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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
I was really looking forward to reading this book, but was ultimately disappointed. The subject matter is very interesting. As the title says, Norton explores the begins of a distinct gay subculture, mainly in London. He focuses on male homosexuality rather than female, explaining that this is because of the source material available. Gay women left much less evidence for historians Norton's book is refreshing in that it focuses mainly on the activitites of men from the working and lower middle classes who had sex with men. It throws light on how these men made contact. It shows the strength of public feeling against homosexuality. I think this was the most interesting aspect for me . The treatment of men who were publicly punished was horrendous and many were lucky not be killed by crowds baying for their blood. Unfortunately, Norton's writing style, and what seems to be very sloppy editing, detract from the stories he tells and the points he wants to make. He has obviously researched the subject extensively, but most of the evidence is taken from court cases and newspaper reports so each cases feels similar. He presents many examples to illustrate every point that he makes and this makes the book incredibly repetitive. For example, he discusses blackmail cases in one chapter. There actually isn' t that much variation in how these cases played out, yet Norton presents us with a very large amount of evidence. Each of these is explained, even those that have been mentioned in a previous chapter, bogging the reader down in a lot of repeated detail while the analysis gets lost. I understand his need to show that his assertions are based on primary sources, but there needs to be much tighter editing of this - the book could easily have been 100 pages shorter, and this would have given it much more impact. This poor writing/editing is also shown by the fact that many of the cases Norton refers to end up with a man being placed in the pillory as punishment. However, the pillory is not actually described until 199 pages in to the book. Finally, there is little sense of a developing subculture; the book feels more like a snapshot of gay men's activitites over 130 years rather than an analyses of developing trends. Indeed, there is no conclusion that would draw out the development and suggest how this is then taken forward after 1830.
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
Norton has focused on the Georgian Era, when he says that an organized gay subculture first emerged in London society. Prior to that, there may have been small groups at court or among a particular group of associates, but this was at least semi-public and quite extensive. Norton has done much of his research using court records, which of course biases the study a little, although he may have little choice. Most of the men appearing in those records are working class, not aristocrats. There were gay clubs (molly houses), cruising grounds and secret signs for identification. According to Norton, there was an intense campaign against vice, including homosexuality in the first thirty years of the time period. After this, while sodomy remained punishable by death, Norton's account seems to show mixed feeling among the populace. One "respectable" woman calmly informed the court that one man shared dressmakers with her, and had asked to borrow her red suit. Many people seemed not to care, as long as the activity was discreet and didn't impinge on them. put this tolerance could be punctuated with terrifying incidents of arrest and violence. This time span which includes the popular Regency era, should be of interest to fans of that era as well as gay histories. Norton seems to me to be massaging the material a bit to fit what he wants to see. He avoids more problematic issues such as bisexuals, transsexuals and transvestites. He argues that the gay fad for dressing up in women's clothes corresponded to a period when masquerades were generally fashionable, which is true as far as it goes. One still wonders why the men almost always seemed to have dressed as women and had "maiden names." They could have dressed up like male icons, like the 1970s disco group The Village People. Norton also gives a brief recounting of the preceding history, beginning with the first secular sodomy laws in the 1530s. I was annoyed by his take on the tale of the 2d Earl of Castlehaven, tried and executed for sodomy and rape in the 1630s.. According to Norton, Castlehaven had homoerotic relationships with his servants, and invited and assisted them in raping and conducting adulterous liaisons with his own wife and his 12-year-old daughter-in-law. Norton (somewhat reluctantly?) concedes that Castlehaven deserved to be punished for his wife's rape, but seems distressed that paying attention to his alleged violence against women might interfere with Castlehaven's status as a gay martyr. (Castlehaven denied participating in his wife's rape, and in engaging in sodomy. although he apparently did engage in homosexual activity. For a very different take on the case, see Cynthis's Herrup's A House in Gross Disorder: Sex, Law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, and Richard Rambuss' review of her book, A House in Gross Disorder: Sex, Law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven.(Book Review): An article from: Shakespeare Studies.) Rambuss argues that this case is a stress point between women's studies and gay studies, and that applies to some parts of this book as well. What I find outrageous is that Norton defends not only consensual sex between adults, but also sexual assault. As a woman, I have had quite enough of the "relax and enjoy" school of rape. He informs us that the heterosexual rape rate was much higher; one would expect it to be nine times higher, all things being equal, if ten percent of all men are gay. He then proceeds to tells us about two cases of rape, one which he thinks is false, and the other that he describes as being more humorous than horrible. I failed to be amused by it. He attempts to soften the homosexual aspects by arguing that the victim was perhaps angrier at being partially strangled (perhaps that was the humorous part), than he was at being raped. He also tells a case of a man who threw a mail boy up against a gate and fondled him. I don't think that the mail boy deserves to be called a sneaky rogue for talking his way out by promising to meet the man in a week. The mail boy returned with reinforcements and the attacker was arrested....
The Birth of the Subculture
Mother Claps Molly House
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