King’s Library and Archives were pleased to join the rest of the College in marking the start of LGBT history month by putting on an exhibition in the Library featuring items written by and relating to prominent LGBT King’s figures, including the novelist E.M. Forster and codebreaker Alan Turing, along with a display of borrowable LGBT-themed books. We are delighted to be able to share the exhibition here.
One of the earliest books about sexual practices to cover the subject of homosexuality, albeit in a negative way, was Psychopathia sexualis (1886), written by the Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902). Here we see an English translation, by Kingsman Arthur Vivian Burbury (1896–1959).
It was nearly thirty years later, in 1913, that novelist and Kingsman E.M. Forster (1879–1970) began his novel Maurice, which was ‘dedicated to a happier year’. He shared drafts with close friends and revised it throughout his life, taking their suggestions into account. It was published in 1971, shortly after he died. The 1987 Merchant Ivory adaptation of Maurice was partially filmed on location at King’s, and a number of Porters and Fellows appeared as extras in an early dining scene.
Among E.M. Forster’s collection of books held in King’s College Library there is a copy of the first edition of Virginia Woolf’s fictional biography Orlando, given to him by the author herself. At the midpoint of the book the male Orlando goes to bed for several days and on awaking finds himself changed into a woman, remaining so for the rest of the book. Woolf dedicated Orlando to her great friend and lover Vita Sackville-West (1892–1962), who was the inspiration for the central character.
Some two decades later the now famous ‘Kinsey scale’ was created in order to demonstrate that sexuality does not fit into two discrete categories of homosexual and heterosexual. Instead, Alfred Kinsey (1894–1956) believed that sexuality was fluid and subject to change over time. The scale first appeared in his very influential work Sexual behaviour in the human male in 1948.
Famous WW2 codebreaker and Kingsman Alan Turing (1912–1954) sent this poignant letter to his friend Norman Routledge (1928-2013), also a Kingsman, shortly before his trial for gross indecency in 1952. To avoid prison Turing had to agree to hormonal treatment that amounted to chemical castration.
Turing believes machines think
Turing lies with men
Therefore machines do not think
Yours in distress
This is E.M. Forster’s copy of a 1954 report by the Church of England issued for private circulation which advocated the legalisation of homosexual acts in private and the creation of a government commission on the subject. This appeared just two years after Turing’s tragically early death.
In the same year Peter Wildeblood (1923–1999) was sent to prison for homosexuality along with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Michael Pitt-Rivers. He wrote an account of the infamous and high-profile trial and his time in prison which was published in 1955. He later gave evidence to the Wolfenden Committee. This is E.M. Forster’s copy of the book, showing Wildeblood’s description of what happened to him immediately after sentencing at the Winchester Assize Court.
The ‘Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution’, chaired by John Wolfenden (1906–1985), first met in September 1954. Its report, published in 1957, recommended that homosexuality should be legalised, but it was not until 1967 that this became law. This is E.M. Forster’s copy.
In addition to our exhibition of rare materials we also displayed a sample of modern books from the holdings of King’s Library which can be borrowed by members of College.
On the day of the exhibition launch, King’s College, along with many other Cambridge Colleges, the University Library and the Guildhall, flew the rainbow flag which has been the symbol of LGBT pride for some four decades.