Writing and Reviewing History
Page Turners, Mensa Bulletin, January 2018
Caroline McCullagh

    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.