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Gay Quaker Parrots
Literary Slash
*waves hello* Brief into: 20s, female, Scotland; former Lit student… 
24th-Jul-2005 01:14 am
Shoes
*waves hello* Brief into: 20s, female, Scotland; former Lit student (read: dropout). Now on to business...

Has anyone else here read the 1860s sensation novel, Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon? When I read it a few years back, it struck me as containing the most obviously gay relationship I could remember encountering in Victorian fiction, and as such seemed well worth a mention here.

An overview of the relationship:

George Talboys has been out of the country for years after quarrelling with both wife and family; upon his return he bumps into his old pal Robert Audley, and immediately afterwards learns that his (George's) wife has just died. Mrs Talboys is described at length at various points; she is the concentrated essence of Victorian "ideal" femininity, beautiful, childish, and doll-like (in short, an obvious target for a young man in denial about his own homosexuality to persuade himself he was in love with...). George is overcome with shock; Robert takes him home and looks after him. The pair are inseparable for a year.

Then George goes missing; Robert believes him to have been murdered. Robert up till now has been an extremely lazy fellow, never lifting a finger for anyone or anything but his own pleasure, sitting around all day smoking and reading naughty French novels. Upon George's disappearance he turns into an active crusader for justice for his "dear friend". While investigating he encounters for the first time George's sister, Clara. Once having established that Clara bears a close physical resemblance to her brother, and that he can talk away to his heart's content with her about their devotion to George, Robert decides to be in love with her.

The novel can be found several places online (such as here, or here, to name a couple); and of course the best way to get a real feel for the relationship would be to read the whole thing. Since it's been a while since I read it in full, skimming over it for twenty minutes this evening may not have enabled me to pick out the best examples, but here are a few quick quotes...

~*~


Robert had almost forgotten the commission he had executed for Lady Audley during his Russian expedition. His mind was so full of George Talboys that he only acknowledged my lady's gratitude by a bow.

"Would you believe it, Sir Michael?" he said. "That foolish chum of mine has gone back to London, leaving me in the lurch."

"Mr. George Talboys returned to town!" exclaimed my lady, lifting her eyebrows.

"What a dreadful catastrophe!" said Alicia maliciously, "since Pythias, in the person of Mr. Robert Audley, cannot exist for half an hour without Damon, commonly known as George Talboys."

~*~


The snug rooms in Fig-tree Court seemed dreary in their orderly quiet to Robert Audley upon this particular evening. He had no inclination for his French novels, though there was a packet of uncut romances, comic and sentimental, ordered a month before, waiting his pleasure upon one of the tables. He took his favourite meer-schaum and dropped into his favourite chair with a sigh.

"It's comfortable, but it seems so d -- d lonely to-night. If poor George were sitting opposite to me, or -- or even George's sister -- she's very like him -- existence might be a little more endurable. [...]"

~*~


Luke Marks stretched out his left hand -- the right hand had been injured by the fire, and was wrapped in linen -- and groped feebly for that of Mr. Robert Audley.

The young man took the coarse but shrunken hand in both his own, and pressed it cordially.

"I need no thanks, Luke Marks," he said, "I was very glad to be of service to you."

Mr. Marks did not speak immediately. He was lying quietly upon his side, staring reflectingly at Robert Audley.

"You was oncommon fond of that gent as disappeared at the Court, warn't you, sir," he said at last.

Robert started at the mention of his dead friend.

"You was oncommon fond of this Mr. Talboys, I've heerd say, sir," repeated Luke.

"Yes, yes," answered Robert, rather impatiently, "he was my very dear friend.

"I've heerd the servants at the Court say how you took on when you couldn't find him. I've heerd the landlord of the Sun Inn say how cut up you was when you first missed him. 'If the two gents had been brothers,' the landlord said, 'our gent,' meanin' you, sir, 'couldn't have been more cut up when he missed the other.'"

"Yes, yes, I know, I know," said Robert; "pray do not speak any more of this subject; I cannot tell you how much it distresses me."
Comments 
24th-Jul-2005 12:43 pm (UTC) - Spoiler for "Jane Eyre", of all things
Which part of Scotland? I'm in Edinburgh, enjoying the peace and quiet before the tourists descend.

Bob Singleton ends up marrying the sister of his lover, the original gay Quaker pirate, in a throwaway line which is the penultimate one of the novel. In fact, I think it's the first we've heard of her, and she certainly doesn't appear before that page. Can anyone think of other examples of this sort of thing, apart from the slightly more convoluted way in which Alexander and Hephaistion married a pair of sisters?

Nice extract. I like the gropage in particular. There's a funny bit where Rochester gropes Jane Eyre. We were talking about that section in class, and I said, "And look, he's practically groping her!" (The text is something about how he grabs her face, then her neck, then her waist, and I do recall that there's something in between for most women.) The girl next to me looked at the text and said, "Yup, 'he groped', there it is." Again the groping doesn't actually refer to the real groping, it's just before it, when he's blindly reaching out for her, but still!

I read a huge pile of 1850s sensation novels at once and I remember looking up Damon and Thingy (Pythias? Phintias? Either depending on who the novelist was?) for one of them, it must have been this one. Though Wilkie Collins is a possibility, I've read a number of his novels and they're frequently screamingly gay, although it's the lesbians who come to mind at the moment.
24th-Jul-2005 03:43 pm (UTC) - some spoilers for Hardy's "Desperate Remedies" and Scott's "Redgauntlet"
I'm somewhat north of Edinburgh, the other side of the river in sunny Fife.

It must be something about the sensation novel... although I must admit I've been more forcibly struck by the suggestions of incest in Collins' novels than the slash, I can definitely see what you mean about the lesbians; The Woman in White foremost out of those I've read. But Armadale and Hide and Seek also spring to mind as having some rather close male relationships...

And then there's Thomas Hardy's early stab at the sensation genre, Desperate Remedies... it has an amazingly blatant lesbian scene in it, which really deserves an entry of its own (something I'll get round to in the next day or two, hopefully; I'd like to glance over the book again first). It also includes an example of lover-marrying-relative, though not as straightforward as in Lady Audley's Secret.

Another example might be Walter Scott's Redgauntlet; until joining this community I'd almost forgotten the existence of this novel, I rushed through it years ago for a Scottish Lit class, and I'm a bit hazy on the setup now. As I recall it involves two male 'friends' and one mysterious woman, who turns out to be the sister to one of them so gets married off to the other by default. Her brother also spends quite a bit of time in drag. I really need to hunt down a copy of that novel and read it again...
25th-Jul-2005 04:44 pm (UTC) - Spoiler for the Chanson de Roland
In the twelfth-century anonymous Chanson de Roland, our hero Roland has a companion Oliver, whom he loves dearly. Roland is betrothed (not married -- I had misread the text previously) to Oliver's sister. During a desperate battle against the Saracens in which both Roland and Oliver are doomed to die (tragically and slashily, of course) Oliver gets angry at Roland and swears,

Par ceste meie barbe, se puis veeir ma gente sorur Alde, ne jerr(e)iez jamais entre sa brace! (laisse 130, ll. 1719-1721)

(By this beard of mine, if I ever see my gentle sister Alde again, she will never hold you in her arms!)
29th-Jul-2006 09:46 pm (UTC) - Re: Spoiler for the Chanson de Roland
I'm taking a course next year about mediaeval French lit. (involving the Chanson de Roland, of course) and its title is something juicy like "Madness, deviance and sexuality"... (not v relevant, but yeah!)
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