Sandel, by Angus Stewart
A Masterpiece of the writer’s art – tender, evocative and sensitive
A love affair between a thirteen-year-old schoolboy (Tony Sandel) and a nineteen-year-old undergraduate (David), written and published at time before moral panic set in and the false dogma was established that all such relationships damaged the younger partner for life. Sandel is an evocative portrait of boarding-school and Oxbridge life and the intense, often romantic friendships that flourish there. It is also a novel of sexual awakening, whose light touch disguises the profound emotions that such friendships generate; the relationship portrayed is partly of equals and partly, as often happens, one where it is the younger partner who decides whether and how it should persist.
About the author: Angus Stewart’s [1936 – 1998] first published work was ‘The Stile’, which appeared in the 1964 Faber anthology Stories by New Writers. He won the Richard Hillary Memorial Prize in 1965. His breakthrough to public and critical attention came in 1968 with his first novel, Sandel. Set in the pseudonymous St Cecilia’s College, Oxford, the book revolves around the unorthodox love between a 19-year-old undergraduate, David Rogers, and a 13-year-old chorister, Antony Sandel. The novel appears to have been based on real events, recounted by Stewart in an article under the pseudonym ‘John Davis’ in the 1961 anthology Underdogs, edited for Weidenfeld and Nicolson by Philip Toynbee. The story is treated with delicacy and sensitivity, and has a place in English literature comparable in importance to Roger Peyrefitte’s treatment of the same subject in his 1943 novel Les amitiés particulières. Over the past forty years Sandel has become a cult gay novel.
After Sandel Stewart moved to Tangier in Morocco, partly as a project in self-discovery and partly to experiment with drugs in a sympathetic environment. His Moroccan experiences resulted in two further books, a novel entitled Snow in Harvest (1969) and a travel diary entitled Tangier: A Writer’s Notebook (1977). He also wrote poetry, some of which was published as Sense and Inconsequence (1972), with an introduction by his father’s longstanding friend W. H. Auden.
After his mother’s death in 1979 Stewart returned to England, living for the final twenty years of his life in an annex to his father’s home at Fawler outside Oxford. He was an accomplished portrait photographer. For much of his life he suffered from clinical depression.
Review by Gerry Burnie
There is currently a controversy raging over Amazon.com’s decision to arbitrarily exclude certain types of erotic novels from its catalogue. However, to the best of my knowledge it has yet to define in specific terms which novels are unacceptable, beyond some broad-stroke classifications—i.e., underage sex, depictions of rape and incest, or bestiality, etc.
To say the least, this is an ambitious undertaking given the millions of indie books alone (for these seem to be the ones targeted the most), so I expect there are many ‘babies’ thrown out with the bath water—certainly some of my friends have complained of this already.
My reaction is that it is a backdoor approach to censorship by a monopoly that has little regard for its authors anyway. This has been my personal experience, and if asked I will gladly provide chapter and verse regarding the details.
Part of this purge can also be attributed to a hypocritically-prudish North America that prohibits an author from writing about sexual activity with a minor under the age of eighteen, but sets the bar for consensual sex at sixteen, and adolescent-to adolescent sex at thirteen, i.e.
163.1 (1) In this section, “child pornography” means
(b) any written material, visual representation or audio recording that advocates or counsels sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years that would be an offence under this Act;
(c) any written material whose dominant characteristic is the description, for a sexual purpose, of sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years that would be an offence under this Act; or
Age of consent:
From 1890 until recently, the age at which a youth could consent to nonexploitative sexual activity was 14 years. With the recent change to the criminal code of Canada, the age of consent for nonexploitative sexual activity is now 16 years.
Nonexploitative activity is defined as sexual activity that does not involve prostitution or pornography, and where there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency between the persons involved (1). A coach, spiritual leader, teacher, school principal, guidance counsellor or family member are all examples of persons in a position of trust or authority with youth.
For exploitative sexual activity (prostitution or pornography, or where there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependency), the age of consent is 18 years.
The spirit of the new legislation is not to regulate consensual teenage sexual activity. To this effect, there are a few notable exceptions to the law:
- Youth 12 or 13 years of age can consent to nonexploitative sexual activity with peers when the age difference is no more than two years. For example, a 12-year-old child is deemed capable of consenting to sexual activity with a 14-year-old, but not a 15-year-old.
- Youth 14 or 15 years of age can consent to nonexploitative sexual activity when the age difference is no more than five years. For example, a 15-year-old can consent to having sexual intercourse with a 20-year-old, but not with a 21-year-old.
Children younger than 12 years of age can never consent to sexual activity with anyone, of any age, regardless of whether they say they do. (Canadian Paediatric Society – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2532909/)
With all this in mind I immediately ordered a copy (from Amazon) of the late Angus Stewart’s much acclaimed novel, Sandel, [Pilot Productions, August 10, 2013]. Like it’s equally acclaimed predecessor, Les amitiés particulières, by Roger Peyrefitte (1943), it deals with younger/older love in a tender, evocative and sensitive way. In fact, they are both masterpieces of the writer’s art.
Sandel tells the story of Anthony Sandel, a choir boy at St Cecilia’s College, Oxford, and an undergraduate organist (David Rogers). At first their relationship focuses on their mutual love of religious music, but over time it progresses logically and with great credibility into an erastes and eronomous type of love. However, remembering that it was first written and published in the 1960s, this aspect is more implied than explicit; to the extent that the Daily Telegraph wrote of it: “A love not despicable.”
However, as one reviewer has pointed out, the 60s may have been quite ‘liberal’ compared to today, and I quote:
“It is merely difficult to imagine today an aunt who would think or dare to rescue from their outraged school her 13-year-old nephew caught in his master’s bed, and dispatch the lovers on a ten-week honeymoon in Italy. It is impossible though to imagine anything but imminent catastrophe if today a choirboy being interviewed by newsmen were to tell them about his love for his teacher and the latter punched one of them to the floor for making snide remarks about it. The threat “You shouldn’t have done that,” couldn’t possibly sound “unconvincing.” The newsmen would know only too well that a visit to the police would ensure an investigation almost bound to wreck the lives of both man and boy.”
“One wonders how long it will be before the child abuse lobby succeeds in imposing on productions of Romeo and Juliet the interruption of the most romantic scenes with sour warnings that despite the strongest contrary indications love involving a pubescent is always really no more than false cover for a satanic plot to satisfy selfish lust. ~ – Edmund Marlowe, author of Alexander’s Choice, an Eton boy’s love story.
I agree wholeheartedly. To Sandel – Five Bees for a true masterpiece.
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