The Lingering Clasp of the Hand Part 3
“Faire des Objections c’est Collaborer”: Further Literary Bondings: Kipling and Balestier, Haggard and Kipling, Stevenson and Henley, James and Stevenson, Conrad and Ford, and Stevenson and Osbourne.
Notions of Male Sexuality
The act of producing a literary work in collaboration is not necessarily a straightforward activity, for there were strains evident in the theorisation, composition and execution of the romance genre.[i] Pre-eminent among these concerns were the issues of what actually constituted the traditional romance, and what was the most appropriate way in which to present adventure realistically. The question at issue was why did Haggard want to convey the story of a returned adventurer with realistic details of his exploits, and why did Lang, contrarily, wish to recreate the romantic legends of a lost form from 12th century France? Whilst this conflict raged in the journals, salons and writing rooms of the period, the amity that lies at the basis of collaboration constantly tended to colour the finished novels that the writers produced. In this Part the ways in which writers bonded together to produce a fiction that reflected the collaborative nature of their exploits are explored. Their endeavours often resulted in a vocabulary within the completed novel that pointed to sexuality while often veiling it. At the same time, during the process of collaboration between the writers, some objections were raised and many rivalries surfaced that limited the range and effectiveness of the work in which they engaged.
In order to comprehend these complex issues fully, it will be necessary to undertake an analysis of aspects of sexuality and look at gender issues in the period in question. One aspect of human sexuality, homosexuality, became one of the forms of sexuality when it was transferred from an identification with the practice of sodomy onto what Foucault sees as a kind of “hermaphrodism of the soul”. This is not to suggest, of course, that in the Greek city states in Plato, in Rome, Marlowe, Gray and Shakespeare’s sonnets there were no expressions before 1870 of hermaphroditic sexual sensibility.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argues that any analysis of modern Western culture must be not only incomplete, but deficient in its central premises if it does not include a criticism of the way in which modern homosexuality/heterosexuality is defined. She proposes that the correct place for that criticism to start is from “the relatively decentered perspective of modern gay and anti homophobic theory”.
Sedgwick’s understanding of “male homosocial desire” founds itself on the premise that homosexual hysteria, or homophobia, and genital homosexuality were a kind of “double bind” which men have been unable to unwind. The uneasiness surrounding homophobic activity and homosexuality is all part of a historical and institutional construction that opens up a range of categories for examination, she argues. There are highly equivocal lexical pointers to a homosexual meaning in much of the terminology and the discourse surrounding the Wilde trials, Sedgwick shows. Wilde’s trial of 1895, a pivotal moment, revealed his genius for repartee and brought to light an aesthetic of the delight in beautiful and colourful objects exemplified by a green carnation, an image which no one had experienced and that still remains in works like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Ballad of Reading Gaol. A crowning moment in the trial came when Wilde, asked by his interrogator, Carson, whether his work had “a certain tendency”, or whether he had “ever adored a young man madly”, stated that he preferred love – “that is a higher form.” Charged with having had that feeling of adoring a young man madly, Wilde replied that “the whole idea was borrowed from Shakespeare.” The sonnets with their oblique references to W. H., and the issue of the “dark lady” are, indeed, an indication that homosexual feelings were recognised well before this era.
Looking at the discourses surrounding male homosexual rôles, Sedgwick suggests that these discourses have resulted in the danger that we might have freighted the names for homosexuality “more firmly and distinctively with homosexual meaning.” It is this danger that I continually acknowledge in my reluctance to deny the presence of an erotic charge apparent in the discourse of Lang and others. If the texts are taken at face value, because of the consonances surrounding much of the terminology, texts that hold a specific homosexual resonance today may not have had altogether the same effect contemporaneously, yet the images of homosexual activity they evoke must have had an erotic effect on young boy readers as, for example, Wilde’s tormentors recognised.
The word “homosexual” came into use in Europe and America during the period 1866 – 1899. It was actually more popular, Sedgwick claims, than the word “heterosexual” and occurred before it. It is evident, she says, that the sexual behaviours, and even for certain people the conscious awarenesses marked by the new term “homosexual” and other contemporary usages of the word already had a very long genealogy. Indeed, so did a large number of other sexual behaviours and behaviour clusters, she argues. What was original from 1900 was what she terms the “world-mapping” by which every single human being, just as s/he was necessarily classifiable as possessing either male or female gender, was now capable of being categorised as possessing a homo or a heterosexuality. It was a binary identity that was full of confusing presuppositions for even the least sexual aspects of personal identity. It was this new trend that left no room in the culture free from what she terms “the potent incoherences of homo/heterosexual definition.” Sedgwick uses the notion of binarism to argue that “the now chronic modern crisis of homo/heterosexual definition has affected our culture through its ineffaceable marking particularly of the categories secrecy/disclosure, knowledge/ignorance, private/public, masculine/feminine, majority/minority, innocence/initiation, natural/artificial, new/old, discipline/terrorism, canonic/noncanonic, wholeness/decadence, urbane/provincial, domestic/foreign, health/illness, same/different, active/pasive, in/out, cognition/paranoia, art/kitsch, utopia/apocalypse, sincerity/sentimentality, and voluntary/addiction.”
Sedgwick argues that “sex” is a term that extends indefinitely beyond chromosomal sex. It is only one problem that the history of its usage often overlaps with what might, these days, more properly be called “gender”. In the sentence “I can only love someone of my own sex” shouldn’t “sex”, she asks, be “gender” in such a sentence? Again she gives an example: “M. saw that the one person who approached was of the opposite sex.” Genders, she repeats, insofar as they are in contradistinction to one another, may be said to be opposite; “but in what sense is XX the opposite of YY?” she asks. Beyond chromosomes, however, the equating of “sex” through the human body, with reproduction, genital activity and sensation offers new challenges to what she terms “the conceptual clarity or even possibility of sex/gender differentiation.”
Jonathan Dollimore confirms that there is a truth in the opinion that the homosexual “comes into being”, that is, given an identity, in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries. In its basic pejorative form, this identity can be taken as “a pathology of one’s innermost being”. But the idea of homosexuality as an alienated behaviour, or at least something that is outside of the person, is in part a variation of the older idea of deviant sexual practices as activity rather than identity.
According to Dollimore, the homosexual is deeply implicated in both sexual and cultural difference, because he or she has been thought of especially in psychoanalytic theory as somebody who is fearful of the difference of the ‘other’ or the complementary sex, and running away from it, vainly takes on the category of the same sex as well. The reason why the homosexual is involved with difference, Dollimore says, is because she or he has, in terms of past reality, taken on both cultural and racial difference. The relation to those other sorts of differences has, for certain homosexuals, become an important part of their culture. Because they were virtually sexually banished from the repressiveness of the native culture they have looked instead to find fulfillment in the area of the strange and foreign. Not necessarily as second best, Dollimore reasons, but because continuously in the homosexual culture differences of race and class are concentrated into one channel of mental energy. “That this has occurred in exploitative, sentimental, and/or racist forms does not diminish its significance”, Dollimore says. In fact, it increases it, he argues. People who criticise homosexuality too readily over race or class as “essentially or only exploitative, sentimental or racist” only serve to show up their own homophobia, he maintains.
Sexual difference, according to Dollimore, is not a biological ‘given’ but is “a complex ideological history.” Current theories of sexual difference are quite new, and still affected and influenced by older views, he explains. Before the acknowledgment of sexual difference, he says, women were once, and still may be, feared in the way the homosexual is now: not so much, that is, or only because of a deep otherness, but because of what he terms “an inferior resemblance presupposing a certain proximity”. Women then “are marked in terms of lesser or retarded development.”
There is also the question of identification with other men in the relations between males and male desire. Within the heterosexual “drama” generally, there is a profound separation between sexual identification with other men and desire, especially for males. The male is required to identify with other males, but he is not permitted to desire them. Indeed, identification with, should actually preclude desire for, reasons Dollimore. This embargo helps to explain the conscious attempts the writers featured in this dissertation make to suppress and control the expression of male-male desire in their discourse while being unable to conceal it altogether. By identifying with another male, the homosexual man is denying the existence of the other sex, thereby repudiating the woman. This too, might explain in some way the constant demonising of the female character in the works of these writers and their inability to make successful characterisations exhibiting 'normative' female sexuality. Indeed, Eve Sedgwick recognised that desire was possible between people of the same gender where she acknowledges that the gender of the bodies of the desired person might be either male or female:
Desire by definition subsists in the current that runs between one male self and one female self, in whatever sex of bodies these selves may be manifested.
The notion that there existed no definition of sexuality prior to the nineteenth century bears little weight. It is impossible to disregard the variety and power of sexual experience between men in earlier periods from Plato to Shakespeare, and it would have been very much part of the same environment into which Arthur Hallam moved after he left Cambridge University to be a member of the Temple. Yet concealment had been habitual among homosexuals as a result of the prevailing culture of patriarchy and homophobia. There is a need to identify with groups and to retain an identity within the group at all costs. This may go some way to explain the need for the writers I have studied to maintain the bonding ties in the ways that they did by writing together and producing work in tandem. Dissembling and evasion produce a false identity which, if successful, may be more convincing to those outside the group than those inside it. What may occur in homosexual groups is a transference of guilt feelings where the man, feeling that he has something to be guilty about, transfers his feelings into some other activity whether it be “adventure”, collaborative writing, or artistic endeavour. So, changes in the form of families, changes in concepts of what constitutes childhood and the function of parenthood literally have long-lasting effects in the construction of separate categories of heterosexual, homosexual or other sexual identities. The belief that homosexuality arose from an absent father and an overbearing mother dominated the English political, social and literary scene, but an awareness of its normality as one form of human activity is fundamental and also the realisation that it results from historically influenced familial and other social factors.
Its recognition as being normal human activity in mid nineteenth-century in the United States was underlined by Richard Croom Beatty who wrote ironically that claims of Bayard Taylor’s homosexual relationship with George Henry Boker were the “distort[ions] of Freudians”. Beatty made attempts to save Taylor from allegations of “abnormality” and reported that Taylor made a spirited defence of his right to male friendship rather than female friendship, and it was clearly recognised by his family and his biographer and constituted no block to his efforts to obtain the highest offices in the Republic.
In an era in which erotic journals were available, it may not have been uncommon for terms such as “queer”and “gay” to bear a more physical connotation than is suggested at face value, as I discuss below. However, during the 1880s periodicals such as The Pearl (1879-80), published between July 1879 and December 1880, dealt in erotica as a straightforward form of pornographic titillation. In The Pearl’s features on flagellation and sexually explicit illustrations, interspersed with doggerel poems, homilies, jokes, verses and maxims, could be seen the vocabulary of sexuality in which terms like these were commonplace. Stories entitled "Lady Pokingham, or They All Do It. Giving an Account of her Luxurious Adventures both before and after her Marriage with Lord Crim-Con", [“criminal conspiracy” was one late-Victorian term for illegal sexual intercourse] and “Sub-Umbra or Sport Amongst the She –Noodles” are an indication of the suggestive titles with which these stories are labelled. It is a vocabulary which, at one and the same time, indicates sexuality while attempting to deny its existence while it contributes to the corpus of erotic, ribald and bawdy literature.
Wilde's epigrams, "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young", in The Chameleon which appeared on only one occasion, caused consternation amongst critics such as Jerome K. Jerome who recommended that the publication be brought to the attention of the police for its obscene content. The Chameleon contained the story "The Priest and the Acolyte" in which a priest poisons the wine to be administered to a young boy worshipper, about which Wilde was questioned in the second trial, on the grounds of its homosexual references. In Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Gwendolen claims that "once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties, he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not? And I don't like that. It makes men so very attractive." The support that Wilde seems to give, through the voice of his character, to effeminacy in men is gay in its effect and would have been considered as rather risqué by the average theatregoer or reader. The continual accretion of homoerotic vocabulary in an otherwise inexplicit vehicle could be taken as being a marker for homophile action, especially where such double entendres were commonplace in a late-Victorian era of repressiveness and sexual suppression.
Authors who bonded were engaged largely in constructions of gender which were not, at that time, viewed in the way that they are seen now. Gender could be said to be operative at three levels of experience: the physical — relating to the body; the social; and thirdly at a level which could be defined as the unconscious. But by the continual emphasis on manliness in these novels masculinity, like a bursting balloon, often disappears into emasculation and neuterisation and men are trapped in stereotypes that fix and contain masculine identity.
It was not common for emotions to be exhibited between men at that time, but Stevenson and Osbourne sometimes broke these rules. Patriarchy in the late-Victorian period precluded close, affectionate encounters between men in public, encounters which would not trouble today’s reader. The intensity of the emotions surrounding male homosexuality and the patriarchal proscriptions with which it was hedged were part of the diffused issue of gender identity. It is clearly difficult to show whether the adventure stories the writers produced were the expression of the homosexual imperative or whether, in their misogynist, clubby ethos they demonstrated complicity with the homophobic restrictions imposed in the imperialistic era. Haggard, who was engaged in activities including the writing of Reports for and on behalf of the Commonwealth, Kipling, who supported, and wrote about patriarchal institutions such as parliament, the army and the Royal Navy, and Stevenson, who took part in diplomatic activity and the entertaining of the chiefs on Samoa, were each engaged, in a textual sense, in political power and active in situations supportive of patriarchy.
But to look at masculinities is not sufficient. We must examine the relations between the separate kinds of masculinites, attending to their social structures and what directions they took. Hegemony or dominance is one of the factors, and male subservience is another. The complex composition of relations among men and the sidelining of women constitute part of patriarchy. Nevertheless, John Tosh has argued, looking closely at the family lives of Edward and Mary Benson, that there is evidence of an increasing tendency towards domesticity amongst patriarchs in the Victorian period. Tosh showed that there was more time spent at home among the family by men in the latter part of the century; emphasis was placed upon child-care and the home, fathers were responsible for financial support and involved themselves in domestic affairs, including instruction, tuition and enforcing discipline, whilst all the time fostering authority over the family. He pointed to the fact that Edward White Benson, for example, who was an Archbishop, devoted time and attention to the domestic arrangements of his family, looking after the affairs of his younger wife and his children, and providing many services which it had not been thought was true for fathers in the Victorian household. It is quite possible, of course, that some men will have been domestic and caring, some not, in any given period. And it is also the case that an Archbishop is an unrepresentative figure on which to base one’s assumptions.
Tosh has explained how some men in the Victorian age were able to express emotions and feelings between themselves openly. Indeed, he writes that Edward Benson was "a man of strong passions who did not hide his intense feelings for his wife, his friends, or even his professional colleagues." Benson experienced a sense of deep regret when his anger became too great to control, and, as David Newsome has reported, in a chapter on the judgment of Benson's performance as Headmaster at Wellington, his sense of shame about losing his temper led him to shed tears when he was alone in the Headmaster's lodge. The expression of these emotions was not, however, possible in public in front of his colleagues and pupils; nor would it be now – or in the seventeenth-century. As a father he was intense and loving, which was not always fully demonstrated to his children: his son, Arthur, in 1899 seemed to remember only censoriousness rather than any affection.
The only way for middle-class men to combine masculine authority with domesticity, Davidoff and Hall point out, was if they were seen to be totally in charge of the home. The movement known as Evangelicalism, with its emphasis on primitivistic gender roles they argue, allowed men to be both domesticated and manly at the same time in the late-Victorian period, because it empowered them to exercise authority over their wives and family in the sense that wives were responsible to the husband for routine domestic affairs and the children enjoyed paternal instruction and affection.
The work of Davidoff and Hall on James Luckock (1761-1835) draws attention to the importance of domesticity as the main purpose of men's worldly pursuits, and its centrality to their conception of masculinity. James A. Hammerton claims that "among the lower middle-class the separation of spheres, power and authority was more nuanced, and at times more contested" than in the middle-class. According to Hammerton, "companionate marriage, complete with domesticated husbands, close family intimacy and shared recreation could provide another sphere for the more subtle domination of husband and father, whose authority, no longer so blatantly exercised, continued to be sustained by a perceptive wife and her children." Trends towards a more modern interpretation of masculinity along the lines of the “new man” were beginning to emerge in the middle and upper classes. The results have, indeed, permeated our more caring society today. The specific interactions between writers and the efforts made to arrange and organise a literary collaboration, as well as an examination of some of the bonded texts, will occupy the remainder of this section.
The Kipling and Balestier Collaboration.
Kipling and Walcott Balestier collaborated together on a literary venture during the time that Balestier was domiciled in England. He had arrived in London in 1888 to become the agent for Lowell and Co., the New York publishers. They were introduced by the writer, Edmund Gosse, and the two men decided on a literary collaboration on “an Anglo-American novel about India.” It thus appears that literary collaboration could be a straightforwardly practical concern with little thought of its consequences.
For four years the Kiplings lived near to Carrie’s younger brother, Beatty Balestier in Brattleboro, Vermont. The time they spent was scarred by the acrimonious legal struggle that took place between Kipling and his brother-in-law, Beatty, culminating in a heated exchange of words. ““If I don’t do certain things, you’ll kill me?” “By Jesus, I will” cursed Beatty. “Then remember you will only have yourself to blame”” is how the altercation is recorded in one account. It underlines the passions and objections that occur between collaborative individuals and how such objections can become violent.
In Brattleboro at Naulakha, after which their collaborative novel was named, was carved the text “The night cometh when no man can work.” Perhaps this was a premonition of the breakdown of relations between Kipling and Beatty Balestier that terminated their friendship. After Wolcott died of typhoid on a visit to Germany, Kipling proposed marriage to and was accepted by Carrie. Was this marriage a means of transferring his emotions from Walcott to Carrie, it may be asked? Kipling’s brother-in-law, Beatty, seems to have exercised an emotional influence over him that did not have a positive outcome, as many of the quarrels between them illustrate.
A suggestion has been made by Adeline R. Tintner that the real-life collaboration between Kipling and Walcott Balestier over the novel The Naulahka lay behind the portrayal of the collaboration between the French artist and the German poet in James’s Collaboration. Whilst there is some credibility in this view, I argue that the ethos of the James story is one that suggests writing from different cultural contexts. The modest and humdrum literary collaboration by two writers, one of whom married the sister of the other, in a typical contemporary text (unnoticed apart from Kipling’s poems which preface each chapter) about the theft and return of a necklace is nowhere as widely conceived and ambitiously executed as is the grand international project by two remarkably contradictory artists, Heidenmauer and Vendemer.
It appears that Walcott Balestier and Kipling were taking part in a lie in writing The Naulahka. The pleasure to be had in untruth, with Balestier as accomplice, in the poem heading Chapter 7, is as great as that of the experience of the painter in having his painting hung at the Royal Academy or of the poet or the sculptor in seeing the outcome of his finished work. Yet the quality of a lie to Kipling and Balestier is a sterling one. It is as good as possessing a smart coach and horses; not as desirable as owning a residence in the London suburb of Tooting, but even as enviable as having a country house with its own estates for hunting game:
There is pleasure in the wet, wet clay
When the artist’s hand is plotting it;
There is pleasure in the wet, wet lay
When the poet’s pad is blotting it;
There is pleasure in the shine of your picture on the line
At the Royal Academy;
But the pleasure felt in these is as chalk to Cheddar cheese
When it comes to a well-made lie:
To a quite unwreckable Lie,
To a most impeccable Lie,
To a water-tight, fireproof, angle-iron, sunk-hinge,
time-lock, steel-faced Lie:
Not a private hansom Lie,
But a pair and brougham Lie,
Not a little place at Tooting, but a country-house
And a ring-park, deer-park Lie.
It may be questioned whether this poem suggests that lies and prevarication are a part of the process of collaboration, and whether Balestier and Kipling had to engage in mendacity to achieve their artistic ends.