Euphemism of the Day (2011-01-31)

Some impressive talking-around-the-homosexuality-issue from Melvin Richter’s 1964 biography of T.H. Green, The Politics of Conscience: T.H. Green and His Age:

In more than one sense a deviant from Balliol morality, Symonds in time rebelled, abandoned Zeller to two more obedient disciples of Jowett, and made his own mark by a prodigious number of literary and historical works, including the first extended treatment in English of the Italian Renaissance. Symonds married and lived in Switzerland with his wife and four daughters, but had another aspect to his character which led him to keep a Venetian gondolier as his personal servant. Yet Jowett never repudiated him; indeed Jowett came often to stay with the SYmonds at their villa, Am Hof, at Davos. Campbell, Jowett’s biographer commented on this. For the Master ‘had a “horror naturalis” of sentimental feelings between men (“diabolical” I have heard him call them)….’

I really like how in the course of these sentences the nature of Symonds’ moral deviance gets progressively clearer: first you have “a deviant from Balliol morality,” then “another aspect to his character,” then finally outright “sentimental feelings between men,” though that itself still a euphemism. I’m also interested by the class assumptions going on here; my understanding has always been that Angelo Fusato was Symonds’ lover on what Symonds, at least, thought were relatively equal terms. Like Edward Carpenter and other British Whitmaniacs, Symonds took seriously the notion that homosexual relationships could bridge class divides (though of course whenever he put it into practice he made himself look ridiculous, as he did when he lent Fusato and his family money and basically acted the part of the elite romantically struck by but not taking at all seriously the impoverished circumstances in which Fusato and his family lived). You could say that Symonds was unconsciously implicated in the bourgeois exploitation of the proletariat, but you certainly couldn’t say that Fusato was his servant—that speaks more to how Richter understands the nature of Symonds’ particular brand of homosexuality in the context of both Symonds’ and Richter’s historical moments.

It’s also worth noting that Richter gives a fairly broad attention to Symonds (at least inasmuch as his life was connected to Green’s, which it very much was) a year before the publication of Grosskurth’s biography. Grosskurth’s biography is thought to be the first modern treatment of Symonds (and one of the few to date), but Richter in some ways does a much better job than Grosskurth of placing Symonds in the context of the Balliol world he inhabited, involved in many of the intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual questions dogging Oxford in the mid-to-late-19th century.

3 thoughts on “Euphemism of the Day (2011-01-31)

  1. Edward Carpenter and other British Whitmaniacs – I assume you’ve read Forster? Not just Maurice, though of course that’s clearest – but all his works are obsessed with love and the class divide (or should that be class and the love bridge? awkward phrase, that last bit, not quite worthy but I think you’ll understand what I mean), not necessarily in a homosexual way but always, running through the works. I think they rather seized on homosexuality as the line which would come to divide them from the rest of the world, behind which all other defining lines like class would be elided, scrubbed away…

  2. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not read any Forster, and I haven’t any excuse whatever. I really should. Maybe I’ll make it an Easter vacation project.

    Yeah – I think there was something exotic and erotic about the American promise of a classless society (as false, of course, as any such notion about America is. For Symonds, though, Whitman was as Greek as he was American–there was something extra to his exoticism that corresponded to the ideals of a different culture. And I’m still trying really hard to work out what that means.

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