I’ve been off to Amsterdam for a few days, during which time I managed to take a look at the archive of the publisher C.W. Daniel (at the International Institute of Social History there.) He was a Tolstoyan pacifist, and a brave and principled man. He went to prison in 1916 rather than pay a fine for publishing the pamphlet ‘A Knock-out Blow’, which was an appalled response to Lloyd George’s determination that the British should fight to a complete victory, and never consider a negotiated settlement.
He was also tried and convicted under D.O.R.A for publishing Despised and Rejected by ‘A.T.Fitzroy’ (Rose Allatini), a novel about a group of bohemian homosexuals who are also pacifists. It was prosecuted for its pacifist sentiments, but the sexual unorthodoxy played a large part in the press campaign against it, which provoked the authorities into a prosecution several months after the book’s publication. (By and large they preferred not to prosecute works of fiction, if only because this allowed them to claim a moral superiority over Germany, where censorship was far stricter.)
The piece in the archive that most surprised me was a leaflet circulated by Daniel after the trial, in which he wrote protesting his innocence of the book’s sexual import:
I was assured by the author that the love between the hero and his friend was analogous to that between David and Jonathan. I did not see what has since been pointed out – that certain passages are open to an immoral interpretation.
Personally, I would rather that any book were burnt than that I should be party to lending support to depravity of either the homo-sexual or the contra-sexual types. And I think that I am entitled to say that the invariable influence of my publications has been considerably above, not below, the conventional moral standards.
I was drawn to publish ‘Despised and Rejected’ because of its pacifist sentiment; but I would not have published it had I believed that there was a risk of prosecution under D.O.R.A.
The sexual implications were very clear to more sophisticated readers. The manuscript had previously been offered to Allen and Unwin. Stanley Unwin consulted Orage of the New Age about it, and was told was told ‘You cannot publish this novel. You will be prosecuted if you do.’ The book’s subject was also clear to reviewers, like the prim critic of the Manchester Guardian (‘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.’)
So are Daniel’s protestations believable? J.C. Squire, writing as ‘Solomon Eagle’ in the New Statesman thought so:
I for one fully accept Mr Daniel’s statement that he failed to observe what his author was driving at; it is perfectly true, also, that his publications as a rule have been morally irreproachable.
Reading the book today it is hard to believe this – until one remembers Mrs Whitworth, who ran the theatre club where J.R. Ackerley’s Prisoners of War was performed in 1925. She had read and admired the play, but was horrified when someone took her aside and pointed out the homosexual subtext that seems glaringly obvious to a modern reader. And then there is Ernest Raymond, whose Tell England describes schoolboys seething with homoerotic passion (One boy says of his housemaster: ‘‘Do you know, I really think I like Radley better than anyone else in the world. I simply loved being whacked by him.’) In his memoirs, written forty-five years later, Raymond would write:
‘Another thing that is a cause of wonder to me as I re-read the book is the indubitable but wholly unconscious homosexuality in it,’ since ‘“homosexuality” was a word which — absurd as this seems now — I had never heard. It was not then the daily topic in newspapers and converse that it is today. But naturally I knew all the rude words like ‘buggery’ and ‘sods’. And these described practices that, so far from having any appeal to me, produced a grim recoil and a surprise that such things could be. I did not know that homosexuality could exist in embryo without even knowing itself for what it was, or desiring the least physical satisfaction, till the time came for it to die and be transcended by full and normal manhood. ’
I feel sorry for Daniel, a man of great idealistic dignity and an ascetic whose publishing house specialised in books advocating vegetarianism and alternative medicine, as well as the pacifist ones. He probably thought that publishing a novel with pacifist sentiments was a safer bet than producing another pacifist leaflet, and must have felt hurt and confused when he found himself branded a pornographer.