Celebrating the LGBT community across University of London
Celebrating the LGBT community across University of London
A secret history – 250 years of queer literature
Leading Women gather in St James’s Palace to celebrate 150 years of women’s higher education in the UK
Being Human Festival is back!
Today the University of London is marking the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act by flying the rainbow flag atop Senate House, celebrating the LGBT community across the University of London; our students, staff and alumni.
Dr Richard Espley, head of modern collections at Senate House Library , explores highlights from its collection of queer literature and introduces ‘Queer between the Covers’, the University of London’s latest exhibition and events series at the library.
London, 30 January 2019 – In 1868, nine women were admitted to the University of London – the first time in the UK that women had gained access to university education.
Between November 15-24 the UK’s only national festival of the humanities will be popping up in libraries, pubs, museums, galleries and community spaces across the country. The festival aims to bring cutting edge humanities research to public audiences in ways that are accessible, exciting and above all fun.
Today we’re also looking ahead to our next exhibition at Senate House Library, Queer between the covers, which will examine the diverse ways in which literature has been central to culture’s handling and understanding of what queerness might mean.
The Queer between the Covers season examines the ways in which literature has been consistently used to shape and manipulate public understandings of LGBTQ identities, and it was inspired by a manuscript by WH Auden in Senate House Library’s collections which fittingly defies attempts to categorise it.
150 years later, the University has marked this anniversary with its Leading Women campaign. Celebrating the stories of 150 remarkable women associated with the University through blog posts, podcasts and pop-up theatre, staging events from panel discussions to art competitions, and founding 150 new scholarships for the next generation of women students, the activities have continued to promote and reinforce the role of women in global higher education into 2019.
Run by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, the festival’s theme this year if ‘Origins and Endings’. Now embedded as the UK’s unique national celebration of the humanities, its reach is now global with related events in Melbourne, Singapore, Paris, Rome, and in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. The international programme can be viewed here.
Whether queer sexualities are being celebrated, pitied, mocked or denounced, books have not only been the preeminent means of debate, but have also been repeatedly taken as primary data on the nature of homosexuality, and thus the focus of prosecution.
The library is proud to own this holograph copy of ‘Funeral Blues’
As the year-long celebration draws to a close, Leading Women from across the world were invited to gather on 29 January at St James’s Palace, London to continue conversations about issues of equality. Hosted by the Chancellor of the University, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, guests included Dr Dipu Moni, the first woman Foreign Minister and now Education Minister of Bangladesh, Dr Margaret Busby, who became Britain’s youngest and first black woman book publisher by co-founding Allison & Busby in 1967, human rights activist Rebecca Bunce, and composer Errolyn Wallen MBE, as well as university staff and students.
Back in the UK, the festival has six national festival ‘hubs’ in the universities of Dundee, Exeter, Newcastle, Nottingham, Swansea, and our very own Queen Mary, University of London. Activities range from walks and talks to some truly weird and wonderful ways to encounter something new in the humanities – from art history to literature, history to philosophy, classics to cultural studies.
Embracing forms from the pornographic to the melodramatic, the season will unveil and question the many passionate, and often problematic, struggles for acceptance, liberation and repression that have been waged between the covers of books.
Although this is not the kind of poetic manuscript we might usually imagine in an archive. Rather than a fragment of a poet’s raw thoughts promising insights into the creative process, it is a clean copy of an already much revised and reused poem, being sent out in the hope of publication in a commercial anthology. Accompanied by a letter to the editor commiserating on the difficulty of her task, it speaks more clearly of the poem’s afterlife than its birth.
Leading Women brought together many of the University of London’s member institutions, arts initiatives such as the Bloomsbury Festival, and the worldwide University of London community. Activities celebrating remarkable women associated with the University included a field of all-female honorary graduates at the University’s Foundation Day as well as at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s graduation ceremony, lectures at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Royal Holloway, a Women in Music exhibition at the Royal Academy of Music, and exhibitions at Senate House Library and LSE (as part of the Suffrage 18 series of events and activities), as well as a range of public engagement events at this year’s Being Human festival, from Classics-inspired storytelling nights to avant-garde dance performances.
There are over 250 free events across the country, but some London highlights include:
必威，We’re proud to celebrate 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act, but are looking forward the progress that is to come.
Visually, the very form of the manuscript seems a little conflicted, for while the handwriting and the layout have a strained formality as though the author were trying to make the whole thing as presentable as possible, the edge is ragged where the page was torn from a notebook, and there are two prominent crossings out. The fact that here the work is titled simply ‘Blues’ already hints at its rather dense publication history. First appearing with a more satirical tone in The Ascent of F6, a play Auden co-wrote with Christopher Isherwood, it was then rewritten in broadly the form represented here and published by Auden as one of a cycle of cabaret songs, before ultimately becoming separately titled ‘Funeral Blues’ in a later collection.
The Leading Women celebration has also honoured the significant global contribution of women associated with the University. From its participation in the 2018 Women of the World festival to events promoting women’s leadership in Singapore, the campaign joined wider international conversations about the importance of promoting women and their achievements. The year’s highlights can be seen on the University’s Leading Women video:
Weaving Women’s Stories Join the Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London to explore the connections between storytelling and textile-making in women’s lives. In this hands-on activity day in Bethnal Green, drop by in the morning to try your hand at spinning fleece into yarn, or at weaving on a replica loom. Make artefacts – from clay and cloth – inspired by archaeological evidence from ancient Greece and Rome.
The poem forms the centrepiece to the exhibition
A permanent sculpture in Torrington Square, created by UCL undergraduate student Ariel Tse, “I am rooted but I flow”, honours the first nine female students at the University of London, as well as affirming it as a space in which women will continue to grow and develop. 150 scholarships have also been offered for women to enrol on the University’s Global MBA programme, open to prospective students all over the world.
Exploring Under the Skin At UCL Art Museum, join an interactive investigation of how the humanities, arts and sciences have separately and collectively come together in the endeavour of exploring under our skin and our own reactions to this, from artworks, both beautiful and shocking, to the curiosity cabinets of the 1700s and through to modern ways that medicine and the humanities collide.
In addition to all of these complications queering our attempts to describe it, the poem forms the centrepiece to the exhibition because of a much later moment of prominence which encapsulates the uncertainties of the relationship between literature and the cultural understanding of sexuality. Whatever Auden called the poem, for certain generations it is most likely to be described as the one that is read out, with considerable emotional impact, by Matthew, as a eulogy for his dead lover Gareth, in Richard Curtis’s 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. It was a seminal moment in cinematic portrayals of love between men.
Dr Mary Stiasny, University of London Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) and chair of the Leading Women celebration has said:
Heritage Hack How can the humanities work with tech to develop solutions for cash-strapped local archives and history groups? Join Hacksmiths, the tech society at Goldsmiths, University of London, for a two-day invention marathon to create novel tech solutions that breathe new life into Lewisham’s past.
Sexual healing - the film
The gender debate is critical for the world’s future. For too long, women across the world have been disadvantaged educationally, socially, economically and politically. They are now asking why, and education is key to having this conversation. Beyond the 2018 campaign, Leading Women has also aimed to effect a wider cultural change within the University. We have used the year to reflect on our internal policies and opportunities to support women in the workplace.
The Last of the London Queen Mary, University of London invite you to an evening with the ghosts of the former Royal London Hospital. Currently standing derelict on Whitechapel Road, the Royal London will be reanimated with the ghosts of its past, using archive texts and spectacular photographic projections on the building’s façade.
Simon Callow, who played Gareth, later wrote that this was ‘one of the most important films’ of a kind which sought to ‘integrate gays into the world at large’ rather than simply making ‘gay films’ – (Sexual healing, The Guardian, 31 October 2008).
More information about the Leading Women campaign, as well as blog posts and podcasts celebrating stories of women like trailblazing barrister Helena Normanton – the first woman to practice law in England – and Muslim war heroine Noor Inayat Khan, can be found on the Leading Women website.
Beautiful Confusion in Senate House Beautiful Confusion Collective are a female-led performance group who specialize in exploring movement, gender, power and the built environment through site-responsive interventions. During the festival they will undertake a mini-residency in Senate House, University of London – the building through dance, movement and documentation.
There is certainly some truth to this contention, although it is notable that there is other work by Auden which much more clearly expresses an overtly gay male desire than this comparatively chaste poem. It is more striking that within the film, Callow’s character had to die in order for this love to be expressed. While undoubtedly an important cinematic moment, it seems rather reminiscent of the view of James Baldwin, another gay writer featured in the exhibition, writing about that great Victorian protest novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Baldwin suggested of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s approach to her black characters that ‘she could not embrace them without purifying them of sin’ and that Tom must specifically be ‘divested of his sex’ in order to appear sympathetic to a broad audience – (Baldwin, James, ‘Everybody’s Protest Novel’, Partisan Review 1949 , 578-585; p. 581).
There’s lots more happening across London, the UK, and around the world!
Similarly, while Matthew and Gareth are clearly in love, there is a hesitancy and diffidence to the film which only allows an emotional expression after Gareth’s body, and the possibility of sex, is eliminated. Unlike heterosexual couples in the film, they are never even glimpsed in bed. Moreover, that love isn’t portrayed through a direct declaration, but rather by the formalised reading of a literary work written by a long-dead gay man. Literature is here being introduced into the film to express non-heterosexual lives, even somehow to typify them, but also to reassuringly pitch them as not about sex.
Find out more about the festival and follow the latest news on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest.
The ambiguities of this moment by no means end with the film’s release, however. Auden’s poetry became a brief bestseller in the light of this reading, occasioning a very successful ‘tie-in’ edition of ten of Auden’s works. This book is in the exhibition, chiefly for the publisher’s choice of cover image, a close-up of Hugh Grant leaning against a wall in a recognisably ecclesiastical setting, with a facial expression which could plausibly be intended as mournful, happy or even seductive. Despite the popularity of the poem reproduced being entirely based on a celebration of love between two men, it is being marketed with an image of the central heterosexual character, which once more all but averts the reader’s gaze from a gay relationship.
What Auden himself might have thought of any of this is impossible to tell, but there is an uneasy tension throughout this story which rather typifies what we have portrayed in the exhibition, the culture’s many struggles to use literature to define, to celebrate and to condemn queer lives.
Dr Richard Espley is head of modern collections at Senate House Library. The Queer between the Covers season runs from 15 January–16 June.
Dates for your diary
- An evening of poetry and music with Carol Ann Duffy – 18 January, 6.30–8.30pm
- Polari Literary Salon at Senate House Library – 22 February, 7–8.30pm
- Saving Gay’s the Word, and being gay in the 80s – 27 February, 6–8pm
- Representing LGBTQ online: an introduction to editing Wikipedia – 14 March, 9.30–5.30pm
- Queer publishing: a Senate House Library conference – 16 March, 9.30–5.30pm
- Queer Bloomsbury – a walking tour with Queer Tours of London – 3 April, 6.30 – 8.30pm
- ‘Nish the chat and pin back your aunt nells’: queer creative writing and Polari workshop with Queer Tours of London – 5 April, 6.30 – 8.30pm
- BFI Britain on film: LGBT Britain – 26 April, 7–9pm
- An evening with the Fourth Choir – 19 May, 7.30–9.30pm
- Free film screenings:
- Victim (17 January);
- Killing of Sister George (14 February);
- Sunday, Bloody Sunday ;
- Paris is Burning ;
- Tangerine ;