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Homes Fit for Homos: Joe Orton’s Queer Domestic

  • Matt Cook
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)

Abstract

Geoffrey Fisher, the new post-war Archbishop of Canterbury, called on Britons to reject ‘war time morality’ and return to living ‘Christian lives’.1 His words encapsulate a rearguard attempt to awaken supposed pre-war moral certainties in the quest for national renewal. The war, though, had changed things irrevocably. Men and women had seen and experienced things which accelerated social, cultural and attitudinal shifts already underway in the interwar period.2 Postwar demographics provided further impetus: there was a sharp rise (of 20 per cent) in the number of teenagers in the late 1950s and 1960s as the baby boomer generation came of age.3 This fed a growing and more visible youth culture shaking up apparently established and establishment attitudes and widening the generation gap.4 Single mothers, those living ‘in sin’, homosexuals and prostitutes, were still judged harshly, and many felt terrible isolation.5 There was nevertheless a sense of things changing.6 The 1950s and 1960s saw a determined push for homosexual law reform voiced in film and literature, in some landmark sociology (like Michael Schofield’s), in the work of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (from 1958), and in the recommendations of the Church of England (1954) and of the Wolfenden Committee (1957).7 Though many homosexual men certainly experienced the 1950s as an especially harsh decade,8 there was not the broad moral consensus that has often been assumed.

Keywords

Literary Critic Sexual Offence Domestic Life Baby Boomer Generation Interwar Period 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Alkarim Jivani, It’s Not Unusual: A History of Lesbian and Gay Britain in the Twentieth Century (London: Michael O’Mara, 1997), 89.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid.; see also: Nick Thomas, ‘Will the Real 1950s Please Stand up? View of a Contradictory Decade’, Cultural and Social History 5, no. 2 (2008): 227–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Lesley Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), chap. 5Google Scholar
  4. Frank Mort, Capital Affairs: London and the Making of the Permissive Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), intro.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Jeffrey Weeks, The World We Have Won: The Remaking of Erotic and Intimate Life (London: Routledge, 2007), 23.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Anna Clark, Desire: A History of European Sexuality (London: Routledge, 2008), 205Google Scholar
  7. British youth culture see: Adrian Horn, Juke Box Britain: Americanisation and Youth Culture, 1945–60 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009)Google Scholar
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  10. on the impact on interior design see: Penny Sparke, As Long as It’s Pink: The Sexual Politics of Taste (London: Pandora, 1995), 188.Google Scholar
  11. 5.
    Steedman, Rowbotham and Segal give a powerful sense of this in their memoirs. See: Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives (London: Virago, 1986)Google Scholar
  12. Sheila Rowbotham, Promise of a Dream: Remembering the Sixties (London: Allen Lane, 2000)Google Scholar
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  15. 6.
    Weeks, The World We Have Won, 58; Helen McCarthy, ‘Gender Equality’, in Unequal Britain: Equalities in Britain Since 1945, ed. Pat Thane (London: Continuum, 2010). Aside from the increasing presence of women in the workforce, there was the Equal Pay Act of 1955 for women in public service and — more arcane but nevertheless symbolic — the Life Peers Act of 1958 which allowed women as well as men to be created as Life Peers in the House of Lords.Google Scholar
  16. 7.
    Matt Cook, A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages (Oxford: Greenwood World, 2007), chap. 5.Google Scholar
  17. 8.
    There is no evidence of such a co-ordinated operation, however: Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005)Google Scholar
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  19. 9.
    On these shifts see especially: Fowler, Youth Culture; Marwick, The Sixties; Lisa Tickner and David Peters Corbett, eds., British Art in the Cultural Field, 1939–69 (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).Google Scholar
  20. 10.
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  22. 16.
    On this see: Michael Billington, State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945 (London: Faber, 2007), chap. 5Google Scholar
  23. Alan Sinfield, Out on Stage: Lesbian and Gay Theatre in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), chap. 14.Google Scholar
  24. 19.
    Houlbrook, Queer London, 193; see also: Chris Waters and Matt Houlbrook, ‘The Heart in Exile: Detachment and Desire in 1950s London’, History Workshop Journal 62 (Autumn 2006): 142–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  26. 23.
    John Lahr, Prick up Your Ears (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002)Google Scholar
  27. Simon Shepherd, Because We’re Queers: The Life and Crimes of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton (London: Allen Lane, 1978).Google Scholar
  28. 24.
    On this point see also David Van Leer, ‘Saint Joe: Orton as Homosexual Rebel’, in Joe Orton: A Casebook, ed. Francesca Coppa (London: Routledge, 2003), 112.Google Scholar
  29. 27.
    For an autobiographical account of the Soho scene in the 60s see: Peter Burton, Parallel Lives (London: GMP, 1985), esp. 45.Google Scholar
  30. 29.
    Joe Orton, The Orton Diaries, ed. John Lahr (London: Methuen, 1986), 30 December 1967, 45.Google Scholar
  31. See: M. Finn, ‘Men’s Things: Masculine Possession in the Consumer Revolution’, Social History 25, no. 2 (2000): 133–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 35.
    Colin Maclnnes was writing in Encounter 21 (August 1963). Cited by Jonathan Dollimore, ‘The Challenge of Sexuality’, in Society and Literature, ed. Alan Sinfield (London: Methuen, 1983), 78.Google Scholar
  33. 36.
    Richard Hornsey, The Spiv and the Architect: Unruly Life in Postwar London (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 37.
    White, London in the Twentieth Century, 63–64; on the national rise in home ownership in the 1950s, see: James Obelkevich, ‘Consumption’, in Understanding Post-War British Society, ed. James Obelkevich and Peter Catterall (London: Routledge, 1994), 144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 47.
    Joel Sanders, ed., Stud: Architectures of Masculinity (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), 18.Google Scholar
  36. 49.
    Francesca Coppa, ed., Joe Orton: A Casebook (New York: Routledge, 2003), intro, 4.Google Scholar
  37. 52.
    David M. Halperin, How to Be Gay (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 238, 334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 60.
    Richard Dyer, Culture of Queers (London: Routledge, 2001), 16.Google Scholar
  39. 64.
    Around 1653 of them. Maurice Charney, Joe Orton (London: Macmillan, 1984), 7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 65.
    David Robbins, ed., The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990)Google Scholar
  41. Anne Massey, The Independent Group: Modernism and Mass Culture in Britain, 1945–59 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  42. 66.
    Tickner and Corbett, British Art in the Cultural Field; Richard Leslie, Pop Art: A New Generation of Style (New York: Todtri, 1997)Google Scholar
  43. Marco Livingstone, Pop Art (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1991)Google Scholar
  44. George Melly, Revolt into Style: The Pop Arts in Britain (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972).Google Scholar
  45. 68.
    Ilsa Colsell, Malicious Damage: The Defaced Library Books of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton (London: Donlon, 2013), 52.Google Scholar
  46. 71.
    Joe Orton, ‘The Ruffian on the Stair’, in Orton: The Complete Plays, ed. John Lahr (London: Methuen, 1976), 49–50.Google Scholar
  47. 75.
    Tamara K. Hareven, ‘The Home and the Family in Historical Perspective’, Social Research 58, no. 1 (1991): 253–285.Google Scholar
  48. 77.
    Michael Schofield, Society and the Homosexual (London: Victor Gollancz, 1952), 132. For further discussion see the introduction to this part of the book.Google Scholar
  49. 82.
    On the need for flexible understandings of kinship in our approach to the past see: Robert Nye, ‘Kinship, Male Bonds and Masculinity in Comparative Perspective’, American Historical Review 105 (2000): 1658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Matt Cook 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matt Cook
    • 1
  1. 1.Birkbeck CollegeUniversity of LondonUK

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