LGBTQ+ History Month Reading Club: First World War

Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History Jim Beach recommends:

Philip Hoare, Wilde’s Last Stand: Scandal, Decadence and Conspiracy during the Great War (1997)

My suggestion for this reading list connects with the content of my third-year module HIS3027 Secret State.  It is not an academic history, and although some of its statements about intelligence history don’t stand up to close scrutiny, its tells a fascinating story very well and is available cheaply in paperback. 

There is also an excellent National Archives blog piece that offers additional context.

During the latter stages of the First World War, what might be termed the far-right of British politics constructed a vast conspiracy theory.  Like its modern counterparts, it seems laughable were it not for the fact that it was believed by its advocates.  The allegation was that members of the Establishment engaged in deviant and immoral sexual practices and that the German secret service held incriminating evidence on thousands of these individuals.  And in the first half of 1918, with the war going badly for Britain, this was linked to the notion of an ‘Enemy Within’ that was sabotaging the country’s war effort.

The book is centred upon a trial involving Maud Allan, a famous dancer and friend to the former Liberal prime minister’s wife.  North American, talented and sexually unconventional, Allan was targeted by a far-right newspaper which hinted that she was a lesbian and thereby caught up in this vast German blackmail.  She sued them for libel and the crazy conspiracy theories thereby got a mainstream airing.

Caroline’s postscript: Allan’s performance as Salome was greatly admired, particularly her rather risque costume. So much so, it was parodied by the then-famous female impersonator (drag act) and burlesque music hall performer Malcolm Scott (1872-1929).

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