A delightful story–in the manner of “Tom Jones” –
Story blurb: In New York City in the late 1860s, Tom Vaughan, a respectably raised young man, chooses to become a male prostitute servicing the city’s affluent elite, then falls in love with Walter Whiting, a renowned scholar and lecturer who proves to be his most difficult client. Having long wrestled with feelings of shame and guilt, Whiting, a married man, at first resents Tom’s easy acceptance of his own sexuality. Their story unfolds in the clandestine and precarious gay underworld of the time, which is creatively but vividly created. Through a series of encounters– some exhilarating, some painful, some mysterious—Tom matures, until an unexpected act of violence provokes a final resolution.
Available in e-book format – 443 KB
About the author: The Pleasuring of Men is Clifford Browder’s fourth book and first novel. His short fiction is set in New York City in the years 1830-1880. Characters often reappear in other novels and, quintessentially, in poetry in the form of monologs. Selections of his fiction have been published in Quarter After Eight, Third Coast, and New York Stories. His poetry has appeared in various reviews and online, including Poetic Voices Without Borders 2 and ArLiJo. He has helped two aspiring authors, a Sister of Mercy and a gay inmate in North Carolina, write their memoirs. He is also the author of two published biographies and a critical study of the French Surrealist poet André Breton.
Review by Gerry Burnie
I know almost northing about New York now or in the 1860s, but after reading The Pleasuring of Men by Clifford Bowder [Gival Press; 1 edition, 2011] I am sure I have a fairly credible idea of what it was like. It’s that sort of a novel.
Indeed, we get our first impression from Tom Vaughan (the protagonist and first-person narrator) in the opening of Chapter 1, i.e.
“When Mr. Neil Smythe became a roomer in our brownstone, my brother Stewart scowled and wondered if the subtle scent he gave off was cologne or “hair slime”; my mother declared his last name “elegant, and so much nicer than Smith”; and I said nothing, knowing that I’d just met the handsomest man in the world.
“That we were taking in a roomer was the result of a desperate need to put our finances in order. Since my father’s death years before, following heavy losses in a panic, my moher, having mourned him interminably, through skimping and saving had done her best to maintain herself and her two sons in our handsome brownstone on Twenty-fifth Street just off Fifth Avenue, a fashionable address that she could not bring herself to leave in a move to humbler quarters.”
And of his impressions of Mr. Neil Smythe:
“A clean-shaven young man of twenty-two, he was tall and thin, with smooth skin and wavy long blond hair. He came to us correctly dressed in a gray frock coat, fawn trousers, and bland pointed shoes, with a scarf pin and cuff links that glittered, and a boyish look that I, myself sixteen found stupendously appealing.”
From Tom’s observation that he had “…just met the handsomest man in the world,” we know that there is definitely more to come, and it is not long before he admits to “playing games” with himself in front of an ornate, “oval-shaped” mirror, secretly admiring a cherubic, blonde-haired choir boy, and having a crush on the elegant Reverend Timothy Blythe, D.D.
Then, on a mischievous schoolboy outing prompted by one of his school mates, he accompanies him to some of the seedier bars and clubs of the lower side, and one in particular; the Lustgarten or “pleasure garden.” Tom is shocked and intrigued by sight of men dancing together, some of them dressed as women, and of the lascivious interplay between younger and older. However, as shocked as he might be, he decides that this is the life for him.
Inevitably, Mr. Neil Smythe shows up at the Lustgarten, and tom learns that he is employed by a call-boy ring owned by corrupt politicians and businessmen (quite conceivably “Boss” Tweed and the Tameney Hall gang). Intrigued by Smythe’s stylish way of life, Tom implores him to teach him the ‘tools’ of the trade, which Smythe does in a hands-on sort of way.
Being a quick learner Tom is soon out on his own, pleasuring the grey set with his charms, and being generously rewarded in return. His clients are numerous and varied, and here the author (through Tom’s words) out does himself with colourful and often amusing descriptions of their proclivities—from a European who masquerades as a nobleman; an ‘athletic’ lawyer; and even the Reverend Timothy Blythe, D.D.
Eventually Tom is sent to the townhouse of Walter Whitling, a formidable scholar in just about everything, including the Greek language, and after a rather tempestuous getting-to-know-one-another, the older scholar agrees to teach Tom Greek in the manner of an Erastes with his Eromenos. Thereby Whitling first undresses Tom, and seating himself in front of him he touches Tom’s genitals before proceeding where the scene ends.
Altogether this is a tale encompassing both sophisticated wit and humour, and yet the subject matter is the grotty underbelly of society as enacted by its leading citizens—including the Reverend Timothy Blythe, D.D. Indeed, as I followed Tom’s sexual romp through the streets of New York, I couldn’t get the image of that other Tom out of my mind i.e. “Tom Jones.”. It is absolutely delightful. Five Bees.
Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 34,069
Here is an interesting report on Gerry B’s Books Reviews for 2011. I had almost forgot about it until someone requested it, the other day. Something I found interesting was that the visitors count at that time was 13,000! We’ve come a long way, Baby. To see the report, click on the image or go to: https://gerrycan.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/2011-in-review/
Announcement: All of my web pages now have new URL address. Gerry Burnie Books now resides at http://www.gerryburniebooks.ca, and Coming of Age on the Trail now has both a new address and design. It can now be found at: www.comingofagenovel.ca. Or click on the image.
Notice to all those who have requested a book review
Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.
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 an American politician most notable for being the “boss” of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in the politics of 19th century New York City and State. At the height of his influence, Tweed was the third-largest landowner in New York City, a director of the Erie Railroad, the Tenth National Bank, and the New-York Printing Company, as well as proprietor of the Metropolitan Hotel.