Two separate books, plus a long article on Bentham, not quite fused into a single volume--but they all have their interest....


BYRON AND GREEK LOVE: Homophobia in 19th-Century England

Two separate books, plus a long article on Bentham, not quite fused into a single volume--but they all have their interest. Crompton (English, U. of Nebraska) provides a thorough, balanced overview of Byron's homosexuality, drawing especially on the scholarship of Leslie Marchand and Doris Langley Moore, and puts Byron in the context of the savage (though erratic) judicial persecution of gays that prevailed in his lifetime. Byron's pederasty--he never loved older men--alternated throughout his life with his much more notorious womanizing. His first great passion was for John Edlestone, a 15-year-old Trinity College chorister, whom Byron first met in 1805 and whose death from consumption in 1810 inspired the ""Thyrza"" elegies. On his first trip to Greece there were, among others, Eustathius Georgiou (""a temperamental, effeminate youngster"") and Nicolo Giraud, a more enterprising lad to whom Byron initially willed the staggering sum of £7,000. And finally there was the unrequited love for Lukas Chalandrutsanos, which ended only with Byron's death in Missolonghi. All these affairs were known before, but Crompton shows how large a role they played in Byron's life: homoerotic longings helped draw him to the East; confession of his homosexual ""sins"" to Lady Caroline Lamb, once divulged, sparked the scandal that drove him from England; and guilt and confusion over his sexual identity--more than incest with his half-sister Augusta--lay at the root of his gloomy, tormented ""Byronism."" As for the pillorying (sometimes fatal) and hanging, not to mention brutal ostracism, of sodomites, Crompton argues convincingly that all this made Byron and his similarly inclined friends hypercautious, fearful, and sometimes even homophobic. The only trouble is, Crompton sketches in far more of this background (the most engrossing part of his story) than he needs to explain Byron; and the long quotations and paraphrases from Jeremy Bentham's vast notes on homosexuality--a farsighted text, but never published--often border on irrelevancy. Still: a fairminded, enlightening study.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. of California Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1984