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The Forger's Tale

The Search for Odeziaku

Stephanie Newell

Publication Year: 2006

Between 1905 and 1939 a conspicuously tall white man with a shock of red hair, dressed in a silk shirt and white linen trousers, could be seen on the streets of Onitsha, in Eastern Nigeria. How was itpossible for an unconventional, boy-loving Englishman to gain a social status among the local populace enjoyed by few other Europeans in colonial West Africa?In The Forger’s Tale: The Search for Odeziaku Stephanie Newell charts the story of the English novelist and poet John Moray Stuart-Young (1881-1939) as he traveled from the slums of Manchester to West Africa in order to escape the homophobic prejudices of late-Victorian society. Leaving behind acriminal record for forgery and embezzlement and his notoriety as a “spirit rapper,” Stuart-Young found a new identity as a wealthy palm oil trader and acelebrated author, known to Nigerians as “Odeziaku.”In this fascinating biographical account, Newell draws on queer theory, African gender debates, and “new imperial history” to open up a wider studyof imperialism, (homo)sexuality, and nonelite culture between the 1880s and the late 1930s. The Forger’s Tale pays close attention to different forms of West African cultural production in the colonial period and to public debates about sexuality and ethics, as well as to movements in mainstreamEnglish literature.

Published by: Ohio University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v

List of Figures

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction. Buried beneath Imperial History: The Search for "Odeziaku"

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pp. 1-20

At daybreak on 30 May 1939, approximately 200 senior and influential Igbo women assembled outside a modest wooden house in New Market Road, Onitsha. Quaintly named "The Little House of No Regrets," the property belonged to a British palm oil trader and poet who was known to the educated community as Dr. John Moray Stuart-Young...

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Chapter 1. Forging Ahead: The Secret Gentleman of Ardwick Green

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pp. 21-32

On 4 May 1899, a shamefaced eighteen-year-old stood before the City of Manchester Petty Sessional Court. "John Mount Stewart Young," as he then called himself (also "John Mountstewart Young"), pleaded guilty to the charge of theft by forgery and was sentenced to six months with hard labor at Strangeways Prison (see fig. 1)...

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Chapter 2. The Palm Oil Trader's View

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pp. 33-55

Increasing numbers of "poor whites" and lowly clerks such as Stuart-Young traveled to West Africa at the turn of the twentieth century, their interest in the continent aroused by popular novels, exploration narratives, and British newspaper coverage of the Boer War in South Africa. Ambitious young men from the British working classes...

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Chapter 3. Fragments of Oscar Wilde in Colonial Nigeria

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pp. 56-74

In 1905, Stuart-Young stepped off the steam launch that had brought him up the River Niger on the last leg of his journey from Britain and, wielding an umbrella, walked into Onitsha town. In his luggage was an extensive collection of signed photographs and handwritten missives sent to him by British and French actors, music hall stars...

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Chapter 4. "Uranian" Love in West Africa

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pp. 75-88

The small, dusty town of Onitsha suited Stuart-Young, for by 1905 he had decided to remain there permanently as an independent trader, backed by a loan from the Liverpool merchant Walter Taylor.1 As one African journalist wittily put it, unlike the colonial types who arrived in the region as administrators and civil servants, Stuart-Young...

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Chapter 5. The Politics of Naming: Igbo Perspectives on Stuart-Young

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pp. 89-107

Onitsha residents, particularly those closest to Stuart-Young's protégés, were not ignorant of his Uranian desires, but unlike most British people in the era after the Oscar Wilde trials, they showed a great deal of tolerance toward him. The explanations for this forgiving attitude are explored in this chapter...

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Chapter 6. The Strange Toleration of Stuart-Young in the African-Owned Press of Nigeria

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pp. 108-118

Stuart-Young used his status as an author and local personality to enter West African newspaper culture center stage. For two and a half decades between the 1910s and late 1930s he occupied numerous spaces in African-owned newspapers, including letters pages, poetry corners, occasional columns...

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Chapter 7. A Class Apart: "Johnny Jones" of Back Kay Street

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pp. 119-137

Stuart-Young lived a solitary creative existence on his rural West African trading posts. Surrounded by the forests that had so impressed Henry Morton Stanley, the aspiring author finally claimed the social and intellectual freedoms denied to him at home: he set himself up as a scholar with houseboys and cooks to tend to his domestic needs...

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Chapter 8. The Production of a Poet: Stuart-Young's Verse and Its Readers

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pp. 138-158

In the early 1930s, just as his palm oil business crumbled under the impact of the Great Depression, Stuart-Young created yet another duplicate or substitute personality for himself. This figure may be regarded as the final and perhaps the most successful of his forgeries or multiple incarnations. Named "Dr. J. M. Stuart-Young"...

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Conclusion "Tales That Lie Awake"

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pp. 159-170

Stuart-Young died from throat cancer at a hospital in Port Harcourt on 28 May 1939 after suffering for a year from what was diagnosed as laryngitis. Despite his poor health, he continued to write poetry and articles throughout 1938, and the eastern Nigerian newspapers published Odeziaku's increasingly meditative verses...


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pp. 171-212


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pp. 213-226


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pp. 227-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780821442302
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821417102

Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 191949842
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Forger's Tale

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Authors, English -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Gay authors -- Great Britain -- Biography.
  • Gay men -- Great Britain -- Identity.
  • Forgers -- Great Britain -- Biography.
  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- Africa -- History -- 20th century.
  • Gay men -- Africa -- Identity.
  • Stuart-Young, John Moray, 1881-1939.
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