Contravening the idea that writing openly gay work automatically excludes authors from establishment glory, in 2009 Sandy McClatchy published his sixth volume of poetry, Mercury Dressing, whose title poem, from The New Yorker, mentions "his hooded sex" and "I feel him deep inside," and he was elected president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Sixty-eight today, McClatchy has for decades written honestly about his sexuality, from his first gay experience at ten with a friend's big brother in a hockey rink restroom to the agony of aids, and has received some of poetry's highest recognitions. His 2003 collection Hazmat was a Pulitzer finalist. He has been editor of the The Yale Review since 1991, has taught at Princeton, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and Yale, and has published two books of critical essays, White Paper and Twenty Questions. He is co-executor for the literary estate of James Merrill, whose work his own is sometimes compared to, and has edited nearly twenty collections or anthologies, including The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry and Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems. Additionally, McClatchy has written libretti for more than a dozen operas, among them William Schumann's A Question of Taste, Francis Thorne's Maria and the Magician, Ned Rorem's Our Town, Lowell Liebermann's Miss Lonelyhearts, and Elliot Goldenthal and Julie Taymor's Grendel. For thirteen years he was partners with Alfred Corn, who turns seventy on Thursday; McClatchy is currently in a longterm relationship with graphic designer, novelist, Batman expert, humorist, and vocalist Chip Kidd, nineteen years his junior. They live in Stonington, Connecticut and NYC. Next April is the release of his Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems.
Ignored from infancy by her mother and stepfather, Marguerite Radclyffe Hall was educated at Kings College London and in Germany, where, when she was twenty-seven, she began a relationship with a singer named Mabel Batten, who was fifty-one and a grandmother and had once been painted by John Singer Sargent. They moved in together as soon as Batten's husband died; several years later Hall fell in love with Batten's cousin, Una Troubridge, and after Batten died the following year, they began living together. Their partnership lasted more than twenty-five years and weathered Hall's many short and longer term affairs as well as her success and scandal as a writer. Her second novel, The Forge (1924), a comedy of social manners, was published before her first, The Unlit Lamp (1924), about a young woman's thwarted wish to become a physician and set up house with another single woman. Her fourth novel, Adam's Breed (1926), concerns an Italian restaurateur in London who embraces spirituality, renounces the world, and lives hermit-like in the woods. It won two major literary prizes and became a bestseller.
So The Well of Loneliness (1928) was naturally anticipated by literary London. For the first three weeks, reviews were mixed but critics accepted its sympathetic portrayal of lesbians. Then the editor of the Sunday Express whipped up a frenzy, saying he would rather give healthy children a vial of prussic acid than the novel and demanding it be withdrawn. The nervous publisher sent a copy to the Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, known as Jix, offering to suppress it if he disliked it. Despite his hip nickname and his kept promise to give women the vote in 1928, Jix was sixty-three and deeply conservative and had strenuously objected in Parliament to planned revisions to The Book of Common Prayer, successfully preventing the changes twice. No surprise then that he hated The Well of Loneliness and intended to sue the publisher unless they canceled the book immediately. They did, but they had already licensed the rights to an English publisher in France. When the book was imported, Jix ordered it seized, over the objections of the Chairman of the Customs Board who admired the novel. It became a matter for the Metropolitan Police, and the subsequent trial for obscenity depended solely on the judge's opinion without any expert testimony. For those of you who haven't read the 500 page novel lately, here are the sex scenes unabridged:
She kissed her full on the lips.
and that night they were not divided.
The case drew wide protest from other newspapers, dozens of famous people, the National Union of Railwaymen and the South Wales Miners' Federation. Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, H.G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw defended Hall in letters to the editor. The judge ordered all copies of the book destroyed. He said that no reasonable person could claim that a call for tolerance or acceptance of homosexuality was not obscene. Kipling agreed to testify on behalf of the novel at the appeals trial. He appeared at court and was refused. The twelve magistrates took five minutes to uphold the original obscenity verdict. Eighteen years later, after Hall had died, after World War II, Troubridge tried again to get The Well of Loneliness in print in England and the Home Secretary said the publisher would be prosecuted. In America, the book faced two obscenity trials (garnering letters of support from Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mencken, Sinclair, Dos Passos, St. Vincent Millay, and more) and both times the book triumphed. Its first year it sold more than 100,000 copies. It was finally published in the U.K. in 1949.
When Lambda Rising closed, my pard bought a signed copy of the 1928 U.S. first edition.