberbeute by `Luz Frauman' (Budapest, 1901), a frustrated lesbian hypnotizes her girlish stepson into thinking himself a woman. She then induces a phantom pregnancy in him, fosters her own son on him and convinces him he has given birth to a girl." Still, Robb's claim that the eponymous castle in Eekhoud's 1899 novel Escal-Vigor is a "partial anagram of Oscar Wilde" seems true only in the sense that it's also a partial anagram of Gore Vidal. The book ends fittingly on an extended inquiry into the mystery of why so many fictional detectives, beginning with the 19th-century Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, but also the 20th-century Miss Marple and Nero Wolfe, seem to be telling us today they're gay. This agreeable, provocative romp shows that, at least in some strata of society, their peers already knew.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A work of enormous value.... Robb makes some startling and bold findings."
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Graham Robb's book, "Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century," artfully analyzes and presents the major aspects of what has been said of homosexuality in the U.S. and Europe for the Nineteenth Century including influences from patterns from the eighteenth and later developments in the Twentieth Century. Author Robb's account is awesome for his ability to pack so much into fewer than three hundred pages and for his writerly skills as well. Most of all, he demonstrates that history books need not be dull.
Of great pleasure, too, is author Robb's wit which he displays, e.g.: "The overall picture, then, is not unremittingly bleak. Nineteenth Century homosexuals lived under a cloud, but it seldom rained. . . . Loveless marriages caused more lasting grief than laws, and still do."
Of particular import, too, is Graham Robb's analysis of the importance of laws and tabloid-like publicity depicting arrest and punishment of homosexuals, then variously called uranists, inverts, and pederasts because the publicity acted as a news communication that united homosexuals to understand they were not just maniacal isolates. This is not to suggest that there were not harsh penalties (e.g. hanging and beheading, etc.) of homosexuals , but that the attention brought to lgbt communities, a kind of communications that spread the news about homosexuals, perhaps the only source of information for many isolates.
"Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century" is a fascinating book, a well-informed discussion of many views of the past of our Twenty-first Century culture. For anyone interested in American Cultural history, this is a must book for your next non-fiction reading.
In Robb's narrative the Gay outlaws of the 19th century are portrayed as resourceful creators of a unique society just below the smooth veneer of Victoriana. This Gay underground was, in many ways, much more liberated than what would follow. Perhaps the most surprising fact to come out of this book regards the relative lack of persecution of Gays during the 19th century in comparison to the rise of persecution which took place during the 20th century.
There are a number of heroes in the book: Jeremy Bentham, the English Philosopher who argued for tolerance toward homosexuals; Karl Heinrich Uhlrichs, the first Gay man to stage a high profile coming out; Magnus Hirschfeld, the German sex-researcher who authored numerous studies and even a film arguing for compassionate treatment of Gays.
My own favorite is Edward Carpenter who simply lived the unapologetic life of a Gay man with his partner George Merrill during the same era when Oscar Wilde underwent his own spectacular and tragic outing.
For anyone interested in Gay History this book is a must. I do have one caveat. Robb often writes as if his readers will be as familiar with this story and its characters as he is himself. A confusing array of names are thrown at us and I would have enjoyed the book more if he had taken the time to give us more details of these figures from Gay history.