Title: The Shelley-Byron Men : Lost angels of a ruined paradise
Author: John Lauritsen
Publisher: Pagan Press
Release Date: May 1, 2017
Page Count: 192
Reviewed by: CrabbyPatty
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
In this book, gay historian John Lauritsen tells a story that will not be found in standard biographies. In 1822, two great poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and George Gordon, Lord Byron lived in Pisa, Italy, together with three friends. They met daily in Byron’s palazzo. Although these men had wives and children, male love was an important part of their lives.
They thought of themselves as pariahs in exile, and for good reason. Men and boys in their home country, England, were being hanged for having sex with each other, whereas Italy had no such laws. All of them were ardent Hellenists, who knew that male love had flourished in Ancient Greece the same male love that was persecuted in their own time.
Despite the censorious efforts of friends and family, ample evidence survives that they loved other males. Homoeroticism in their works was usually coded for the initiated , but was sometimes amazingly candid. John Lauritsen de-codes homoerotic references, reinterprets major works of English Romanticism, and places all in historical context. He states: Love and sex between males is an ordinary, healthy part of the human sexual repertoire. For too long, biographers have falsified the love lives of the Shelley-Byron men. The time has come to bring them into the light of day.
For a time in 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley, George Gordon (Lord Byron), Thomas Medwin, Edward John Trelawny and Edward Ellerker Williams resided in close proximity in Italy. While gay men in England were being hanged for having sex, the Code Napoléon in 1810 made sodomy legal between consenting adults above the legal age of consent in Italy. In The Shelley-Byron Men, Lauritsen argues that
” … male love represented an important part of their lives and works, with male love understood as comprising love, sex, and friendship. All of these men had wives, mistresses, and children – a fact which, popular misconceptions notwithstanding, has no bearing on whether or not they were attracted to other males.
Lauritsen provides a detailed textural analysis of their works and shows the use of various “code words” and literary allusions. For example using the word “hyacinth” which refers to the myth of Apollo and his love for the beautiful male youth, Hyacinthus or referencing Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida which depicts Achilles and Patroclus as lovers. At a time when one’s survival depended on discretion, underlying truths or meanings needed to be conveyed by code.
Some interesting tidbits:
The men in this group had closer relationships with each other than their wives, at times referring to one another as spirit mates or soul mates. Shelley and Edward Ellerker Williams died in a boating accident in 1822 when each was 29 years old. Their shared epitaph is:
These are two friends whose lives were undivided.
So let their memory be now they have glided
Under the grave: let not their bones be parted
For their two hearts in life were single-hearted.
Trelawny, in his Adventures of a Younger Son, writes of his lover De Ruyter and his jet-black eyelashes, the bold lines of his mouth, the fine proportions of his limbs, his eyes and their ever-varying color – language that would be perfectly fitting in any M/M romance reviewed here at Gay Book Reviews.
After Shelley’s death, his widow Mary extensively “cleaned up” Shelley’s works – male pronouns were changed to female, entire passages and verses were bowdlerized as she attempted to completely whitewash his life and loves. Byron, perhaps the most clearly gay member of the group, worked on his memoirs throughout his life, and upon his death they were burned by his publisher because he felt they were too scandalous to ever see the light of day.
The Shelley-Byron Men is unlike the usual M/M romances reviewed here at Gay Book Reviews, but I recommend it for anyone who enjoys M/M historical romances, especially fans of Joanna Chambers’ excellent Enlightenment Series as well as K.J. Charles’ Society of Gentlemen and Sins of the Cities series.
Buy Link Amazon Global Author Link GoodReads More Author Reviews