Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 47 / 23 November 2017
 

Celebrating lovers

Books


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Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle (self-published, $29.90)

Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton, who laid the foundation for modern physics, may have had a relationship with a Swiss mathematician, Nicolas Fatio de Duillier? That the famous married theatrical couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were gay and lesbian? That the British author of 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke had a 23-year partnership with a Sri Lankan teenager, and they are buried together? This is only a fraction of the LGBT trivia one can unearth in Elisa Rolle's new book Days of Love, a collection of same-sex pairings throughout the world and history, covering all artistic and scientific fields, complete with photos, in particular those created by photographer Robert Giard from his book Particular Voices, recording many in the LGBT literary community.

Rolle's website reviews-and-ramblings.dreamwidth.org is a comprehensive online journal dedicated to LGBT literature, art, and film. She has also launched the Rainbow Awards, online annual awards judging hundreds of LGBT titles in dozens of categories. She explains in the preface why she decided to compile this book. "I have always liked love stories, and to me, even if you only spent one day in blissful happiness, then it was a love story. I see the following pages like a family photo album, the enlarged LGBT family sharing their memories: you will read about couples who managed to stay together for more than 70 years, but also those who were able to have only some days of happiness." What emerges in the book is an alternative cultural history of LGBT people. But I don't want to leave the impression that the book focuses only on famous couples. In fact, 3/4 of Days of Love features couples most of us have never heard of, which makes reading about them and their accomplishments even more fascinating. By concentrating on (though not restricted to) long-term relationships, Rolle lays to rest the myth that LGBT folk are not capable of sustaining life-long partnerships.

The book is 760 pages, a virtual encyclopedia, and the research that must have accompanied the writing is staggering. Most entries are only a page long. Some of the recent stories are accompanied by testimonies of the couple, which personalize their listing. Some eye-raising portraits are of Edith Wharton & William Moron Fullerton; Sir Alan Bates & John Curry; Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland; Guthrie McClintic & Katharine Cornell; John Maynard Keyes & Sebastian Sprott; John Henry Newman & Ambrose St. John; and George Sand & Marie Dorval. These examples merely scratch the surface, because the unknown romances are also charming, equally apportioned between men and women. You might look up an individual in the index, read his or her story, but then because each entry is brief, notice another entry that can be quickly digested, and before long an hour has passed.

While there is much to praise in this groundbreaking volume, there are many typos and editing faux pas, and it does have a serious flaw. There is no introductory chapter telling us the history of LGBT relationships, how they have been defined, have changed or been viewed through the centuries. In other words, there is no historical or social context for how to interpret them. The book relies heavily on hearsay, such that in some cases we cannot be sure whether or not there was an actual relationship, with the case of Isaac Newton being an example. In previous centuries, friendship was prized and spoken about in affectionate terms that today sound sexual to us, but did not necessarily have a physical component. Rolle clarifies when she can, but at times the evidence is ambiguous. I suspect Rolle's response would be that LGBT couples defy classification. The problem is that she never states what her reasoning is for including certain couples. Fortunately she provides enough information that readers can research and draw their own conclusions.

Ultimately one can only applaud Rolle for her diligence. Despite centuries of history silencing LGBT relationships, a brief perusal of Days of Love should convince any skeptic that there have always been LGBT people seeking love. As we bask in these heady days of social acceptability and legality of same-sex marriage, we are reminded that many people past and present paved the way for our civil rights, not the least of which is the right to love whomever we want.






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