Monday, March 14, 2016

Screenshot from "Maurice", by James Ivory (1987)
Screenshot from "Maurice", by James Ivory (1987) with James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Hugh Grant

The faint signals from the ancient world,
the debris of the Wilde trials

King's College was unique. Here it was possible to doubt an axiom which [Bernard] Shaw left unquestioned and [Samuel] Butler skated over nervously.
It was only possible because no one breached the line that separated the official from the unofficial worlds. The consequences of being found out were the same in King's as anywhere else, and the same double life was imposed by the outside world. It was a ghetto of sexual dissent, with the advantages and disadvantages of ghetto life.
It was not the effect of the law, whose prohibition of all male homosexual activity played but a tiny part in the Britain of the 1930s, in direct terms. It was more as J.S. Mill had written of heresy:
...the chief mischief of the legal penalties is that they strengthen the social stigma. It is that stigma which is really effective, and so effective is it, that the profession of opinions which are under the ban of society is much less common in England that is, in many other countries, the avowal of those which incur risk of judicial punishment.
Modern psychology had made a twentieth-century difference; the 1920s had given to the avant-garde the name of Freud to conjure with. But his ideas were used in practice to discuss what had "gone wrong" with homosexual people, and such intellectual openings were outweighed by the continual efforts of the official world to render homosexuality invisible -- a process in which the academic world played its part along with prosecutions and censorship. As for respectable middle class opinion, it was represented by the Sunday Express in 1928, greeting The Well of Loneliness with the words, "I had rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel." The general rule remained that of unmentionability above all else, leaving even the well-educated homosexual person with nothing more encouraging than the faint signals from the ancient world, the debris of the Wilde trials, and the rare exception to the rules supplied by the writings of Havelok Ellis and Edward Carpenter.
In a peculiar environment such as Cambridge, it might be a positive advantage to enjoy homosexual experience, simply in terms of the opportunity for physical release. The deprivation was not one of laws but of the spirit -- a denial of identity. Heterosexual love, desire and mariage were hardly free from problems and anguish, but had all the novels and songs ever written to express them. The homosexual equivalents were relegated -- if mentioned at all -- to the comic, the criminal, the pathological, or the disgusting. To protect the self from these descriptions was hard enough, when they were embedded in the very words, the only words, that language offered. To keep the self a complete and consistent whole, rather than split into a facade of conformity, and a secret inner truth, was a miracle. To be able to develop the self, to increase its inner connections and to communicate with others -- that was next to impossible.
Alan [Turing] was at the one place that could support that development. Here, after all, was the circle around which Forster passed the manuscript of his novel Maurice which conveyed so much about being "an unmentionable of the Oscar Wilde sort."
- Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma, Burnett Books Ltd, 1983

Screenshot from "Maurice", by James Ivory (1987)

Screenshot from "Maurice", by James Ivory (1987)

Screenshot from "Maurice", by James Ivory (1987)

1 comment:

joseph said...

superbe film à tant de points de vue que je ne peux en faire une liste sans probablement oublier les moments d'émotion distillée !