Impossible Love and Victorian Values: J. A. Symonds and the Intellectual History of Homosexuality

Impossible Love and Victorian Values: J. A. Symonds and the Intellectual History of Homosexuality Emily Rutherford On February 1, 1889, the British historian and essayist John Addington Symonds (1840­93) wrote Benjamin Jowett a letter. Jowett was the Master of Balliol College, Oxford, and Symonds's former tutor; Symonds had been helping him to revise his popular translation of Plato's dialogues. The letter asked how Jowett could be so ignorant of history as to regard homoerotic love described in Plato as ``mainly a figure of speech.'' Symonds explained what the ``concrete facts'' of love between men in ancient Athens could mean to modern men innately predisposed to same-sex attraction. He described the ``heaven in hell'' of reading about homoerotic love in Plato, then seeing it disavowed by Jowett's commentary. He emphasized the duplicity and hypocrisy of educators who hid the truth about homoeroticism, demonstrating themselves not to have their students' best interests at heart.1 This expression of frustration--passionate, but grounded in empirical evidence--is characteristic of Symonds's writing about same-sex desire. Since the 1960s, scholars have richly detailed the fin-de-siecle European ` literary and artistic community of men who desired men, and some have Herbert Schueller and Robert Peters, eds., The Letters of John Addington Symonds (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967­69), 3:345­47. Hereafter Letters. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the History of Ideas University of Pennsylvania Press

Impossible Love and Victorian Values: J. A. Symonds and the Intellectual History of Homosexuality

Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 75 (4) – Oct 21, 2014

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Publisher
University of Pennsylvania Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2008 The Journal of the History of Ideas, Inc.
ISSN
1086-3222
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Abstract

Emily Rutherford On February 1, 1889, the British historian and essayist John Addington Symonds (1840­93) wrote Benjamin Jowett a letter. Jowett was the Master of Balliol College, Oxford, and Symonds's former tutor; Symonds had been helping him to revise his popular translation of Plato's dialogues. The letter asked how Jowett could be so ignorant of history as to regard homoerotic love described in Plato as ``mainly a figure of speech.'' Symonds explained what the ``concrete facts'' of love between men in ancient Athens could mean to modern men innately predisposed to same-sex attraction. He described the ``heaven in hell'' of reading about homoerotic love in Plato, then seeing it disavowed by Jowett's commentary. He emphasized the duplicity and hypocrisy of educators who hid the truth about homoeroticism, demonstrating themselves not to have their students' best interests at heart.1 This expression of frustration--passionate, but grounded in empirical evidence--is characteristic of Symonds's writing about same-sex desire. Since the 1960s, scholars have richly detailed the fin-de-siecle European ` literary and artistic community of men who desired men, and some have Herbert Schueller and Robert Peters, eds., The Letters of John Addington Symonds (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967­69), 3:345­47. Hereafter Letters.

Journal

Journal of the History of IdeasUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: Oct 21, 2014

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