A Marriage Below Zero is the first novel in English to explicitly explore the subject of male homosexuality. Written by a British émigré to America, the New York theater critic Alfred J. Cohen, under the pseudonym of “Alan Dale,” this first-person narrative is told by a young Englishwoman, Elsie Bouverie, who gradually discovers that her new husband, Arthur Ravener, is romantically involved with another man. Denounced on publication (“a saturnalia in which the most monstrous forms of human vice exhibit themselves shamelessly,” wrote one reviewer), the novel was published during the public exposure of a London homosexual brothel frequented by upper-class men and telegraph boys. A Marriage Below Zero reflected late-nineteenth-century fears and anxieties about homosexuality, women’s position in marriage, and the threat that seemingly new, illicit forms of desire posed to marriageable women and to the Victorian family.
This Broadview edition includes excerpts from the era’s pro-homosexual tracts, scientific and legal documents, contemporary feminist commentary on the new “dandyism,” and newspaper accounts of late-Victorian same-sex scandals. Highlights of the volume include excerpts from Charles Dickens’s 1836 account of his visit to Newgate Prison, where he witnessed the last two men in Britain executed for sodomy, George Bernard Shaw’s 1889 unpublished letter attacking the social purity movement’s legislation against homosexual men, and a never-before-reprinted 1898 article from Reynolds’s Newspaper, “Sex Mania,” that warned of an increasing number of homosexual men choosing to enter marriages as a cover for an illicit life.
“A Marriage Below Zero is an invaluable edition of the first novel about homosexuality in English, edited by Richard Kaye, who rediscovered the 1889 text. Kaye’s erudite and entertaining introduction puts it in the context of the late-Victorian sensation novel, a doubly-closeted writer, and the social history of male same-sex relationships, plus a scandalous divorce trial. A fascinating selection of legal, literary, and psychological materials rounds off this splendid seminar in one volume.” — Elaine Showalter, Professor Emerita, Princeton University