Recently I asked Janes about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm reading Simon Goldhill’s A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion, and the Bensons in Victorian Britain. The patriarch of the family, Edward White Benson, presided over a household in which not only all of his children, but also his wife, were involved in various ways in aspects of same-sex desire. From the sharing of beds to the publication of coded novels the members of the Benson family wrestled with the complexities of emotional and sexual desires that were widely reviled and misunderstood at the time. This situation was made all the more difficult by Edward Benson’s job. From 1883 to 1896 he was archbishop of Canterbury and, therefore, one of the most prominent and respectable subjects of Queen Victoria at a time when the British Empire was at its height.Learn more about Oscar Wilde Prefigured at the University of Chicago Press.
Furthermore, it is not only with the benefit of hindsight and careful historical research that the queerness of the Benson family has become apparent. Innuendo also circulated at the time even about the person of the archbishop himself as I explored in my study of queer Christianity in Britain, Visions of Queer Martyrdom. For instance, in 1883 the famous British satirical magazine Punch published a skit on a House of Lords debateNew Archbishop present. Looks Aesthetic. Got his speech ready. Intended when he came down to deliver it, but so nervous couldn’t get it off.Lilies and sunflowers were, at this time, popularly associated with one particular aesthete: Oscar Wilde.
“Pity your Grace should have had all this trouble,” I say (always like to be polite to an Archbishop); “sure great loss to the world so much eloquence, argument, and common sense.”
“Don’t think it will be lost,” said his Grace sweetly. “Preaching shortly on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; shall be able to use up a good many of the passages.” His Grace ought to carry a lily or a sunflower.