Writing and Reviewing History
Page Turners, Mensa Bulletin, January 2018
John Lauritsen is a self-described gay historian and founder of Pagan
Press, a specialty press “founded in 1982 to publish books of interest
to the intelligent gay man.” He was also one of the early members
of the New York Gay Liberation Front.
If all this suggests a strong political disposition, indeed, Lauritsen
has one. But like a good scholar he lays out at the beginning of The Shelley-Byron Men: Lost Angels of a Ruined Paradise
his beliefs and definitions of terms. As much as one can know his
own bias, Lauritsen knows his and is candid and plain with us about it.
His thesis: Early 19th century British Romantic poets Percy Bysshe
Shelley and George Gordon, Lord Byron, along with their circle of
friends, though married to women, participated in affairs of the heart
involving both emotional and physical closeness with other men.
Lauritsen writes that after the deaths of Shelley and Byron, their
heirs bowdlerized their literary output to delete any obvious
references to those ideas. He analyzes the remaining output for
clues to their “forbidden” ideas and practices.
Lauritsen is also editor and annotator to Don Leon & Leon to Annabella,
which includes two long and little-known poems by Lord Byron.
Lauritsen characterizes Don Leon as “a powerful outcry against
injustice, a moving and erudite defense of male love, and an account of
Byron's sexuality” at a time when men could be hanged in England for
participating in gay sex. The work is subtitled “an epistle from
Lord Byron to Lady Byron explaining the real cause of eternal
separation and forming the most curious passage in the secret history
of the noble poet.” Lady Byron had kicked him out of her bed, out
of their home, and ultimately, out of England. The book also
contains an essay, “Don Leon, Byron, and Homosexual Law Reform” by
Louis Crompton, published in 1983.