Life-writing, literature, popular culture.
In September 2010 I co-organised a conference at Keele University dedicated to ‘(Re)Reading John Addington Symonds‘. Symonds is a key figure in my research; I’m interested in him as a memoirist and autobiographer, and I’m interested in him as an important figure in histories of homosexual and queer identity. More than two years after this conference, a special issue of the journal English Studies has been published, co-edited by myself and David Amigoni, based on a selection of papers offered and delivered by delegates.
As part of this special issue, I have contributed an article on Symonds’s 1893 essay collection, In the Key of Blue:
It’s a fascinating and unusual text that stands out from the ‘crowd’ of Symonds’s oeuvre, not least because of the daringly Decadent design of its original covers (by Charles Ricketts, with cream boards, gold leaf, and a hyacinth and laurel pattern — see this post by Paul van Capelleveen on the Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon blog).
In my article, I argue that In the Key of Blue constitutes a daringly outspoken moment of ‘late style’ for Symonds, in which he articulates (as publicly as possible) homosexual desire. To whet your appetite, here’s the abstract:
This article examines In the Key of Blue (1893)—an essay collection by John Addington Symonds—as a case study in queer public utterance during the early 1890s. Viewed through the critical lens of late style, as theorised by Edward Said, the evolution of this project, from compilation through to reader reception, reveals Symonds’s determination to “speak out” on the subject of homosexuality. Paradoxically, In the Key of Blue was thus a timely and untimely work: it belonged to a brief period of increased visibility and expressiveness when dealing with male same-sex desire, spearheaded by a younger generation of Decadent writers, but it also cut against the grain of nineteenth-century social taboo and legal repression. Symonds’s essay collection brought together new and previously unpublished work with examples of his writing for the periodical press. These new combinations, appearing together for the first time, served to facilitate new readings and new inferences, bringing homosexual themes to the fore. This article traces the dialogic structure of In the Key of Blue, its strategies for articulating homosexual desire, and examines the response of reviewers, from the hostile to celebratory.