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Re-reading the Radical in John Addington Symonds’s Memoirs: Poetry, Intertextuality, and Queer Self-Construction

Charles Gough

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Published Date:

January 2023


John Addington Symonds, Queer, Poetry, Life Writing, History of Sexuality, Intertextuality


Throughout his literary career, John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) wrote about queer identities and relationships in almost every conceivable form – a body of work which culminated with the Memoirs. A detailed account of Symonds’s life as a homosexual man in the nineteenth century which traces chronologically the stages of his sexual development, in the Memoirs – commenced in 1889 – Symonds attempts to construct his sexual identity through a number of authorial voices in a highly intertextual method of autobiographical composition. Most significantly, the interpolation of poetry written by himself and others foregrounds verse as the dominant textual authority of the Memoirs. This article enacts a re-reading of the radical in the Memoirs, investigating Symonds’s assertion that poetry occupies a privileged position in the process of sexual self-formation for queer subjects, and, as an extension, his understanding that poetry displays (and somewhat facilitates) the queer self to be collectively experienced and articulated, as opposed to existing as an individual, alienated identity.

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10 - 30

Date of Publication:

January 2023

About the author

Charles Gough

Charles Gough is an AHRC-funded doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. He has a BA in English Literature from the University of Birmingham, and an MSt in English (1830-1914) from the University of Oxford. His thesis examines the treatment of the soul in queer late-Victorian poetry, considering how poets used the soul as a means of imagining alternative models of sexual subjectivity and same-sex love. More broadly, his research interests include queer studies, poetry and poetic form, and life writing.

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