In the late eighteeth century, notions of modesty and propriety meant that there were few ways in which sexuality could be discussed openly in a social setting. Gothic narrative served as an outlet. In Victorian Supernatural fiction, the anxieties surrounding homosexuality is a very prominent theme. However, due to the cultural status of homosexuality as taboo, the subject is heavily veiled in literature. In John Mead Faulkner’s `The Lost Stradivarius,’ the story appears to be about a young man’s obsession with a wonderful musical instrument and a particular piece of music. Through carefully disguised metaphor’s, the story conveys pertinent information regarding the reception of homosexuality in England during the Victorian period. Similarly, Henry James’ psychological tale, `The Turn of the Screw’ subtly deals with homosexuality as taboo, and elucidates the repercussions of sexual deviance in children.
Many people think Henry James was homosexual. He lived in an era and society that was particularly unforgiving of deviation from the sexual norms. It was Oscar Wilde who called homosexuality `the love that dare not speak its name.’ Leader of the fin-de-siecle Aestheticist movement, flamboyant dresser, wonderfully witty talker, Wilde–a clever but never “great” playwright/novelist/poet/essayist–was essentially famous for being famous, and for being homosexual in an age during which Britain was deciding what sexual deviance meant and whether to punish it. In The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Deviance, Morality And Late Victorian Society historian Michael S. Foldy advances a theory: Wilde, who was imprisoned for “indecent acts” with men, served as whipping-boy for larger societal anxieties over “moral health”–and as scapegoat for t…
…tween John and William is implicit within the text, but is never made explicit.
The reception of homosexuality in Victorian England reflects the cultural climate of the period. An intense fear of anything `different’ or `foreign’ was present, which reflected the intense dread of invasion by foreigners. Same sex relationships were rampant before and after it became a criminal offence. Victorian authors could only touch on `the love that dare not speak it’s name’ using thinly veiled metaphors. Henry James, a homosexual himself, presented his sexual persuasion in The Turn of the Screw in a less than edifying light, by depicting a homoerotic relationship between two children and their adult minders. John Mead Faulkner, in The Lost Stradivarius, illustrates the madness ensuing from active homosexual encounters made dormant, in the case of John’s marriage to Constance.