|BURIED TREASURE ¶ Recommendations of Online Male Homoerotic Stories and Male Friendship Stories (and anything else that catches my interest)|
(Skip to the text.) Visitors should be aware that some of the sites linked below are intended for mature readers. But not nearly as many as some of you would like.
This is a groundbreaking book. It is, to my knowledge, the first nonfiction book about the professional version of the genre sometimes called M/M fiction (also known in the slash fiction world as "pro slash").
The only non-controversial way to define M/M is to say that it is a form of original fiction featuring male/male attraction that is mainly written and read by women. (Incidentally, that is the definition of M/M that I will use when describing my own views in this review.) Josh Lanyon – a gay male author of M/M, who acknowledges the above definition – puts forward another criterion for M/M fiction: he believes that (in his blunt words) "all M/M fiction is romantic fiction."
Immediately after he mentions this, he quotes a number of editors and publishers on what constitutes M/M; the first one disagrees with Mr. Lanyon's view that M/M fiction is always romance. This is a powerful example of the most winning aspect of Mr. Lanyon's book on writing and marketing M/M fiction: he provides a wealth of quotations from publishers, editors, reviewers, writers, and readers of M/M. These quotations reveal a variety of perspectives within the M/M fiction community. It must have taken Mr. Lanyon a good deal of trouble to collect all these quotations; he is to be congratulated for seeking, collating, and presenting well such valuable material.
Mr. Lanyon's humor is another notable feature of the book. Here is a section where he is comparing outlining a story to preparing a plan for a car journey:
Writing is an organic process; once you start, things begin to happen. Plans change. That's part of the fun. Part of the magic. Better ideas replace the original plan. But having the original plan helps you decide whether any given side trip is really going to enhance your travel experience or merely end with you lost in the woods chewing on your tires while the snow drifts quietly, quietly down.And here he describes how to write a sex scene: "Go easy on the adjectives and adverbs – some of these scenes read like the rape of a thesaurus."
Another valuable aspect to the book is Mr. Lanyon's nuanced analysis of the complexity of gender issues in M/M literature. As might be expected, Mr. Lanyon is not prepared to accept the common belief that there is a hard divide between what gay men like to read and write and what women like to read and write. Yet he rightly credits the major role that female authors and readers have played in developing the M/M genre.
The only manner in which I can fault Mr. Lanyon's presentation of genre issues is in his lack of mention of F/F fiction. (He does quote some editors who make passing mention of the genre.) He spends a good deal of time comparing and contrasting M/M romances to heterosexual romances, yet he says nothing about the fact that F/F authors such as Jolie du Pré are playing an important role in promoting same-sex romance fiction. A paragraph or two on that topic would have left the reader with less of an impression that the only choice that romance writers face is to write about a man and a woman or to write about two men. It might also have helped to shed some light on the interesting question – which Mr. Lanyon tackles – of what draws men into reading and writing romance.
In addition, I wish that someone in the book had pointed out that bisexual and lesbian women also read and write M/M fiction. The contrast made in the book between heterosexual female writers of M/M and gay male writers of M/M is too stark, to my mind. The female queer presence in the M/M fiction community has been so sizeable in recent years that it must be playing some sort of role in shaping the genre.
As the above paragraphs suggests, amidst the wealth of information there are some holes in Mr. Lanyon's book. For example, Mr. Lanyon makes due mention of slash fan fiction in order to explain that he doesn't feel it's an appropriate topic for his book, but he makes no mention of original fiction within the slash community (often called "original slash"). Yet thanks to original slash and its Japanese-style cousin, original yaoi, the number of amateur M/M texts being posted online far outweighs the number of professional M/M texts being published.
On the surface, Mr. Lanyon's silence about original slash seems reasonable; he has set out to write a book on a very specific topic, writing and marketing professional M/M fiction. But much of the first chapter of his book is devoted to considering what it is that M/M readers want. Unfortunately, what M/M readers want is not being entirely met by the current publishing market.
I'll offer an example of a plotline that will be familiar to some of the folks reading this: Two men meet. They become enemies. One of them is evil. The other one is good. After the author has described the emotional entanglements of the characters' interactions, the evil man captures, tortures, and rapes the good man. In the process of his long suffering, the good man discovers important truths about his own nature that he had failed to realize before. He emerges from the abuse a shaken but wiser man.
This type of story possesses the qualities commonly found in M/M literature: a focus on emotions and relationship (in this case, the relationship between two enemies) and a presentation of sexual attraction in the context of strong character development, plot, and theme. Variations on the story have been told on countless occasions. (Most of the stories in the May 2003 issue of the original slash e-zine MAS-Zine used this plot as a basic template.) The tale has found a ready audience with online M/M readers who like the thriller aspects of the story, the growth of character, and the dark scenario.
Yet try to find a publisher for a story like that. Even if the author should include romance in the story (say, by adding one of those hurt/comfort plotlines that Mr. Lanyon is rightly fascinated with), the central, extended, on-screen rape scene would disqualify the story from submission to most romance publishers. The story has too much sex for a mainstream press. Thanks to the author's strong interest in the emotional development of the relationship, the story has too little sex for most gay porn presses. The story might be accepted by a gay fiction publisher . . . unless, of course, it is quasi-medieval fantasy, a popular original slash genre that most GLBT presses won't touch.
I could cite many other examples like this. The fact is that there exists a sizeable amount of well-written M/M literature that is eagerly read by online readers but has virtually no place to go in the publishing market. Therefore, Mr. Lanyon's decision to draw conclusions about what M/M readers want, based solely on what is being published in the current market, seems to me dangerous. A few years ago, there was very little professional market for M/M romance. In a few years, there may be a large professional market for the type of M/M story I just described. In the meantime, M/M stories that readers read, and M/M stories that presses publish, constitute two categories that overlap but are not identical.
A wild card in this matter is self-publishing. Out of the four most popular original slash writers I know of (M. Chandler, Jesse Hajicek, Maculategiraffe, and Manna Francis), all four have considered self-publishing, and two – M. Chandler and Jesse Hajicek – have gone ahead with their plans. (Manna Francis, on the other hand, ended up with a publisher.) Self-publishing has changed the landscape of M/M literature, as it has many other genres; in cases where publishers don't recognize a readership for a particular genre of M/M (or simply are not interested in reaching that readership), professional M/M writers can reach their readers directly. Mr. Lanyon's own account of self-publishing is brief, which in a way is a shame, because one of his novels was self-published. But I think he's correct in not offering this as the primary path for his target audience (M/M genre romance writers). There are so many genre romance presses now which publish M/M that it shouldn't be hard for most authors working in that field to find a suitable publisher. Writers who want or need to travel the less-trodden path of self-publishing should be aware of how many thistles they'll encounter along the way; Mr. Lanyon briefly alludes to these prickly barriers.
Concerning the writing advice that Josh Lanyon offers to his fellow authors: Let me first say that I deeply sympathize with Mr. Lanyon. Judging from the number of times in his book that he feels the need to say, "Don't do this," he appears to have read every type of badly written M/M book in existence. Rather than simply moan from his pain, he has taken the virtuous step of trying to save the rest of us from further bad M/M literature by explaining to beginning writers the things they shouldn't do. The world of literature needs more people like him.
There's a lot to like in the advice Mr. Lanyon gives. The paragraph below, for example, should be read by every writer who thinks that research for historical fiction consists of reading a book entitled, The Writers' Guide to the 1940s.
The novella Snowball in Hell is set in 1943 Los Angeles. The story takes place during World War II. One of my protags is a newspaper reporter just back from the European Theater; the other is a LAPD detective. While I was able to do a little Internet research on the war and Los Angeles in the '40s, I needed to get more in-depth info on attitudes and treatment of gays, as well as police procedure and Los Angeles back then. I ordered a couple of books actually published in the '40s from the Advanced Book Exchange (http://www.abebooks.com) including Turn Off the Sunshine: Tales of Los Angeles on the Wrong Side of the Tracks by Timothy C. Turner, The Homosexual Neurosis by Dr. William Stekel, Going Places In and Near Los Angeles by Margaret Gilbert Mackey, and Homicide Investigation: Practical Information for Coroners, Police Officers, and Other Investigators by LeMoyne Snyder. I referred to Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons. I read a bunch of pulp fiction from the 1940s including Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and I watched many hours of film noir. I bought several old copies of Esquire from the 1940s.As might be expected, I have occasional quibbles with the author's advice. But there's no need for me to list my disagreements, because Mr. Lanyon scatters his book with quotations from people who disagree with certain aspects of his advice. What is unusual about this book is the lengths that the writer goes to point out that his perspectives on authorship are not the only ones. Few other writers of books on authorship have been able to resist the pleasurable urge to lay down the law.
A final thought: All of the publishers and editors Mr. Lanyon quotes are from the genre romance community, with the single exception of an editor from the gay fiction press Kensington. This is natural enough, since genre romance presses are where most professional M/M can be found at the moment. But quite a lot of M/M writers aspire to be published in other places.
Gay romance plotlines – I'm sure I need hardly say – sometimes show up in books issued by presses devoted to gay fiction or erotica/porn. When I did a survey of M/M writings in D.C. bookstores, I found that quite a few of these writings were appearing in anthologies issued by GLBT presses. Mr. Lanyon does mention a few GLBT presses in his resources. (I have to admit that I blinked when I reached the listing for gay porn publisher Starbooks Press; while I'm all for authors stretching their submission boundaries, I could think of more likely GLBT presses for M/M writers to submit to, such as Cleis.) However, he has little to say on GLBT presses in the main text of his book and nothing at all to say about the erotica anthologies that some M/M erotic romance authors regularly submit to.
More serious – given that he has so much to say about genre fiction – is his omission of information on mainstream genre presses. Although some of the earliest M/M fiction was published in the form of historical novels published by mainstream presses (Mr. Lanyon himself was strongly influenced by the novels of Mary Renault), there are no quotations in this book from editors and publishers and writers at mainstream presses that handle historical fiction, nor even from any readers of those books. Likewise, there are no quotations related to mainstream science fiction and fantasy presses, where a good many M/M writers market their manuscripts. (It's noticeable, for example, that in his rich list of M/M resources, Mr. Lanyon fails to mention the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, even though M/M writers have won that contest for the best annual GLBT science fiction, fantasy, and horror.) Nor does Mr. Lanyon offer quotations related to mainstream mystery presses, although he himself is a mystery writer.
Presumably he focussed on genre romance presses because he believes that all M/M fiction is romance. Yet even if one accepts this definition, books with romantic plotlines are sometimes published by non-romance presses. Some mainstream genre presses – for example, the speculative fiction publisher Tor – have entire imprints devoted to romance. The former editor of Tor's romance imprint is a slash fan who has written about the marketing of M/M, so she would hardly have been likely to scorn an e-mail from Mr. Lanyon.
I am perhaps being unfair in concentrating this review so heavily on what Mr. Lanyon omitted, when the truth is that he offers so much more than the reader might have hoped for. Yet the fact remains that I would have liked to have read quotations related to a wider variety of publishing companies, as well as quotations from a wider variety of M/M readers, in order to get a sense of what place M/M has outside of the genre romance community. As it is, while I think Mr. Lanyon has done an excellent job of surveying the state of M/M genre romance, the story of other types of M/M literature remains to be written. One hopes that the author who tackles that difficult task will do as good a job as Josh Lanyon has with this book.
Blake Nelson: Gender Blender. A sixth-grade boy and girl switch bodies. ¶ Male/female friendship fiction, heterosexual fiction, contemporary fiction, fantasy, gender variance themes, school fiction. ¶ Fiction books. ¶ References to topics of sexuality. References to topics of on-screen violence (mild violence).
See the above summary of the plot. Maybe it's just me, but I don't recall young adult novels being this subversive when I was a teen.
Tom suddenly stopped dead and looked down at himself. "Whoa, what is this thing I'm wearing?"Meanwhile, his friend Emma has her own problems.
"It's a leotard."
"Why am I wearing a leotard?"
"Because that's what I was wearing, you idiot."
"And what are these shoes?" Tom moaned. "They're pixie slippers! I'm walking around in public dressed like a frickin' ballerina! Get this off me. Get this off me now!" He tried to rip off the leotard.
That was when she saw it. It was some sort of creature, a mouse or a bird or a chipmunk. It was under the covers and its head stuck straight up, forming a little tent where her lap was.The title of that chapter: "Morning Wood."
Emma did not do well with wild animals, especially small rodent-sized ones. She tried to scoot out of the bed, slowly. But when she moved, it suddenly moved too. "Ahhhh!" she cried.
Clare London: Freeman. (Author's Website.) An experienced-scarred man finds himself drawn toward a naive young man. Unbeknownst to them, both pose a danger to the other. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male friendship fiction, heterosexual fiction, contemporary fiction, crime themes, employer/employee fiction, erotic love stories, family relationship themes, mentor fiction. ¶ Fiction e-books. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence.
I first encountered Clare London at the end of 2006, when she was posting fiction at LiveJournal. Like so many good online authors, she has since turned professional, so I consider myself lucky that I've had the opportunity to watch her refine her writing.
Freeman, a 2006 novel which she carefully revised before publication, has its problems: too much exposition, not enough advancement of the plot during some of the erotic scenes, and the tendency - oh how common among writers of this genre - to fail to provide sensory details except when describing naked bodies.
What kept me glued to this tale – for a second time – was the contrast between taciturn Freeman and his chatty companion.
"So what'd you find out?"This is definitely not a tale about a young man passively having his future determined by a wiser, more mature character. Freeman has deep flaws that only Kit can cure; their need for help is mutual.
"Kit," I said, shaking my head.
"Fuck off," he said, but without heat. He stabbed half-heartedly at a remaining crust of cake on his plate. "Tell me what's going on, or I might just mention your visit to Lacey as soon as she gets back. Just to be polite, right?"
I was silent.
"Freeman," he wheedled. "Look, I can help you. Didn't I tell you something was going on in there? I can find out more." When I stayed silent, his voice started to crack. "I want to help you, you bastard. Talking to you . . . Fuck, I know what they mean when they say it's like pulling teeth."
He looked miserable. He also looked stubborn, like he wasn't moving on anytime soon.
A few days later, I came out of the supermarket to find Kit sitting on a bench in front of me. He was facing the exit but his head had dropped down, so he didn't see me at first. He had earphones on and his left leg swung aimlessly in time to whatever music he was listening to. He wore a sleeveless vest and long shorts. He looked like a normal, casually dressed young man.What is most delightful about the novel (to an extent that I feel guilty at giving away the surprise, even though readers will catch on within a few chapters) is that this an unreliable narrator tale. Freeman, speaking to the reader in first person, is hiding information from his enemies, from Kit . . . and from us. The gradual revelation of his secrets, and the unexpected manner in which Freeman deals with the enemies who are threatening himself and Kit, provide treats to the reader in practically every chapter, like a stack of gift-wrapped presents.
Then he looked up and caught sight of me. His eyes widened. He flipped out his earphones, then shoved them into a pocket and nodded to me. I nodded back. "You haven't been home much," he said abruptly.
I shrugged. I wasn't answerable to him. I didn't tell him that I'd spent the last few evenings cruising the city in my car, deliberately staying out of my flat. Then when it got late, I'd return to the building. I'd park across the road, hidden in the shadows in the way I'd learned over the years, and watch the sporadic activity around the entrance. Young, drunk executives coming in late from work; mature, single men and women swaggering in with shopping from the twenty-four-hour deli; some young couples, enamoured and entwined, who could afford the rent on a double-income city salary.
And for the first few nights, a lithe, dark-haired young man leaning too casually on the wall outside, waiting for someone specific to be at home.
I'd also seen the surveillance that followed him. They were good enough for him not to notice, but not good enough to escape my notice. Nondescript cars, darkened windows, quiet engines. They'd watch too, until he got bored; then he'd lever himself from the wall and start walking back toward the town. I'd wait until their car had slipped out of sight and I was sure there was no backup, and then I'd go home. The flat was cool and dark and quiet, but I was used to that. In the end, Kit had stopped coming around, stopped waiting. That was for the best, of course.
But now he was here.
Manna Francis: Control. (Author's Website.) The fourth volume in the Administration series, about a pathological torturer and his lover, who despises torture but loves SM. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male/female friendship fiction, BDSM fiction, employer/employee fiction, erotic fiction, mental illness themes, mysteries, prisoner fiction, science fiction. ¶ Online fiction and online samples of fiction books. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence.
The scary thing about Manna Francis's Administration series is that it's possible to get used to the people in it.
You'll be reading along, and Toreth will be attempting the delicate task of working with a cranky boss, and Sara will be carefully checking computer documents in an efficient manner, and Chevil will be complaining about how much more money he would make if he held a corporate position, and it will all begin to seem very familiar - just a group of white-collar workers doing their jobs under difficult circumstances . . .
And then you'll reach page 85, and you'll be forcefully reminded that you're reading a series about a psycopath who works as a judicial torturer.
Toreth – the psychopath, who works as a para-investigator, investigating crimes and torturing suspects – is, in certain ways, the least scary character in the Administration series. It makes sense that someone as mentally ill as him would do what he does. Far more scary are the other members of the Investigation and Interrogation Division, such as Barret-Connor, an investigator working for Toreth. He is a quiet, competent, nice man who is capable of making the following statement:
"I could never be a para. I've done the introductory interrogation courses, the ones that qualify you for level one and two verbal interrogations, although I got abysmal marks at level two. I've done the interrogation habituation course, and I've chucked up along with everyone else, and been called a gutless wimp by the instructors. I've sat through a few high-level interrogations, and seen recordings and transcripts. I don't like it, at all, but that's not my job. My job is to find the suspects and put them into the interrogation room with enough solid facts to get the waiver the Para or the interrogator in there with them needs to do their job."
The banality of evil has rarely been so well depicted.
Barret-Connor's statement is made in "Coming from America," a previously unreleased novella that takes a few well-placed jabs at Americans, while not letting Europeans off the hook. Barret-Connor's matter-of-fact commentary on how he helped with the Administration's latest atrocity is the darkest story in the book. The story "Helen" shines by comparison, showing the self-doubts afflicting Warrick, who heartily dislikes torture, yet continues to carry on an SM affair with Toreth.
The title novella "Control" is a page-turning thriller; I read it late at night, planning to stop after a few scenes, but that plan was discarded when I reached the scene that began with the words: "Handcuffed to the wall in near darkness, Toreth had plenty of time to reflect on what an idiot he had been."
The crown of this eight-story collection, though, is "Caged," which I consider to be the most moving story in the series. Although far less action-oriented than "Control," it is more hard-hitting, because it probes deeper into the dark recesses of evil than Barret-Connor would ever dare to do.
Though, really, none of us would want to miss Barret-Connor's entertaining account in "Coming to America" of what happened when he was stoned at a party.
His team stared at the pile of blue folders, daunted by the sheer size of it (and possibly by the unwanted burden of having to work for a living) . . .Every now and then I ask myself, "Why am I bothering to read books when all this good fiction is available online?" The latest story to prompt this thought is M. Chandler's Shadow of the Templar, which I found on two recommendations lists on the same day. Happily, this series of four online novels is also available in print, and there are additional goodies at the site, such as a map tucked away in the gallery. Last but not least, fans have started a LiveJournal community for associated fan fiction: teamtemplar. The series includes a gay plotline, but that is far overshadowed by the banter between the members of an FBI team, led by Simon Drake (code name: Templar).
"Awww, man," Mike said, leaning back in his chair and fumbling ostentatiously with his zipper, "aren't we gonna have a dick-size contest? I mean, why else did I come into work today?"The series abounds with gay/slash/kink jokes.
"You know it'd just get me all turned on," Simon told him. "And then I won't get anything done for the rest of the day, what with lusting over you and all."
Mike settled back into his chair with a little grunt. "Well, long as we're all clear on who'd win."
"Yeah," Rich said, dropping the halves of the CD into the shredder. "Sandra."
The screeching grinding sound of the heavy-duty shredder reducing evidence to confetti put an end to the rest of that conversation, although Sandra looked particularly smug for several minutes afterwards.
Mike promptly wheeled about and flung a hand in his direction. "Now Texas here, Texas is not street. You cannot be street if you grew up within three miles of a cow. It's the law or something."In addition, the series is geek paradise. Among other things, the reader receives the enjoyment of learning what constitutes dirty fighting in the Internet era. Here we witness Team Templar's version of a deadly firefight.
Johnny snorted and ambled in, letting the door swing shut behind him. "Cows," he told Mike. "Always comes back to those cows with you."
"I figure they were such a vital part of your childhood and all, Texas, it'd be cruel of me not to recognize and legitimize your roots."
"Yeah?" Johnny said, fetching a fresh toothpick from his pocket and sticking it in his mouth. "Shit. When you gonna admit you're a furry?"
"No!" Sandra immediately snapped. "We are not having the furry discussion again." She wheeled on Rich. "And no examples. You go anywhere near Google and I will break all your fingers."
Simon, figuring that now was as good a time as any, cleared his throat loudly. All eyes turned to him. "As I am a white Midwesterner and have absolutely no street in my soul," Simon said, "I'm going to make myself feel better about my shortcomings by oppressing you. Shut up and let's get to work."
Rich didn't answer. Indeed, he didn't seem aware of any of them. The bluish-gray glow of the monitor lit his face and his glasses with a freezing cold glow, and his hands were a blur on the keyboard. "Stop fighting me, asshole," he muttered, as windows opened and closed on the monitor, sometimes in the same heartbeat. "Give the fuck up. I am so much better at this than you."Into this delightfully madcap crowd drops (literally) Jeremy Archer, an English cat burglar who is, as one character puts it, "one step away from a comic book supervillain."
Mike sniggered. Rich either ignored him or didn't hear him. His fingers rolled forward over the keyboard, and this time a patch of jagged code appeared in one of the winking windows before it could wink back out. "Deal with that," Rich suggested to his unseen rival, sneering at the monitor.
A second or two later Jeremy dropped in a blur of black beside him, landing almost silently on all fours. He rose to his feet, touching one newly-gloved hand to his goggles; his leather jacket now hung open, revealing a pair of slim leather toolcases hooked to his belt and just the barest glint of something un-weapon-like holstered under one arm.By the second novel in the series, Jeremy is showing signs of wanting to hang around with the insanity called Team Templar. One can hardly blame him.
Simon eyed this vision askance for a moment before reassuming his watch. "You were a Boy Scout, weren't you," he said, putting his back to the wall.
"Don't be absurd, Simon," Jeremy told him cheerfully, glancing left and right. His goggles hummed slightly. "I was a rentboy."
Alec Waugh: The Loom of Youth. A student rebels against the hypocrisy his schoolmasters show toward such subjects as cribbing, athletics, and homosexuality. ¶ Male friendship fiction, male romantic friendship fiction, historical fiction (1910s and World War One), school fiction. ¶ Fiction books and online fiction. ¶ References to topics of sexuality. References to topics of violence.
The Loom of Youth is an autobiographical novel about a boy who rebels against the conventions of life at an English public school (i.e. a private boarding school). The author, who was the elder brother of Evelyn Waugh, was seventeen when he wrote the novel, based on his experiences at Sherborne School, Dorset. He had been asked to leave that school because he had been discovered to have had an affair with one of his schoolfellows. The novel created a scandal because it included extremely brief references to public school homosexuality; however, the majority of the plotline concerns other ways in which the protagonist fights against school conventions.
Given the age of the author, the novel has surprising psychological depth, exploring the radically changing perspectives held by the protagonist, Gordon Caruthers. The key figures in the novel are not boys but schoolmasters: Buller, a games master whom Gordon alternates between worshipping and fighting, and Ferrers, who introduces Gordon to the wonders of poetry. (In this particular period, reading poetry was a sure-fine sign of rebellion.) However, as one critic points out, there is a surprising emotional disconnection between Gordon and his schoolmasters. The same can be said of his relations with other boys: his schoolmates flit in and out of the pages of the novel in a pleasant but unmemorable fashion. The most important schoolboy relationship that the novel has to offer – Gordon's romantic friendship with a younger boy – is over almost before it begins.
The tale therefore falls flat both as friendship fiction and as homoerotic fiction, but it is well worth reading as a novel about a high-spirited rebel. Particularly moving are the final chapters, when World War One denudes the school of most of Gordon's generation.
It was not until the next day, however, that Gordon fully realised the change that had come over Fernhurst. Nearly all the bloods had left. Gregory was still there, but he had sent his papers in, and expected to be gazetted in a week or so, and of the Fifteen of the year before he was the only remaining colour. Two members of the Second Fifteen remained: one because he was only seventeen, the other, Akerman's younger brother, because he was going to be a medical student and was not allowed to take a commission by the War Office.Waugh himself ended up as a POW.
The staff also had undergone several changes. Ferrers was practically the only master under thirty. The rest had all taken commissions, and their places were filled by grey-beards and bald-heads, long since past their prime. It was a case of extreme youth face to face with extreme age.
For those who are interested in the autobiographical aspects of The Loom of Youth, another interesting and little-known novel by Waugh is Roland Whately (1922). The novel's title character attends the same school as Gordon (i.e. Sherborne) and ends up being asked to leave because of immoral sexual conduct – that is to say, he'd kissed a girl.
"There is, of course, in this not the least suggestion of expulsion," writes the headmaster to Roland's father. "Roland will leave at the end of the term with many of his contemporaries in the ordinary course of events. And he will become, if he wishes, as I hope he will wish, a member of the old Fernhurstian Society" – a nicely ironic statement, because Waugh was expelled from the Old Shirburnian Society, i.e. the school alumni association.
"It is a cruel shame," comments Roland's mother afterwards, "that a boy's whole life should depend on a thing he does when he is seventeen years old."
Waugh has more to say about his time at Sherborne in his autobiography, The Early Years of Alec Waugh (available online for a fee), in his 1922 nonfiction book, Public School Life (available free online; romantic friendship is mentioned in the chapters entitled "Morality and the Romantic Friendship" and "The Leaving Age with Regard to Morals"), and in his 1954 introduction to The Loom of Youth (available free online). His story collection Pleasure, which I haven't read yet, evidently includes a story about a romantic friendship in a public school. One the more remarkable facts about The Loom of Youth is that Waugh's father was the one who submitted the novel for publication; the reasons why are explained in Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family, written by Evelyn Waugh's grandson. In Evelyn Waugh: A Literary Life (relevant sample online), David Wykes speculates on how Alec Waugh's experiences at Sherborne may have influenced the literary career of his brother Evelyn.
Ernest Raymond: Tell England. Two boys striving for something higher than the mundanities of school life find what they seek in the fields of war. ¶ Male friendship fiction, male romantic friendship fiction, historical fiction (1910s and World War One), mentor fiction, military fiction, school fiction, spirituality themes. ¶ Fiction books and online fiction. ¶ On-screen violence.
A brief review of Tell England that I ran across online claimed that, in later life, the author was amazed to realize the amount of latent homosexuality in the novel. Having scrutinized the novel with my very best gaydar, I can discern no references to homosexual attraction between the main characters, latent or otherwise. (On the other hand, I have my suspicions about a minor character of whom it is said that "there must be no sensation . . . which he has not experienced.")
What the novel has instead is male love – lots and lots of love. In addition to the romantic friendship between the main characters, the boys end up as rivals for the affections of one of their schoolmasters. Later, they become part of the ill-fated British expedition to Gallipoli during World War One, where they fall under the benevolent influence of a wonderfully quirky Anglo-Catholic chaplain. (According to a source I found online, the author was a school chaplain who became a soldier at Gallipoli.)
The novel is littered with many other memorable, eccentric characters, such as the headmaster who, faced with a riot among the schoolboys and an absence of prefects (student monitors) with which to quell it, promptly honors the chief rioter with the office of prefect and instructs him to put an end to the riot.
There couldn't be a starker contrast with Alec Waugh, who is more concerned with the inner life of his protagonist than with his protagonist's bonds with other people. Yet both novels end up having the same joyful message: amidst suffering, sorrow, and death, life is worth living.
"Just as there is more beauty in nature than ugliness, so there is more goodness in humanity than evil, and more happiness in the world than sorrow," the chaplain tells the young men. And the narrator later learns from the chaplain: "I was to see three ideals, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, and merge them all in one vision – Beauty. For Goodness was only beauty in morals, and Truth was only beauty in knowledge."
To adhere to that message in the midst of the squalor and degredation of war becomes the protagonist's test. Alas, his belief that the war is divinely ordained and a great adventure falls flat with most readers today; for that reason, I've read disparaging reviews of this novel.
I think the critics are right that the novel underplays the ugliness of war. (One of the death scenes, which goes on for several hours, features a character whose only sign of agony is a slight shortness of breath.) But the critics, I think, have missed the main point. The primary faith demonstrated by the protagonist is not his belief in the glory of war, but his belief that goodness can be found during even the worst moments of life.
Here is a typical passage:
Why was I identifying my tiny self with a huge thing like Britain, and feeling that, because she had failed in her great fight for the Dardanelles, so I would fail, and purposely, in my little struggle after moral beauty? What a fool I was – but that was how it was working out. Beauty be hanged! Monty was badly wrong in proclaiming that nature was chiefly beautiful, and life on the whole was good. And, if he were wrong, why, then there was no further need to toil after a beauty of character to match the beauty of seas and hills. Good heavens! Beauty in the Mudros Hills! They were but homes of thirsty grass and dying thistles, dust and torturing flies. These ideals of Monty's were vapoury. Why not throw them up – throw up moral effort? I would. There was not more beauty—
It was at this moment that Monty himself stood in the tent door.
"Down, Rupert?" he asked. "What's the matter?"
I looked up into his eyes, and saw in them that inquiring sympathy which could so quickly transfigure him from a lively friend into a gentle priest.
"Oh, nothing," I said. I was in no mood just now to tell him anything. "Bored, that's all."
And then I looked round, and noticed that the tent was full of a violet light. It was as if limelight had been turned on from behind a violet glass.
"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "The air's all coloured!"
"Yes," said he, "I was coming to tell you to look at the sunset. It's bad old Mudros's one good deed."
Out to the tent door I went, and looked over the harbour to the western shores. And there, very rapidly, the ball of the sun was going down behind the hills with an affair of gold and crimson lights, while all the hills were violet. The colour was so strong that it came out and flushed with violet the black hulls of the ships. And they, strangely motionless, lay mirrored in a water of white and gold.
E. F. Benson: David Blaize. A stolid, faithful pal and a quicksilver, exciting older boy serve as bookends in the life of a schoolboy. ¶ Male friendship fiction, male romantic friendship fiction, historical fiction (1910s), mentor fiction, school fiction. ¶ Fiction books and online fiction. ¶ References to topics of sexuality. References to topics of violence.
"But you will find," continued the [Headmaster], "that there are worse things than smoking, and all the misdeeds you may or may not have been punished for, and you will find out that there are even worse things than stealing, and that many quite good chaps, as you would say, don't think there is any harm in them. Do you know what I mean?"Turn-of-the-century male romantic friendship fiction poses a peculiar problem in suspension of disbelief for the average pro-gay reader. On the one hand, the fervent love depicted in male romantic friendship fiction shares many characteristics with the fervent love sometimes depicted in gay love stories. On the other hand, in order to fully enter into turn-of-the-century male romantic friendship fiction with sympathy, one must accept that the good characters in such stories believe that acting sexually on their love would be (in the words of E. F. Benson's characters) filth and corruption.
David looked up in quite genuine bewilderment.
"No, sir," he said.
"Thank God for it, then," said the Head.
"Hullo, Maddox!" he said.I think that the way to overcome this difficulty is to pretend that one is with an earnest friend who generalizes about their own principles of life. You know the sort I mean. The vegetarian who is convinced that all meat-eaters are murderers. The teetotaller who believes that drinking inevitably leads to domestic abuse. The environmentalist who talks endlessly about the importance of leaving dryer lint outside for nesting birds.
"Yes – got to fill my kettle myself, " he said.
David jumped up.
"I say, I'm awfully sorry," he said. "I bang forgot. Give it me!"
But Maddox still held it, looking at him.
"Oh, it doesn't matter," he said. "Just having a bath, were you?"
David paused. There was Maddox only looking at him, only smiling. But instantly he had some sense of choking discomfort. He looked back at him, frowning and puzzled, and his sense of discomfort hugely increased. He merely wanted to get away.
"Oh then, I think I'll go and dress," he said hurriedly, and, picking up his sponge, left the room and ran away down the dark passage to his dormitory.
(I pick these three examples because I'm a vegetarian and teetotaller who was trained by my mother to leave dryer lint outside for nesting birds.)
One needn't share one's friends ethical generalizations to recognize that, for this particular person, it would be wrong to eat meat, drink alcohol, and fail to leave dryer lint outside. One can therefore say with perfect sympathy and sincerity, "How terribly brave of you to refuse that offer of a hamburger when you were so hungry."
When one approaches the matter that way, a pro-gay reader can sit down and enjoy David Blaize as absorbing Conversion Fiction.
Maddox had gone straight back from the bathroom to his study, without filling his kettle. He sat for ten momentous minutes in front of his fire without doing anything, without thinking even, but looking with open eyes, so to speak, on himself. All these weeks that intense friendship which was springing up between himself and David had been splendidly growing, and till now his influence over him had been exerted entirely for David's good. He had constantly shielded him, as on the night when he had found Hughes sitting on his bed, from all that could sully him, he had checked any hint of foul talk in David's presence, for, of all his lovable qualities, there was none so nobly potent to the elder boy than David's white innocence, his utter want of curiosity about all that was filthy. It didn't exist for him, but the danger of it (though, thank God, it was passed) he knew that he himself had brought near to him. . . . Then he got up and looked at himself in the mirror above his mantel-piece, hating himself.The novel isn't Temptation Fiction (another fine genre), because the temptation is put aside within minutes of its occurrence. Rather, the novel is about the way in which David's love converts his friend and brings out the friend's best qualities.
"You damned beast," he said. "You deserve to be shot."
". . . I tried, instead of corrupting you, to uncorrupt myself. But you did it; it was all your doing. You made me ashamed."The structure of the novel, I'm sorry to report, is weak. I strongly suspect that Benson set out to write about David's ties with his other, rather bland friend, Bags, but then Maddox came into the story and took the plotline over. Whether or not that is what happened, there is a disjunction between the first half of the novel (about David and Bags) and the second half (about David and Maddox).
David gave a shy little wriggle towards him.
"I never heard of anything so ripping," he said. "Though it sounds rather cheek."
Maddox sat up.
"That's what you've done," he said. "And if it was cheeky, the other name of that is salvation."
For one thing, by the time David meets Maddox, we have seen David smoking, swearing, kicking Bags, and causing problems for his schoolmasters. This makes Maddox's talk about "David's white innocence, his utter want of curiosity about all that was filthy" a bit hard to swallow. Clearly, Maddox has a very narrow definition of innocence. A more accurate definition of David would be "well-meaning and honest." In other words, he is a nice boy who is no saint.
Maddox – one of those wonderful converted-villains-with-a-heart-of-gold – enters the story in a memorable fashion.
They [David and a schoolmate, Hughes] made their way through the crowd that was collecting and dispersing as the roll-call proceeded, and went back down the long, empty passage past the steps leading up to the school library. Even as they approached them there was a clatter of feet on the concrete floor above, and a boy came flying down them four steps to his stride. Beneath one arm he carried a sheaf of books, and his straw hat was in the other hand. "Maddox," said Hughes quietly, and on the moment Maddox took his last six steps in one leap, and nearly fell over them both.There's little more to the story than that. David undergoes the usual boarding-school-fiction activities – pranks, sports, and interactions with prefects and schoolmasters – and spends a lot of time being happy with Maddox.
All the hero-worship of which David was capable flared up: never did hero make a more impressive entrance than in that long, lithe jump that landed him in the passage. He nearly knocked Hughes down, and dropped all his books, but caught him round the shoulders and steadied him again. There was a splendid crisp vigour about every line of his body, his black, short hair, his dark, full-blooded face.
"Topknot, you silly owl!" he said. "Don't get in a man's light when he's in a hurry. Haven't hurt you, have I? I'd die sooner than hurt you."
David picked up the scattered books, and Maddox turned to him.
"Oh, thanks awfully!" he said. "You're Topknot's pal, I suppose, come up for the scholarship-racket. Good luck!"
He nodded to David, flicked the end of Hughes's nose, and went off down the passage to the sixth-form room, whistling louder than even David thought possible.
"Gosh!" said David. There was really nothing more to be said.
After tea at the club-house, it seemed a necessity to play again, and this time, regardless of financial stringency, Frank [Maddox] treated David to a caddy, and they went forth with pomp, now playing seawards into the hazy east, now westwards into the blaze of the declining sun, absorbed in their game and yet absorbed in their friendship of boy-love, hot as fire and clean as the trickle of ice-water on a glacier. The knowledge of their talk had made Frank able to turn himself away from all the bad business of Adams's letter, and instead of brooding on the irremediable worst of himself, he took hold of all that was best. And by his side was David, the friend of friends, now with his arm linked in his, now excitedly addressing a cupped ball with his largest driver, now brilliantly slicing among untrodden sand-hills, now dancing with exultation at the success of a shot that was wholly beyond expectation, now half whispering to him, "Oh, it's the rippingest day."The ending of the novel, while somewhat contrived, nonetheless manages to round out the story in a far more satisfactory manner than the average school-story ending of a boy's triumph on the sports ground. Instead of a sports victory, we see love being returned for love, a gift being given back for a gift – an exchange that is more likely to have lingering effects in the characters' lives than a good performance in a school cricket match.
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