The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England, 1891-1908 by Brian Anderson

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The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England, 1891-1908 by Brian Anderson

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Category: History
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: In an era when homosexuality was forbidden, three men made major milestones in the exploration and education of the subject. Paving the way for the Gay Rights movement, these men were miles ahead of their time -and this is explored in fascinating detail by author Brian Anderson, in this clever, thought compelling and timely book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2018
Publisher: Matador
ISBN: 978-1788037815

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Originally passed in 1885, the law that had made homosexual relations a crime remained in place for 82 years. But during this time, restrictions on same-sex relationships did not go unchallenged. Between 1891 and 1908, three books on the nature of homosexuality appeared. They were written by two homosexual men: Edward Carpenter and John Addington Symonds, as well as the heterosexual Havelock Ellis. Exploring the margins of society and studying homosexuality was common on the European Continent, but barely talked about in the UK, so the publications of these men were hugely significant – contributing to the scientific understanding of homosexuality, and beginning the struggle for recognition and equality, leading to the milestone legalisation of same-sex relationships in 1967.

John Addington Symonds was born in 1840. Several homosexual relationships filled his life, and whilst he is chiefly remembered for his writings on the Renaissance, he wrote, in 1873, what is remembered as one of the first works of gay history, and in addition translated a huge number of Greek poems that contained homosexual themes. His work with Havelock Ellis Sexual Inversion was a milestone in Gay History – providing a non-judgemental and fully objective view of Homosexuality. Edward Carpenter is perhaps better remembered: born in 1844, he left life as a curate in the Church of England, and a period as an academic followed, before the arrival of an inheritance allowed Carpenter to travel India and Ceylon, prior to taking up a simpler life as a market gardener in Derbyshire. It was upon his return that he met George Merrill, a working-class man from Sheffield. The two began a relationship that lasted over 30 years, and saw the two live openly as a couple, a bold move in a society so scandalised by the ongoing Oscar Wilde trial. Many known names were featured in their circle of friends – the couple proved to serve as a direct influence for EM Forster's Maurice, and D.H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. Also in their group was Havelock Ellis, a man born in 1859 who became known as a progressive reformer and intellectual who focused on human sexuality. His work with Symonds was hugely important, and, in conjunction with Magnus Hirschfeld, provided some of the earliest studies of Transgenderism. He also enjoyed an open marriage with his wife Edith Lees, and, on a somewhat less pleasant note, was a keen supporter of Eugenics.

Taking the lives of these three fascinating men, Brian Anderson combines biography with historical fact to make an entertaining yet intellectual study of homosexuality in the late Victorian age. Detailed, remarkably well researched, and packed full of insights on the remarkably modern publications that these men contributed to, The Fraternity of the Estranged shows just how far life for gay men has come in the last 100 years, but it's also surprising quite how forward thinking these men were – some of the dialogue between the men could easily be happening nowadays.

A fascinating piece of work – The Fraternity of the Estranged is illuminating and important – shedding light on a little known era of Gay History with great care and sensitivity. Highly recommended and for further reading I recommend Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride - 30 Years of Gay Britain by Paul Flynn, a more modern history book that takes a look at the last 30 Years in Gay Britain, and is worth contrasting with The Fraternity of the Estranged to see just how far we've come – and how far we still have to go.

Buy The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England, 1891-1908 by Brian Anderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England, 1891-1908 by Brian Anderson at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England, 1891-1908 by Brian Anderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England, 1891-1908 by Brian Anderson at Amazon.com.

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