“An Unexpected Message from Our Past”Who decides that being different is a trait to be looked down upon? In the late 19th century, it was the English Parliament with the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, specifically outlawing all forms of male homosexual expression. This law, combined with the already negative attitude surrounding the gay community before and after World War I, implied that homosexuality was something to be ridiculed and scorned. This trend unfortunately continues yet over a century later. Pat Baker’s Regeneration, starting on page 54 and continuing throughout the novel, repeatedly uses a non-fictional character, Siegfried Sassoon, to exhibit the unnecessary hurt that homosexuals experienced throughout history, an angle that was often neglected when homosexuals were discussed one hundred years ago. Regeneration displays the conflict that many homosexuals are tormented by when deciding whether to live for themselves and their personal needs or whether to conform in order to blend in with society.
In the late 19th century, the purity movement was well underway in England. Serious efforts made by those involved in legislation were creating “a climate where immorality could be tackled seriously” (Mort 114). With the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill in 1885, the first steps were taken toward an “improved moral climate in the country” (Mort 129). While this new law included some positive improvements such as elevating the age of sexual consent for women from 13 to 16, a surprising addition was made just before the final vote was taken in Parliament. Henry Labouchere, a liberal in the House of Commons, introduced a clause “outlawing all forms of male homosexual contact” (Mort 129). The public embraced the addition and the “general negative attitude toward homosexuality” continued to grow with the law on its biased side as well (Robb 57).
Ten years later, circumstances for homosexual males continued to look grim. On May 25, 1895, Oscar Wilde, a renowned playwright, was found guilty of engaging in homosexual activity and sentenced to the maximum punishment allowed: imprisonment for two years with hard labor. The judge, disgusted with Wilde, declared, “People who can do these things must be dead to all sense of shame,” and he deemed the sentence inapt for such a vial criminal (Barger). In the years following, little change was made to ease the growing tension. When Edward Carpenter published his book The Intermediate Sex in 1909, he encouraged the acceptance and understanding of people with different sexual preferences and practices than those who found themselves in the majority.