John Addington Symonds  

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"Central polemical texts contributing to this [sexual inversion] discourse include Symonds's A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883); and his A Problem in Modern Ethics (1891); Havelock Ellis's Sexual Inversion, originally written with Symonds, published and suppressed in England in 1897, and later to be included as volume 2 of Ellis's Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1901)." --Speaking of Gender (1989) by Elaine Showalter

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John Addington Symonds (1840 - 1893) was an English poet and cultural critic. He was an early advocate of the validity of male love which included for him pederastic as well as egalitarian relationships, and which he would refer to as l'amour de l'impossible.


Homosexuality and homosexual writings

While the taboos of Victorian England prevented Symonds from speaking openly about homosexuality, his works published for a general audience contained strong implications and some of the first direct references to male-male sexual love in English literature. For example, in "The Meeting of David and Jonathan", from 1878, Jonathan takes David "In his arms of strength / [and] in that kiss / Soul into soul was knit and bliss to bliss".

The same year, his translations of Michelangelo's sonnets to the painter's beloved Tommaso Cavalieri return the male pronouns which had been made heterosexual by previous editors into female pronouns. By the end of his life, Symonds' homosexuality had become an open secret in Victorian literary and cultural circles.

Simultaneously to these widely available works, Symonds was writing, privately publishing and distributing more candid writings about homosexuality. As well as a large number of poems written throughout the 1860s and 1870s, Symonds wrote one of the first essays in defense of homosexuality in the English language, A Problem in Greek Ethics, in 1883. A follow-up essay from 1891, A Problem in Modern Ethics, includes proposals for reforming anti-homosexual legislation.

These essays were widely read by an underground of homosexual writers and continued to be secretly published and distributed decades after his death. Some of his other personal writings and letters were finally published in the late twentieth century, and are of great interest to historians for the candid descriptions of an "unspeakable" sexual culture which existed against the "social law" of his time that "regarded this love as abominable and unnatural."

In particular, Symonds' memoirs, written over a four year period, from 1889 to 1893, form the earliest known self-conscious homosexual autobiography. In addition to realizing his own homosexuality, Symonds' daughter, Madge Vaughn, was a lesbian lover for a time to writer Virginia Woolf, the cousin of her husband William Wyamar Vaughan. Another daughter, Charlotte Symonds, married the classicist Walter Leaf. Henry James used some details of Symonds' life, especially the relationship between him and his wife, as the starting-point for the short story The Author of Beltraffio (1884).

Over a century after Symonds' death his first work on homosexuality Soldier Love and Related Matter was finally published by Andrew Dakyns (grandson of Henry Graham Dakyns), Eastbourne, E. Sussex, England 2007. Soldier Love, or Soldatenliebe since it was limited to a German edition. Symonds' English text is lost. This translation and edition by Dakyns is the only version ever to appear in the author's own language.

List of works

  • The Renaissance. An Essay (1863)
  • Miscellanies by John Addington Symonds, M.D.,: Selected and Edited with an Introductory Memoir, by His Son (1871)
  • Introduction to the Study of Dante (1872)
  • Renaissance in Italy, 7 vol. (1875–86)
  • Shelley (1878)
  • Animi Figura (1882)
  • A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883)
  • Wine, Women, and Song. Medieval Latin Students' Songs (1884) English translations/paraphrases.
  • Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (1887) An English translation.
  • Caricature, The Fantastic, The Grotesque (1890)
  • A Problem in Modern Ethics (1891)
  • Our Life in the Swiss Highlands (1891)
  • In the Key of Blue (1893)
  • Walt Whitman. A Study (1893)

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