Book review: The Shelley-Byron Men: Lost angels of a ruined paradise, by John Lauritsen

Lauritsen, John. The Shelley-Byron Men: Lost angels of a ruined paradise.  Pagan Press, 2017. 191 p. Hardback $16. ISBN 978-0-943742-30-4.

 

This is a book for history buffs interested in the early 19th century history of the gay rights movement.  The close friends of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and his good friend poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) knew they were gay.  This is why they escaped the narrow confines of their homeland in England, where young men were still being hanged for the crime of sodomy, to Italy, where their relationships were not illegal.  This book is about them and their circle, Thomas Medwin, Edward John Trelawny, Edward Ellerker Williams, Thomas Love Peacock, and Thomas Jefferson Hogg.  All of them were lovers of men.

 

The author John Lauritsen is a long-time scholar of gay history, writing on Gay Liberation, AIDS, and the English Romantics, which brought him to this book.  The wives and biographers of these gay men went to great lengths to destroy letters, memoirs and writings that reflected their true feelings, but Lauritsen has uncovered enough evidence in remaining works and long hidden remnants to demonstrate their true personalities.  The first part of this volume is his discussion of these uncovered works.  Next comes several appendices featuring actual works by Shelley and Byron as well as members of their circle.

 

As an extra treat, readers are presented a collection of portraits and a comprehensive bibliography.  Lauritsen is a practiced and experienced writer with a story to tell, which he does skillfully and with conviction.  All collections interested in the modern (post-renaissance) history of gay life will want to add this important book to their collections, as will individual history buffs.

 

James Doig Anderson

Professor Emeritus

Rutgers University

Department of Library & Information Science

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