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WILDE AT BAY: THE DIARIES OF GEORGE IVES By John Stokes (University of Warwick) Poet and penologist, humanitarian recluse, self-styled "evolutionary anarchist ," George Ives looks set to attract more attention now than he ever sought or risked in his lifetime. It is probably no more than he expected. The sheer bulk of his legacy—innumerable scrapbooks, endless manuscripts and a gargantuan diary (122 volumes, over three million words)—asserts an unshakeable confidence that sooner or later his time would come. Ives's unpublished papers are his buried monument to himself, and he fully intended that at some stage they be excavated— though if he also assumed that his future readers would be humbled, made uncritical , by what they found, there perhaps he misjudged. The illegitimate son of aristocratic parents, George Cecil Ives, born in 1867, was brought up in England and on the Continent, educated at Cambridge and until his death in 1950 lived most of his adult life in London. A dedicated homosexual, he looked forward to a future when homosexuals would be free to live as they wished and, more than that, when they would be able to instruct the rest of society by tolerance and humanitarianism. The range of moods in his diary reflects the extraordinarily idealistic nature of his vision: prophecy, despair, obsessive secrecy, defensive posturing. Ives found opportunities to indulge his taste for melodrama in his more practical commitment to homosexual rights as well. At some early point in his life, probably in 1893, he founded a secret homosexual society, "The Order of Chaeronea ," and his diaries contain innumerable veiled references to meetings, ritual, insignia, codes and so on, all of them along vaguely Masonic lines. But the mixture of portentousness and evasion in the diaries makes it extremely difficult to determine just how the Order operated and who belonged to it; perhaps in time some scholar of gay history will be able to fathom the mysteries. Meanwhile, for the primarily literary historian, Ives's main claim for attention must be that he knew Oscar Wilde, and for a period of about three years Wilde in turn seems to have regarded Ives as an acceptable colleague in the struggles to establish a climate in which the "New Hedonism," a new homosexual sensibility, might flourish. For all its volume, the diary in which their relationship is recorded provides evidence of a peculiarly recalcitrant kind. An interlocutor is often presumed, an anonymous presence who sometimes seems to be actual—perhaps one of the several boys with whom Ives lived, sometimes to be imagined—a later reader who, as a member of the public, is berated for his insensitivity or ignorance, whilst at the same time exhorted to admire Ives's strength and devotion. Leading characters are occasionally apostrophized: both Wilde and Douglas come in for this treatment. Ives's thoroughgoing display of the rituals of paranoia, historically understandable as it might be, exhausts the defensive opportunities offered by his chosen genre. By controlling their distribution and reception, a diarist protects the very secrets that he discloses, so that although ostensibly a repository of truth, a diary may also easily serve as a protector of self. Only by reading Ives with a measure of the infinite patience he expects of us can we begin 175 to appreciate the sustaining power that the image of Oscar the "superman" could have for an obsessively private, but not uncourageous man. And by lending a cautiously sympathetic ear to Ives we may even hope to learn something new about the conduct of his hero. For if, in the sexual battles of the 1890s, Ives and Wilde were unlikely allies by virtue of temperament alone, the inherently antithetical nature of their friendship does offer a key to the diary, despite Ives's attempts at concealment. When Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest in the summer of 1894, he thought of Ives's homosexual menage at E4 Albany, Piccadilly, and originally had Ernest Worthing occupy those chambers, thereby converting a den of simmering conspiracy into the beleaguered home of a heterosexual dandy. The joke was at everybody's expense, including the author's, since Ives embodied a movement and a mood which...


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pp. 175-186
Launched on MUSE
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Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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