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Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to…

Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day

by Peter Ackroyd

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Peter Ackroyd has written many books about London and knows his city. In this he keeps himself at arms length except where he's describing the experience of AIDS and then I discovered (and wasn't surprised) that he nursed his own partner through it (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/20/peter-ackroyd-interview-2000-years-gay-life-london). This book explores mostly the past but the constant refrain is that queers/.LGBTQIA have always been around and in some instances have been quite influential in the city and now the only real difference is that they don't have to use beards or pretend they are not what they are.

It's largely a celebration of how queer is normal and that people come in many flavours and that the only thing that we have now is different terms and fewer legal problems.

A thoughtful read and worthwhile. ( )
1 vote wyvernfriend | Jul 10, 2018 |
Entertaining but superficial, heavy on events but very light on analysis. It's really a history of queer Britain, illustrated with brief accounts of individual cases presumably drawn from court records. The absence of footnotes makes it impossible to follow up any of the cases cited in more detail. The last couple of chapters, dealing with the recent past, are so general they're pretty pointless. I admire Ackroyd's work but I suspect he wrote this to a tight deadline, employed researchers to dig out the cases for him, and just strung it all together in roughly chronological order. The stuff on language is fascinating, however. ( )
  LuxVestra | Jul 6, 2018 |
Queer City from Peter Ackroyd is a well-researched but unevenly written popular history of, as the subtitle says, Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day. All in all it is well worth reading though it will likely annoy as much as it enlightens.

Part of the problem is that the scope is enormous for a relatively short book. For that reason depth is often sacrificed for breadth. If that were the extent of the issue it would be a minor annoyance. Yet the long span of history for which the sources are scarce and often require some conjecture take up most of the book and the period when there are ample sources and there is less speculation necessary seem to be glossed over rather than examined. For my preferences I would have preferred a slightly longer book with a more thorough and balanced review of more recent history.

The facts and stories are all very interesting and the bibliography is extensive so the reader has some avenues presented for further reading and research. This is more of a popular history than a scholarly history, at least compared to scholarly histories I am familiar with, so the reading is very accessible. Any areas of confusion will likely stem from the scattershot approach that much of the early chapters seem to use. There is very little flow to the book, even taking into consideration the relatively chronological presentation.

I would recommend this to any readers interested in either British/London history or historical sexuality studies. My hope is that the information presented here will be expanded upon by future writers and we will look back at this volume as a source of research avenues.

Reviewed from a copy made available through Goodreads First Reads. ( )
1 vote pomo58 | Jun 3, 2018 |
Book received from NetGalley.

First and foremost, this particular history book is not for everyone, the subject matter can be very divisive even though the author is a marvelous researcher and writer of British history. This is one of my auto buy authors. I love his books especially his non-fiction. He somehow finds a way to bring his subject to life and draw the reader in. This book is no different, even though the subject matter can be hard to read at times. Unlike many of his history books this one is very short. This is due to how little information on the LGBTQ community in the earliest parts of the historical record. When it does show up for many years it's found in the trial records. The book mostly focuses on the Gay community in London, there is very little mentioned about Lesbians and even less about the rest of the community in general, which is also do to the persecution that seemed to be focused on the males sexual preference. If you want to know the origin of some of the worst slurs, it's in here. Why the author believes that homosexual sex became a death penalty case, it's in here. The ending of the history shows how much things have changed for the better in current times in Britain for the LGBTQ community, even though more changes need to be made, it gives some hope that it will happen. I learned quite a bit from reading this history and have plans to order myself a copy as soon as it's released. If you like Gay studies, alternative histories of Great Britain, or Social history this book should be on you want to read list. ( )
  Diana_Long_Thomas | Feb 13, 2018 |
Ackroyd has a pretty solid track record of writing interesting things about London, so I took a punt on this one, despite the alarmingly broad subtitle. Unfortunately, it's the subtitle that wins - this is a book stretched ridiculously thin, and Ackroyd is trying to pack so many facts into it that he has no space for standing back and reflecting on what he's telling us.

Queer history is a difficult topic anyway, because queer desire normally doesn't leave a trace on the historical record. We know next to nothing about how the majority of people in earlier centuries saw their own sexuality and what they did about it, but we do know a great deal about how, from time to time, some people were accused of acting on their desires in ways that society or the law disapproved of, and suffered as a result.

In the last thirty or forty years, people like Rictor Norton, Alan Sinfield, Alan Bray, Colin Spencer and Hugh David have gone to great efforts to dig out this kind of data, and, since almost everything they found in the historical record for the UK happened in London, Ackroyd has to recite just about all of it, at breakneck speed, with as many gruesome details as possible, and without any discussion about whether the trends these accusations and prosecutions reflect are to do with changes in queer behaviour or with phases of greater and lesser intolerance from the rest of society. Or indeed with the ever-useful unfounded accusation to blacken someone's reputation. We never get the chance to think about whether London really was a "queer city" at any given time, or about how its queerness worked geographically, it's just facts, facts, facts.

Disappointing: this is probably a useful overview if you know nothing about the subject, because a lot of the original research Ackroyd summarises can be difficult to find these days. But I happen to have a good deal of that on my shelves already, and I found that Ackroyd added very little value to it. ( )
1 vote thorold | Aug 28, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0701188804, Hardcover)

Peter Ackroyd is our preeminent chronicler of London. In Queer City, he looks at the metropolis in a whole new way – through the history and experiences of its gay population.

In Roman Londinium the penis was worshipped and homosexuality was considered admirable. The city was dotted with lupanaria (‘wolf dens’ or public pleasure houses), fornices (brothels) and thermiae (hot baths). Then came the Emperor Constantine, with his bishops and clergy, monks and missionaries. His rule was accompanied by the first laws against queer practices.

What followed was an endless loop of alternating permissiveness and censure, from the notorious Normans, whose military might depended on masculine loyalty, and the fashionable female transvestism of the 1620s; to the frenzy of executions for sodomy in the early 1800s and the ‘gay plague’ in the 1980s.

Ackroyd takes us right into this hidden city, celebrating its diversity, thrills and energy on the one hand; but reminding us of its very real terrors, dangers and risks on the other. In a city of superlatives, it is perhaps this endless sexual fluidity and resilience that epitomise the real triumph of London.

'Peter Ackroyd is the greatest living chronicler of London' Independent

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 09 Jan 2017 09:20:53 -0500)

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