Friendship’s Loss: Alan Bray’s Making of History

  • Valerie Traub

Abstract

In the headnote that precedes his essay, ‘The Body of the Friend’, Alan Bray describes the painful occasion that gave impetus to his work:

In 1987 I heard Michel Rey, a student of J.-L. Flandrin in the University of Paris, give a lecture entitled ‘The Body of My Friend’. The lecture was only an outline, and his early death left his doctoral thesis uncompleted and his loss keenly felt by many. But in the years that followed that lecture Michel and I often discussed the history of friendship, and I have sought in this paper to complete that paper as he might have done had he lived, as a tribute to his memory. It is a paper about the body of the friend at the onset of the modern world and its loss.1

In a position not unlike that of Bray, I — along with you — now confront the loss of a scholar who has done more, perhaps, than any other to return the body of the friend, and with it the complex meanings of intimacy, to historical consciousness. Although it did not fall to me to complete the monumental piece of scholarship that is The Friend, the manuscript Alan was finishing at the time of his death, it does fall to me to try to do justice to a scholarly legacy that has had a singular, indispensable, and galvanizing effect on the history of sexuality, and that will, in its now complete form, transform the histories of friendship and the family.2

Keywords

Dust Europe Coherence Posit Hunt 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    A. Bray and M. Rey, ‘The Body of the Friend: Continuity and Change in Masculine Friendship in the Seventeenth Century’, in T. Hitchcock and M. Cohen (eds), English Masculinities 1660–1800 (London and New York: Longman, 1999), pp. 65–84, on p. 65.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See A. Bray, The Friend (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). I cannot claim for myself the status of Alan’s friend; although we had corresponded about each other’s work, we did not meet until the year before his death. It was only after we had met, when he revealed to me that he would be reading the manuscript of my book The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England for Cambridge University Press and suggested that we might dispense with the protocol of confidentiality in order to further our conversation, that we became regular correspondents. Portions of this essay were communicated to him in my response to the book manuscript that he shared with me the summer before his death.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    A. Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London: Gay Men’s Press, 1982); unless otherwise noted, citations taken from this edition.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A. Bray, ‘Homosexuality and the Signs of Male Friendship in Elizabethan England’, History Workshop Journal, 29 (1990), 1–19;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. reprinted in J. Goldberg (ed.), Queering the Renaissance (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), pp. 40–61, on p. 42; and Bray, The Friend, p. 186.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bray, afterword to Homosexuality in Renaissance England, new edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p. 116.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, p. 11. Scholars have variously adopted, nuanced, or attempted to refute Bray’s constructionist account. As Goldberg notes, almost all the essays in Queering the Renaissance are heavily indebted to Bray (p. 4). See, subsequently, J. Goldberg, Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992);Google Scholar
  8. G.W. Bredbeck, Sodomy and Interpretation: Marlowe to Milton (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991);Google Scholar
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  18. 12.
    For analysis of the effects of ‘The historical search for a Great Paradigm Shift’, see Axiom 5 of E. Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 44–8. Bray’s initial account continues to be nuanced by reflections on the meanings of identity, even as the contours of his chronology have gained general acceptance.Google Scholar
  19. See, for instance, D.M. Halperin, How to Do the History of Homosexuality (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  20. 27.
    L. Shannon, Sovereign Amity: Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 93–4: ‘Eroticism, especially homoeroticism … seems not to operate as a device governing meanings in the Renaissance; its presence or absence is not determining in nomenclatures, knowledges, or social practices.’ The language used in my text draws on Shannon, ‘Queerly Philological Reading’ (paper presented at the ‘Lesbianism in the Renaissance’ seminar, 30th Annual Meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, Minneapolis, April 2002).Google Scholar
  21. 28.
    As Lauren Berlant and Lisa Duggan point out, the ‘Clinton Affair’ was ‘a moment of stunning confusion in norms of sexuality; of fantasies of national intimacy — what constitutes “ordinary sex” and “ordinary marriage”, let alone the relation between law and morality, law and justice’ (Introduction to L. Berlant and L. Duggan (eds), Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest (New York: New York University Press, 2001), p. 4). Several essays in Our Monica, Ourselves remark upon, but none actually analyze, thisGoogle Scholar
  22. 31.
    The dependence of the hetero on the homo has been a tenet of queer theory since Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet (1990) and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990).Google Scholar
  23. 46.
    David Halperin incisively articulates the issue: ‘if the funerary monuments Bray describes had conveyed even the faintest suggestion that the connubium of friends celebrated in them had consisted in a sodomitical union, we would not find those monuments enshrined in Christian churches. I do not infer from this alone that Piper and Wise never had sex (though Bray makes a very strong claim to that effect about John Henry Newman and Ambrose St John); in most cases, I assume, the evidence does not allow us to draw any firm inferences one way or the other. But I do deduce that the rhetoric of friendship or love employed in those monuments succeeded in sealing off the relationships represented in them from any suggestion of being sodomitical.’ See D.M. Halperin, Introduction to K. O’Donnell and M. O’Rourke (eds), Love, Sex, Intimacy, and Friendship between Men, 1550–1880 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003), pp. 1–11, on p. 10, n. 9.Google Scholar
  24. 49.
    C. Herrup, ‘Finding the Bodies’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 5 (1999), 255–65.Google Scholar
  25. 51.
    A similar incarnation of this problem occurs in a blurb on the cover of a 2002 Routledge anthology, K.M. Phillips and B. Reay (eds), Sexualities in History: A Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 2002). ‘Sexual behaviours and mentalities are embedded in systems of power’, David Levine observes in his puff for the book, but this recognition is preceded with the claim: ‘Sex is, perhaps, the least interesting aspect of the history of sexuality’ (emphasis mine).Google Scholar
  26. 66.
    V. Traub, The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  27. 70.
    A. Bray, ‘The Curious Case of Michael Wigglesworth’, in M. Duberman (ed.), A Queer World: The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (New York and London: New York University Press, 1997), pp. 205–15, on p. 206. Given that, from a certain point of view, Wiggleworth’s dreams are a perfect illustration of what desire is, Bray’s own conception of desire and how it functions in the modern world is worth further investigation.Google Scholar
  28. 76.
    The question of influence is complex. Bray has obviously influenced Laurie Shannon, whose Sovereign Amity (primarily on masculine friendship, but attentive to female friendship as well) seeks at several points to extend Bray’s analysis of the dangers of inequality, as well as K. Schwarz, Tough Love: Amazon Encounters in the English Renaissance (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), whose analysis draws heavily on Bray’s treatment of cultural intelligibility. Yet, it is notable that neither of these books is primarily about female homoeroticism. Elizabeth Susan Wahl sees in Bray’s focus on those who threaten social stability ‘a particularly useful approach for analyzing England’s apparent cultural indifference to the desire of one woman for another’, but she does not develop that observation (Invisible Relations: Representations of Female Intimacy in the Age of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 52). Harriette Andreadis approvingly cites Bray’s historical argument about a homosexual subculture in order to speculate about ‘an analogous female homosexual subculture’ emerging around the same time in London (Sappho in Early Modern England: Female Same-Sex Literary Erotics, 1550–1714 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 52, 95–6).Google Scholar
  29. Based on the presence of citations as well as on critical approach, Bray appears to have held little utility for T. Jankowski, Pure Resistance: Queer Virginity in Early Modern English Drama (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000),Google Scholar
  30. E. Donoghue, Passions between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668–1801 (New York: HarperCollins, 1993),Google Scholar
  31. or the essays on female intimacy in S. Frye and K. Robertson (eds), Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  32. 82.
    G. Williamson, Lady Anne Clifford: Her Life, Letters, and Work (Kendal: Titus Wilson & Son, 1922), p. 76.Google Scholar
  33. This question is also raised by Laura Gowing in her recent book, Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth-Century England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 65–8.Google Scholar
  34. 83.
    This critique focuses on such metanarrative’s retrospective investment in progress, causality, and supersession; its sequential requirements of the pre- and the post-; its tendency toward false synthesis; and its press-ganging of all prior formations of same-sex desire into modern identities. See, for instance, A. Jagose, Inconsequence: Lesbian Representation and the Logic of Sexual Sequence (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2002);Google Scholar
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    In addition to Goldberg (ed.), Queering the Renaissance, and Burger and Kruger (eds), Queering the Middle Ages, see A. Herrmann, Queering the Modems: Poses/Portraits/Performances (London and New York: Palgrave, 2000).Google Scholar
  38. 85.
    See C. Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  40. 86.
    The major studies of lesbianism, for instance, are generally respectful of traditional period boundaries. In addition to those listed above, see B. Brooten, Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Valerie Traub 2005

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  • Valerie Traub

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