Saturday, December 12, 2009

Strangers by Graham Robb

Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century -- by Graham Robb

Strangers is a rather wide-ranging book. Of most interest to me is the last chapter: 'Heroes of Modern Life'. In this chapter Robb teases out some of the homosexual themes in the early fictional detectives most extensively Dupin and Holmes but also Raffles, Lupin, Poirot and (Lord Peter) Wimsey.

Overall this is a great book because it does provides a broader context to homosexuality in the Victorian era, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone thinking of writing Holmeslash. But keep in mind that Robb writes with a strong editorial tone and the reader needs to decide which interpretions they agree with and which they question--and I would question the idea that Holmes was to any extent based on Oscar Wilde.

I find it interesting that Robb did not consider Sherlock Holmes a subject worth indexing--it may not be a huge part of his book by Holmes is a cultural icon and any reference to him will attract interest and commentary. His suggestion that "Everyone already knows, instinctively, that Holmes is homosexual" was bound to be received with a highly cultured version of 'O RLY!!111!?'.

For example a New York Times Book Review* focuses on this section out of the entire book and describes Robb's approach disdainfully as "sly" and "coy" and concludes of Holmes "...he's celibate. He has to be ... it is his nature, and one of the main reasons we love him".

In contrast Gunn (2005) writes that "...the author set forth plausible reasons to conclude that both C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes are gay" (pg. 14).

Sherlock Holmes has the capacity to be whatever the reader wants him to be. He would hardly be so widely loved and so well remembered if that were not the case. There is no universal take on Holmes. The lines of Conan Doyle's stories are spaced widely enough for us all to read between them whatever we want.

Shown left is the WW Norton hardback released in 2003. This edition is 341 pages.

* Miller L. The Swinging Detective. New York Times Book Review 1/25/2004.

See also:
[Record #2]


Love Bug 54 said...

This is a great book that I couldn't put down and agree it's a must for any Holmes slash writer.

I think Conan Doyle did "borrow" Wilde's unconventionality for Holmes. He may have borrowed his fastidious nature, too. But that's not important.

What is important is this: The comment that Holmes could not be gay because he was celebate. Excuse me, but that reviewer was wrong. The two are not mutually exclusive and one does not negate the other. One speaks to orientation; the other speaks to actions.

Anonymous said...

I agree. In fact it could be argued that we are more narrow in out defintions nw than in victorian times where romantic or simply very close same sex friendship was accepted without assuming it was sexual.

Anonymous said...

Of course in the Victorian era, if two people were of the same sex and had a very close relationship they would not be deemd or branded as homosexuals. I'm not saying that people were narrow minded back then but the thought just wouldnt have crossed their minds, it would probably like thinking, "oh look, those trees are close to each other, they must be in a relationship" in modern times, it just doesnt happen. Life was simpler and less complicated then than it is now, there the simple breath of feeling form a man to a man would be heard with caution and pondered with possible fear, as if homosexuality is a bad thing. i ramble a lot but you might get the idea i'm trying to put across.