John Addington Symonds, Horatio Brown and Venice: Friendship, Gondoliers and Homosexuality

  • Sean Brady
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History Series book series (GSX)


Italy, and the city of Venice in particular, occupied a special place in the imaginings not only of British writers, artists, journalists and politicians, but also those of the late nineteenth-century British reading public.1 This chapter examines Venice and its particular attractions for British ‘homosexual’ men with the means to travel. Venice gave much greater freedom of opportunity than in Britain for sexual relationships with other men, but the city also had its own distinct working-class cultures of masculinity, in particular that of the gondoliers, which captured the imaginations of literary homosexual men such as John Addington Symonds and Horatio Forbes Brown. Venice was not simply an outlet for the desires of the peripatetic homosexual traveller. The working-class masculine culture of the gondoliers and the backdrop of the city of Venice itself profoundly influenced Symonds’ historically important writings on homosexuality, and moved both writers to represent in their publications a city that was vibrant and alive. The city of Venice, long associated in the nineteenth century with ruin, former glory and decay, became after 1870 a magnet for a certain kind of foreign artist – and of course for foreign tourists in their swarms. This had an effect upon the Venice of literature.


Sexual Desire Penal Code Italian State Italian Government Foreign Visitor 
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© Sean Brady 2015

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  • Sean Brady

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