Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Two Vintage Gay Novels

For many years now I have had searches 'set up' on a number of internet marketplaces so that, should a book I am interested in be listed, I will be emailed automatically. This is a great system but over time it leaves one open somewhat to what happened the other day. I had an email triumphantly announcing that a book I wanted had been found on a particular website... and I couldn't for the life of me remember why I wanted it. 

This is the book above, Out of Sickness by John Paignton. Looking up the book in the ever-indispensable bibliography of gay men in fiction by Ian Young I discover it is there but that it has no asterisk, a punctuation mark awarded to an entry in the bibliography by Young if the book mainly or wholly gay. It wasn't until I started digging around the publisher that it all fell back into place and I remembered! The publisher, Neville Woodbury seemed like a peculiar operation as on the back cover of the jacket of this book was an advert for A Guide to Designing Windows by Neville himself, and the letters after his name tell me he was an architect as well as a publisher/author. Interrogating the British Library catalogue I discovered that Neville Woodbury published just five books between 1950 and 1952. One of those was the key, Art and Anatomy by J. S. Barrington. Ever got to the end of quite a bit of research on the internet only to discover you already knew what you were looking for but had forgotten? 

Not only is the rather outre cover design initialled "J.S.B." for John Shreeve Barrington, it was then I remembered that way back in 2012 when J S Barrington featured heavily on this blog, I had been searching for a copy of his scarce autobiographical novel Out of Sickness written under his often-used pseudonym, John Paignton. According to the blurb, which we might assume was written by Barrington himself, "The author spent ten years living this novel, and five years writing it... This is the story of the youth of David, a psychopath, a schizophrenic, but nevertheless a very lovable young man. He was, in fact, a young man who was loved too easily."


So that mystery is solved. But a correspondent of the blog has been in touch to ask about this book below, White Fire by Michael Laurie (Quality Press, 1948). He rates the book highly and wonders therefore if Laurie is a pseudonym and if so, can any of you very clever people out there crack it?

I am paraphrasing my correspondent now. The story is about a teacher, Robin, who falls for Anthony at prep school and then tutors him until he is fourteen. He guides Anthony's reading through Carpenter, Whitman, Housman and Gide and when Anthony reaches sixteen and falls for an older athlete of eighteen, the teacher encourages the relationship. The 'White Fire' of the title refers to the blossom of cherry trees which is used as a symbol of puberty and desire but also of purification and the cycle of death in winter and rebirth in spring. The text mixes lyrical description of nude swimming in sunlit pools under green trees,with a psychological analysis of adolescent self-discovery and a defence of the invert as natural, vital and right,

Pseudonym or not, it is always unusual and intriguing to discover a well written book which appears to be the only one by the author. Is it possible that this was written by someone a little better known under a different name? Or is this book simply the one story that this author had to tell?   If anyone out there has an idea, do let us know!


Aymery said...

I was able to find a copy of this book - sadly without dustwrapper and very poorly produced on cheap postwar paper - and I haven't a clue who the author could be. It is fairly well written but tendentious. The author has an axe to grind with authority, heterosocial norms, familial norms, traditional English schooling and just about everything else. This transforms the boy's parents into such liberated creatures they are scarcely believable for the time! But it makes me think of the Fabians, A.S. Neill and Summerhill (aside from the pro-homosexual stance), and possibly the Sitwell circle and its adjacencies... though there is nothing avant-garde about the book, nor is there any general interest in the arts such as one would find in Denton Welch. The mystery continues.

Callum said...


Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the search nonetheless. It's not a book I have read myself and I guess I am unlikely to as it is rather hard to find, but it's very interesting to have another take on it. I will pass on your thoughts to the friend who asked me to 'put it out there'. And thank you to for your own tumblr which is number one on my daily click list.


Aymery said...

Hi Callum,

Will be very interested to hear your thoughts once you read the book. I'm sure you'll stumble over a copy one day. Glad you enjoy the tumblr.


Adamart said...

I've been looking at your thread on Micheal laurie ??? A mystery to me ,however I have two manuscript book written and finely illustrated by him
Stunning pieces of works .
The books are called 1. Death in spring 1948

2. Diocleia 1963

I'm so intrigued by the author ?? Pseudonym possible ,both books are finished in outstanding quality and could go to be produced .
I would love to know more ,please help thank you

Callum said...

Dear Adamart,

Thank you for being in touch. I'm afraid that no more information has come my way since I wrote this post. Your two manuscripts sound fabulous and, of course, I would like to know more about them. Do feel free to click the 'email me' link on the blog and be in touch if you like.

Apologies I can't be more help at the moment.


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