The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds

The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds

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The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds: The Secret Homosexual Life of a Leading Nineteenth-Century Man of Letters edited and introduced by Phyllis Grosskurth
1984, Paperback

John Addington Symonds (1840-93), best known for his seven-volume Renaissance in Italy, was also the author of many volumes of poetry and criticism, travel writing and translation. In 1889, after having translated the autobiographies of Cellini and Gozzi, he wrote to his friend Graham Dakyns: "I feel it a pity, after acquiring the art of autobiography through translation of two master-pieces, not to employ my skill upon such a rich mine of psychological curiosities as I am conscious of possessing."

The memoirs he produced, until recently locked in the London library, reveal a painful self-examination of homosexual struggling to live within the bounds of respectability in Victorian England. Symonds gives a fascinating description of his childhood and schooling: his first tutors, eccentric relatives, vivid fantasies, "night terrors"; the brutal homosexuality at Harrow; the cloistered repressed atmosphere of midcentury Oxford. He tells of his literary life, his unhappy marriage, his homosexual obsessions and encounters. His moving self-portrait is remarkable for its exacting honesty and for the insight it offers into the sexual mores of Victorian society.