Part 1: Born before 1800

The Great Queers of History

Compiled by Rictor Norton

Part 2: Born 1800–1900

 

 

Part 3: Born since 1900


Newman


Whitman


Bonheur

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) British Anglo-Catholic clergyman
Leader of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement, converted to Roman Catholicism, became a Cardinal. Defense of his faith, Apologia pro Vita Sua. Buried in same grave as his companion Ambrose St John.

Nikolai (Vasil'evich) Gogol (1809-1852) Russian novelist, dramatist
Comic plays & fantastic stories gave way to an obsession with sin. Dead Souls, an epic novel, and "The Overcoat", a short story masterpiece, were key influences on symbolism, modernism, & social realism.

Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876) American actress
International celebrity, played strong female roles & breeches parts, esp. famous as Romeo. Created a "bachelor household" in Rome with her friends and female lovers incl. novelist Matilda Hays and sculptor Emma Stebbins.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) American poet
Leaves of Grass (1855), major influence on modern American poetry, celebrates the love of comrades, esp. homoerotic passages in the Calamus section. Male nurse during the Civil War. The poet of democracy and a lover of working-class men.

Rosa (Marie Rosalie) Bonheur (1822-1899) French animal painter
Became famous after exhibiting her large painting Horse Fair, leading to a prosperous career. Granted permission by the police to dress in men's clothes. Awarded Legion of Honour by Empress Eugénie.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) German scholar, activist
Pioneering gay activist, devloped the "third sex" theory about a female psyche in a male body. The first self-proclaimed gay to condemn laws penalizing gay men. Also advocated rights of women & ethnic minorities.


Gogol


Cushman


Ulrichs


Emily Dickinson


Carpenter


We'wha

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American poet
Lived a very private life, secretly writing more than a thousand poems, charcterized by lyrical intensity and paradoxes. Intimate relationship with Susan Gilbert Dickinson, to whom she wrote many passionate love letters.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) Russian composer
Many symphonies and ballets, from colorful melodies (Swan Lake, Nutcracker) to deeply expressive music (Romeo and Juliet) and a sense of tragic destiny (Pathétique Symphohy.). A secret court may have ordered him to kill himself.

John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) British art historian, critic
Pioneer advocate of gay rights. Wrote the first history of homosexuality in English; emphasized the contribution of gay men in numerous writings on literature & art. Wrote his sexual autobiography for posterity.

Henry James (1843-1916) American novelist
Sophisticated prose style minutely delineating the nuances of character, often of Americans living in Europe (as he himself did, mainly in England). Gay theme in The Turn of the Screw. Infatuated with the sculptor Hendrik Andersen.

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) British socialist, activist
Campaigned for gay, women's and workers' rights. Many books on socialist ideals, "homogenic" poems Towards Democracy inspired by Whitman, visited India to study Buddhism, lived openly with his working-class lover.

Ludwig II (1845-1886) King of Bavaria
The "Dream King", patron of Richard Wagner, financed his opera cycles and nearly bankrupted his country building fairy-tale castles. Declared insane by his parliament and shortly afterwards found drowned with his doctor.

We'wha (1849-1896) Native American (Zuni) "berdache"
A "two-spirit" man-woman whose ambiguous sexuality marked a special link to the spirit world. An anthropologist invited him/her to Washington, DC in 1866, where s/he was féted, photographed and widely discussed.


Tchaikovsky


Symonds


Henry James


King Ludwig


Kitchener


Macdonald


Wilde

General Viscount Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916) British general
Established peace in the Sudan. The poster of him pointing sternly to the viewer—Your country needs YOU!—recruited a million men during World War I (later copied in USA's poster Uncle Sam Needs You).

Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) British-South African imperialist, philanthropist
Owner of De Beer diamond company, Prime Minister of the Cape Colony (1890-1896), extended British control over South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe (originally named "Rhodesia" after him). Never married, had series of lover-like relationships with young men appointed as his secretaries. Used his immense fortune to extablish the Rhodes Oxford Scholarships.

Sir Hector Archibald Macdonald (1853-1903) British soldier
Led the legendary victory at Omdurman, in the Sudan, after previous triumphs in Afghanistan and South Africa. When told he faced a court-martial for homosexual improprieties in India, he killed himself.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) French poet
Icon of the sexual and aesthetic rebel after writing A Season in Hell, inspired by his affair with his lover, the more conventional (but more technically skillful) poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Gave up poetry, became a merchant trader in Ethiopia.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish playwright, poet, critic
Aesthete, witty conversationalist, used subversive paradoxes in his plays (The Importance of Being Earnest). Imprisoned after losing libel case against father of his lover Lord Alfred Douglas for calling him a sodomite.

Friedrich Krupp (1854-1902) German industrialist, arms manufacturer
Built a business empire in shipbuilding and steel, friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II, died from stress or suicide after being blackmailed at his villa on island of Capri.

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931) German photographer
Settled in Taormina, where he became very popular as a photographer of naked Sicilian youths in arcadian landscapes. Sold as postcards, they made Taormina a major resort for gay travellers and became icons of an international gay sensibility. Declared an enemy alien during WWI and many of his negatives were declared obscene by the fascist authorities and destroyed.


Rhodes


Rimbaud


Gloeden


Lagerlöf


Cavafy


Hirschfeld


Proust

Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940) Swedish writer
First woman winner of Nobel prize for literature (1909); novels of psychological insight and romantic nationalism (Gösta Berlings Saga). Passionate letters to intimate women friends, and two female companions.

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) British composer, feminist
Operas (The Wreckers) and choral and orchestral works. Strong and flamboyant personality. Wrote "March of the Women" for women's suffrage demonstrations, once conducted it from her cell window in Holloway Prison.

Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933) Greek poet
Poems highlighting gay cultural identity, by nostalgic recreations of the Hellenic past, or by exploring the homosexual underworld of contemporary Alexandria, celebrating male beauty and transitory pleasure.

Roger Casement (1864-1916) Irish patriot
British diplomat, condemned atrocities against blacks in the Congo & against Indians in Peru, joined Irish Volunteers, recruited for Germany in World War I to aid Irish independence, hanged for treason. His "Black Diaries" revealed his sex life.

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) German sexologist, activist
Leader of the homosexual emancipation movement, set up the first organization to fight for gay rights, inspired groups throughout Europe; its library destroyed by the Nazis. Published historical & scientific research.

André Gide (1869-1951) French writer
Champion of sexual liberation, esp. for homosexuals (Corydon, 1911), emphasizing self-knowledge and rejection of convention. Became grand old man of French literature & European intellectuals. Nobel prize for literature in 1947.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) French writer
In A la recherche du temps perdu (16 vols), considered the greatest work of 20th cent. literature, he disguised his boyfriend Albert as the semi-lesbian Albertine, but otherwise dealt honestly & insightfully with gay life & love.


Ethel Smyth


Casement


Gide


Kuzmin


Willa Cather


Stein (right) and Toklas

Mikhail (Alekseevich) Kuzmin (1872-1936) Russian poet, composer, writer
His autobiographical novel Wings (1906) was the first Russian writing with a homosexual focus. Branded "the Russian Oscar Wilde". His Leningrad home was the center of gay culture even into the Soviet era.

Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) Russian impresario
His Ballet Russe (founded 1911) was a triumph in Paris, revolutionizing music and dance, and creating an exotic style influencing all avant-garde art and commercial fashions. Premiered Stravinsky's The Firebird. Lover of Nijinsky.

Willa Cather (1873-1947) American novelist
Pulitzer Prize winner, novels dealing with the character of women and their survival (My Ántonia), later works focused on the past and Catholic faith. Also short stories and journalism. Had a "Boston marriage" with Edith Lewis lasting 40 years.

Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954) French novelist, journalist
Her early Claudine novels were published under her husband's name. After divorce, she was kept by Missy, a rich aristocrat; both women appeared in erotic mime acts. Had three marriages & many lesbian affairs. Her novels depict amoral literary society.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) American writer, patron
Settled in Paris with her lover Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967) (whose "Autobiography" she wrote), established a salon for modernist writers & artists (Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse). Wrote experimental lesbian-coded "Cubist" prose.

J(oseph) C(hristian) Leyendecker (1874-1951) German-American commercial artist, illustrator
Book and magazine illlustrator (322 covers for Saturday Evening Post). Created many homoerotic images advertising men's clothes. The famous "Arrow Collar Man" was modeled on his lover of 50 years.


Diaghilev


Colette


Leyendecker


Mann


Vivien


Strachey

Thomas Mann (1875-1955) German writer
Mann's life paralleled the theme of his story Death in Venice, about upper middle class writer whose respectable "Apollonian" status contrasted with his "Dionysian" love for young men. Nobel prize for literature (1929).

Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972) American-French writer
Her literary salon in Paris attracted writers incl. Gide & Proust, and a separate lesbian circle. Patron of women artists & writers. Rejected heterosexial norms. Lover of American painter Romaine Brooks & poet Renée Vivien.

Renée Vivien (1877-1909) Anglo-French poet
Stormy "open marriage" with Natalie Clifford Barney. Visited Lesbos and translated Sappho's poetry. An early "lesbian separatist", whose poems have Decadent images of pain and death vs. a bright Sapphic world of love free from men.

E(dward) M(organ) Forster (1879-1970) British novelist
Member of the Bloomsbury Group, opposed class prejudice. Maurice, gay novel with happy ending, published after his death. His works emphasize fulfillment through love and integrity. Motto: "Only connect".

Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) British writer, biographer
Iconoclastic leader of the Bloomsbury Group, rejected bourgeois hypocrisy. Acerbic critic, wrote ironic and debunking biographies (Eminent Victorians). Ménage à trois with painter Dora Carrington & officer Ralph Partridge.

Radclyffe Hall (c.1880-1943) British writer
Prize-winning novelist whose pioneering sympathetic portrayal of lesbian experience, The Well of Loneliness (1928), was declared obscene and banned in Britain, prompting her and her lover Una, Lady Troubridge, to live abroad.


Barney


Forster


Radclyffe Hall


Grimké


Keynes


Ma Rainey

Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958) African-American writer, black activist
Daughter of white mother & freed slave (director of NAACP); black rights advocate, writer for Harlem Renaissance journals, ed. American Negro Poetry anthology. Diary and love poems reveal her "buried life."

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) Polish composer
Wrote "oriental" music after travels in the homoerotic Mediterranean. His operatic masterpiece King Roger (1926) written during an affair with the Russian refugee Boris Kochno (who later became Diaghilev's lover).

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) British novelist, essayist
Archetypal Bloomsbury Modernist (To the Lighthouse, 1927). Feminist advocate (A Room of One's Own, 1929). Androgynous heroine of Orlando (1928) is modeled on her lover Vita Sackvile-West. Motto: "Women alone stir my imagination."

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) British economist
Bloomsbury Group member. Treasury advisor, managed British economy during WWI, advisor at Paris peace conference; coordinated Lend-Lease program after WWII; theorized Keynseian economics. Lover of painter Duncan Grant (1885-1978).

Ma Rainey (Gertrude Pridgett) (1886-1939) African-American singer
Mother of the Blues. Her troupe included Bessie Smith (1894-1937), sang lesbian songs. Prove It on Me Blues 1928: "Went out last night, with a crowd of my friends,/ They must've been womens, cause I don't like no mens."

T(homas) E(dward) Lawrence (1888-1935) British soldier, writer
"Lawrence of Arabia". WWI army intelligence officer, joined Arab revolt against the Turks. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is dedicated to his boyfriend Selim Ahmad.


Szymanowski


Woolf


Lawrence


Nijinsky


Porter


Erté

Vaslav Nijinsky (1888/9-1950) Russian dancer, choreographer
Taken up by Diaghilev as his lover and principal dancer of the Ballet Russe, considered the greatest 20th cent. male dancer. Classic roles in Petrouchka, L'Aprés-midi d'un Faune & Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) Austrian-British philosopher
Studied mathematical logic & the language of meaning, summed up in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) which inspired logical positivism. Gave away his inheritance, became an ascetic rural schoolteacher.

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) French novelist, poet, film-maker, artist
Brilliant center of French culture. Wrote the first coming-out autobiography (Le Livre blanc (The White Book) 1928). Gay themes in films (Blood of a Poet 1930). Lover of actor Jean Marais (star of Cocteau's film Beauty and the Beast 1946).

Cole Porter (1891-1964) American composer, songwriter
Successful Broadway musicals (Kiss Me Kate 1948, Can-Can 1953) & popular songs ("Night and Day", "Begin the Beguine"), often full of witty innuendo ("My Heart Belongs to Daddy", "Anything Goes"). Flamboyant Hollywood lifestyle.

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) British writer, gardener
Novels (All Passion Spent 1931), poetry (Hawthornden prize for The Land 1927), historical essays. Designed outstanding garden at Sissinghurst, Kent with her husband the gay diplomat Harold Nicolson (1886-1968).

Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) American journalist, writer
Magazine reporter and illustrator (B&W drawings). Bohemian life in New York City, then joined the "Lost Generation" in Paris. Gay & lesbian themes in her experimental novel Nightwood (1936) and Ladies Almanack (1928).

Erté (Romain de Tirtoff) (1892-1990) Russian-French designer, artist
Sketched fashion designs for Russian & Parisian luxury journals & Harper's Bazaar (250 covers), Art Deco costumes for ballets, musicals and films, reproduced in the 1960s. Frank autobiography (1975).


Wittgenstein


Cocteau


Sackville-West


Djuna Barnes


Owen


Tilden


Eisenstein


Poulenc

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) British poet
A student when WWI declared, enlisted 1915, awarded Military Cross, killed a week before the Armistice. Powerful war poems ("Anthem for Doomed Youth") collected & published in 1920 by his lover & mentor Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967).

Ivor Novello (1893-1951) British actor, composer, dramatist
Wrote most popular song of WWI, "Keep the Home Fires Burning", and the nostalgic "We'll Gather Lilacs" in 1945. Popular theatre performer and Hollywood actor. A sex symbol widely known as "not the marrying kind".

William Taten (Bill) Tilden (1893-1953) American tennis player, athlete
Wimbledon singles champion 3 times, doubles once; American singles 6 times, doubles 4 times; 20 years as a professional, also writings (The Art of Tennis). Later ostracized for being gay; jailed 6 months.

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) Spanish poet, playwright
Ran a theatre troupe, wrote plays of suppressed desire (House of Bernarda Alba, 1945). Murdered by Fascists in Spanish Civil War. Family tried to suppress his overtly gay work (The Public, Sonnets of Dark Love).

Sergei (Mikhailovich) Eisenstein (1898-1948) Russian film director
Iconic films on the Russian Revolution (Battleship Potemkin) & Russian history (Alexander Nevski, his masterpiece Ivan the Terrible). Impressionistic cutting techniques influenced the craft of later filmmakers.

Tamara de Lempicka (1898?-1980) Polish painter
Cubist/Art Deco portraits of the upper classes, e.g. herself behind the wheel of a streamlined Bugatti, seductive and transgressive, bisexual. Popular revival since 1980s, many reproductions sold in art/poster shops.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) French composer
Member of avant-garde group Les Six. Orchestral music ranging from witty melodies to masses, and operas ranging from surrealist sex-changes in Les Mamelles de Tirésias (1947) to devout Catholicism in Dialogues des Carmélites (1957).

Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973) British actor, singer/songwriter, playwright
Plays with satirical dialogue (Hay Fever 1925, Private Lives 1930), revues with memorable songs ("Mad Dogs and Englishmen" 1932) mocking pseudo-sophistication. Frivolous cabaret entertainer in the 1950s.


Novello


Lorca


Lempicka


Coward


Part 1: Born before 1800   Part 2: Born 1800–1900   Part 3: Born since 1900


CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (compiler), "The Great Queers of History, Part 2: Born 1800-1900", 1 May 2004, updated 6 March 2015 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/greatgay/greatga2.htm>.


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