Queer city Gay London from the Romans to the present day

Peter Ackroyd, 1949-

Book - 2018

Peter Ackroyd is our preeminent chronicler of London. In Queer City, he looks at the metropolis in a whole new way - through the history and experiences of its gay population. In Roman Londinium the penis was worshipped and homosexuality was considered admirable. The city was dotted with lupanaria ('wolf dens' or public pleasure houses), fornices (brothels) and thermiae (hot baths). Then came the Emperor Constantine, with his bishops and clergy, monks and missionaries. His rule was acc...ompanied by the first laws against queer practices. What followed was an endless loop of alternating permissiveness and censure, from the notorious Normans, whose military might depended on masculine loyalty, and the fashionable female transvestism of the 1620s; to the frenzy of executions for sodomy in the early 1800s and the 'gay plague' in the 1980s. Ackroyd takes us right into this hidden city, celebrating its diversity, thrills and energy on the one hand; but reminding us of its very real terrors, dangers and risks on the other. In a city of superlatives, it is perhaps this endless sexual fluidity and resilience that epitomise the real triumph of London.

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New York : Abrams Press [2018]
Physical Description
ix, 262 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), color maps ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 235-244) and index.
Main Author
Peter Ackroyd, 1949- (author)
  • What's in a name?
  • A red and savage tongue
  • A military lay
  • The friend
  • No cunt
  • Bring on the dancing boys
  • Soft and slippery
  • The rubsters
  • Suck thy master
  • Arsey-versy
  • Continually wet
  • Good golly Miss Molly
  • Flats
  • Tiddy dolls
  • Rump riders
  • Omi-palone
  • Damned and done for
  • Howl.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Author of London: The Biography (2001), Ackroyd—prolific historian, biographer, novelist, poet, and broadcaster—here focuses his attention on the city's gay aspect and history. His work is highly anecdotal and near encyclopedic in its treatment, evincing, in its detail, prodigious research. Enlivened by occasional flashes of dry wit—especially in its chapter headings ("Bring on the Dancing Boys," "Good Golly Miss Molly," etc.)—the story is a straightforward one, though not without passion, particularly in the treatment of contemporary gay life in the city. The question at the heart of the book remains, as Ackroyd puts it, "What is the connection between queerness and the city?" The answer to that is not always clear; it seems that some of the events he describes—especially in the earlier portions—might have happened elsewhere than London. Regardless, the book is fascinating in its careful exposition of the singularities—and commonalities—of gay life, both male and female. Ultimately it is, as he concludes, a celebration as well as a history. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

British historian Ackroyd (London Under) presents a scintillating history of homosexuality in London. He draws from literature, theater, laws and court cases, pamphlets, and gossip to present an informed yet impressionistic picture of how religion, decree, popular standards, and desire shifted the sexual dynamics of Londoners through the centuries. Ackroyd's primary focus is on the complexities of male roles, exploring the sexual dynamics in man and boy relationships and master and slave relationships in Roman London in the fourth century, and the flourishing of prostitution and secret meeting places in the 17th century. He also discusses stereotypes of each era, like the boyish or femme Ganymede of the 16th century or the upwardly mobile macaronis and the working-class "mollies" of the 18th century. There's also a short chapter on lesbian "rubsters" in the 17th century and one about cross-dressing women in the 18th century. Though Ackroyd delights in the lurid details of his anecdotes—such as the case of accusations of sodomy against Francis Bacon and a philosophical treatise Bacon wrote about "masculine love"—his coverage of the modern period is brief and notably more somber, focusing on moods of fear and discretion, and stating that "queerness, with all its panache and ferocity, is in elegant retreat." His focus is on the lesser known periods in the history of gay and lesbian culture in London, for which he offers a nimble jaunt through history. Color illus. (May) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The award-winning historian and author of London examines the history and experiences of gay and lesbian populations in London and other English-speaking cultures, covering such subjects as the pleasure houses of the Roman era, the alternating periods of permissiveness and censure, the Norman persecutions and the 20th century's challenges involving liberation, civil rights and HIV.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

In Queer City, the acclaimed Peter Ackroyd looks at London in a whole new way–through the complete history and experiences of its gay and lesbian population. In Roman Londinium, the city was dotted with lupanaria (“wolf dens” or public pleasure houses), fornices (brothels), and thermiae (hot baths). Then came the Emperor Constantine, with his bishops, monks, and missionaries. And so began an endless loop of alternating permissiveness and censure. Ackroyd takes us right into the hidden history of the city; from the notorious Normans to the frenzy of executions for sodomy in the early nineteenth century. He journeys through the coffee bars of sixties Soho to Gay Liberation, disco music, and the horror of AIDS. Ackroyd reveals the hidden story of London, with its diversity, thrills, and energy, as well as its terrors, dangers, and risks, and in doing so, explains the origins of all English-speaking gay culture.