The Guardian online historical archive is full of fascinating pieces. I’ve been looking at some of their book reviews, and I was struck by the reaction to Despised and Rejected by ‘A. T. Fitzroy’ (Rose Allatini) in a review published June 14th, 1918. This novel, prosecuted and banned in 1918, is set among pacifists, and the hero is homosexual. In fact the sexuality of many of the characters in the book is unstable to an astonishing degree for the time. Hester, the main female character, at first has a passionate crush on an older woman, and then falls for Dennis, a homosexual who had courted her partly as a disguise for his actual sexuality, and partly in the hope that she might cure him.
Dennis is a conscientious objector as well as a homosexual, and the linking of sexual deviation with pacifism was clearly something that disturbed the Guardian’s reviewer:
But pacifism is not the main theme. The hero, Dennis Blackwood, walks and talks through a considerable portion of the book before a war breaks out and exhibits himself as a hopeless victim of neurasthenia. He is an abnormal young man, held up for pity as such, but also for admiration. Charity can go no further than look on him as an unhappy invalid. We have no intention of disclosing in what constitutes his abnormality. Those who read his story may regard his malady as ridiculous, others as something worse. A good laugh at Mr Fitzroy’s lack of humour where Dennis is concerned will disperse the rather unwholesome vapours. But what about a pacifist apostle who is so on the ground of abnormality? His whole case is given away.
Well, what will the attitudes we take for granted today look like in 90 years, I wonder?
Despised and Rejected is highly recommended, by the way. It’s by no means a perfect novel, but it goes to places that other fiction of the time never ventures near.
Allatini isn’t in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, though she should be. After the War she married composer Cyril Scott, and wrote stories as ‘Mrs Scott’. She also wrote novels under two other pseudonyms – Lucian Wainwright and Eunice Buckley. From what I can gather, her later work reflects her interest in the occult.