For the Victorian era, we are told, there was a massive influx of homosexual, homoeroticism etc. works began to take shape in much of the literature (magazines/Novels). Victorians were not repressive of sexuality of any kind in their literature during their era despite popular belief, they were very appreciative of it. New material to read. I found this rather intriguing because in contemporary times, the idea of “Queers” are looked down upon and fought against more than it is accepted. This is not new, yet today it is treated as such. One thing that must be said about the Victorians is that they were far beyond their times on many issues, the acceptance of homosexuality or any sexuality in their literature and their seemingly nonchalant position towards it is fascinating. In today’s society, there is an uproar if anything other than heterosexual union is presented on television shows, advertisements or otherwise. That’s besides the point however, the ironic thing is that most people in contemporary times view the Victorians as prudes but based on their literature of this time, this is very much not true. It is important to note that what was considered ‘queer’ was, as we were told in class, that of as the uncanny. One thing I found was that there were plenty of researchers during the Victorian ere that were doing relative research on the diversity of sexuality and thus there was a shift in perceptions on the various erotic experiences people faced. It is understandable how some critics may have missed the ‘queer’ messages in poems and other literature of the time but contemporary critics very clearly, have.
In class we were given various examples of writers/poets who have created works with the hints of the topic being of a homoerotic nature. Amy Levy’s work I found rather compelling. So I opted to do a little extra research on her myself. What I found was rather fascinating, the best way to explain what it meant to be queer in the Victorian era was pretty much anything that did not include the pre-ordained rules/ideas of opposite sex desires and marriage. In keeping with what we were told of her life in class and her being a protégé of Oscar wilde, who, as we know praised her work, I went about researching him. That led me to the conclusion that though the Victorians were fairly welcoming of the homoeroticism in their literature, but they had a limit. Oscar Wilde’s notorious case (as we were told in class) that led to him being found guilty of being a ‘sodomite’ and accused of his alleged involvement in what was considered to be ‘gross indeceny’ . His intrigue with Levy’s work then appears to me, as ironic for contemporary readers have found that her work does in fact include homoeroticism within them and he throughout his case never actually agrees to being homosexual. This led me to think of just how accepting the Victorians truly were. It appears as though the Victorians will accept anything that is brought forward in the name of literature (being the era where much interest in learning, especially reading took place) would have been fair game in this time. Thus Homosexuality in the books and magazines were easily accepted but the actual actions or open involvement in these various sexualities in this society was unacceptable and shunned much like Wilde ultimately was. Levy’s work is really impressive in that it is written a kind of tongue in cheek way, on first glance of the two works we discussed in class “To Lallie (outside The British Museum)” and “To Vernon Lee” one assumes the poem is simply about a women going through a depressive state. Once one strips the poems down to its core, stanza by stanza we are enabled to see her celebrate as well as mourn love lost. It shows a women with same sex desires. That’s the underlying message (Symptomatic reading). Lines such as :
“We solemly discussed the –heat.
I found you shy and very sweet,
A rosebud maiden”
In “To Lallie” like much of the poems of hers, has a double meaning that at first glance, a person might not decipher right away. They make simply take away the innocent nature of the line. We discussed in class however, that this particular stanza might be suggestive of something much more sexual than the random/unexciting talk of the…heat. This makes me wonder if this was how many of the writers got away with having these works during the period. The ambiguity of what the poem says versus what it actually means (Dichotomy of the topics presented). Ultimately what I understand the topic of Queer Victorians was that people from the beginning of time it appears people have always shared various perceptions of sexuality. In today’s society it is taken up as a new phenomenon that we have to shun, keep hidden or get rid of completely. There is no ambiguity in our day, we are given things as they are. The Victorian era stands as proof that they were ahead of their time with much of their literature queer or otherwise. The Queer readings and the people associated is not new, though I always knew that but its impressive to actually see how far it dates back to and how many people, like much of the authors of Queer works in the Victorian era are still unable to unapologetically be themselves without being ridiculed or shunned.