John Addington Symonds

Howard J. Booth

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
John Addington Symonds

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John Addington Symonds (b. 1840–d. 1893) is now best known as the earliest significant writer on homosexuality in Britain; he was also a major cultural critic. His work is coming to be viewed as occupying a pivotal point between old models inherited from the Enlightenment and romanticism and modern, post-1900 structures of thought. It receives attention from, among others, those working in queer studies, art historians and theorists, scholars of aestheticism and British Hellenism, and historians of the Renaissance. His output has been seen as part of a historical project that aimed at self-effectuation, especially for those condemned as sick and sinful. His writings about his own life—his Memoirs were first published in edited form in 1984—have been much discussed in lesbian and gay studies and in auto/biographical studies. Symonds’s exploration of ancient Greek culture, where his major work is Studies in the Greek Poets (Volume 1, 1873; Volume 2, 1876), have made him an important figure in debates on Victorian Hellenism. Ancient Greece also informed his account of “the Renaissance.” Symonds played a major role in disseminating the work of cultural historians such as Jules Michelet and Jacob Burckhardt to English-speaking readers; he also gave them his own inflection. Criticism addressing Symonds and other writers—whether these were writers he admired, such as Walt Whitman and Arthur Hugh Clough, or those with whom he had difficult and fraught relationships, such as Algernon Charles Swinburne and Walter Pater—has begun to address Symonds’s relationship to aestheticism, decadence, and a nascent modernism. Symonds’s response to Italy and Switzerland, which includes volumes of travel writing, has so far received less attention; the same is true of his extensive body of verse. The same broad base of existing scholarship is not found in work on other Victorian writers. Symonds’s sexuality meant that for many years key texts were not available, and critics did not want to discuss those texts that were. From the mid-1980s, however, his life and writing came to be of scholarly interest precisely because of his sexuality.

Article.  7177 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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