Thoreau in Love, by John Schuyler Bishop
A fictional tale of youthful love and misgivings, evolving into a 19th-century literary giant
Story blurb: Two years before he goes to Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau, 25, leaves Concord, Massachusetts, to live in New York, where the new America is bursting into life. But before he even gets there he falls in love—with a young man.
It’s 1843, a repressive puritanism still hangs over Concord, Massachusetts, and Henry Thoreau wants out. When his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, gives him an opportunity to move to New York City, Henry leaves Concord with no thought of ever returning.
In his journals, 250-some pages about his trip to New York have been ripped out, the only substantial number of pages missing from the forty-seven journal volumes. What was so scandalous that Thoreau—or, more likely, his literary executor—decided no one should see it?
And why did Thoreau stay only six months in New York?
Thoreau’s biographers go out of their way to convince us that the writer was heterosexual, although he never married and wrote freely in his journal about the beauty of men. His poem “Sympathy,” one of the few published in his lifetime, is a love poem to a boy who was his student. (About that poem, one celebrated biographer went so far as to say, “When he wrote ‘he’ Thoreau really meant ‘she,’ and when he wrote ‘him,’ he really meant ‘her.’”) By denying Thoreau’s real sexuality, scholars have reduced him to a wooden icon.
Thoreau in Love imagines the time of the missing pages, when Thoreau emerged from his shell and explored the wider world and himself before he returned to Concord, where he would fearlessly live the rest of his life and become the great naturalist and literary giant.
About the author: Schuyler moved into the city as soon as he could, wrote plays at home and worked in the Letters Department at Newsweek until his total output for three months work was two letters; he decided he was possibly burned out…. His boss did too, but she then hired him as a proofreader at Sports Illustrated, where Schuyler enjoyed the great benefits and moved up rapidly to copyreader and then, because of a story he wrote for the magazine, to the exalted position of Late Reader, possibly the greatest job that ever existed: when the editors and reporters went to Schuyler to go over their stories it meant they were finished their week’s work, and more often than not, because of S.I.’s deadline, Schuyler worked one 35-hour day and made lots of money. All the while he was writing and mostly not sending things out…. but a couple of years ago he resolved to change that….
Two of Bishop plays were produced many years ago off-off Broadway, and he’s had stories published in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and in Alyson’s Best Gay Love Stories 2005. After a couple of years at sea and in Florida, he’s happily back in New York City.
Review by Gerry Burnie
I don’t suppose there is anything more intriguing to a historian, or writer thereof, than to find 250 pages missing (ripped out) from a famous person’s personal journals. Why the possibilities are endless, and John Schuyler Bishop takes full advantage of this in Thoreau in Love [BookBaby; 1st edition, May 14, 2013].
Henry David Thoreau, an enigmatic and intriguing character in his own right, takes a trip to New York to tutor the children of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s relative William Emerson, in their Staten Island home. On the way he meets a breathtakingly handsome sailor, Ben Wickham, and despite Thoreau’s Puritan background and his (till-then) repressed sexual inclinations, he falls madly in love with this beguiling lad.
As the ‘captain’s boy’ Ben is experienced in the manly art of making love, and by the time they reach Staten Island a most touching and memorable love affair has evolved.
However, once separated, Thoreau begins to have second thoughts. He fervently wants to be ‘normal’ in order to avoid the recriminations of a mostly homophobic society, but at the same time he carries on a romantic correspondence with Ben. Finally the two spend a couple of weeks together, and afterward they separate with Ben urging him to find his true self.
Thoreau then returns to Concord, and Walden emerges.
All of this is Schuyler Bishop’s invention, of course, but it is wonderfully credible and in keeping with Thoreau’s complex nature. It also explores the misgivings that most gay men experience somewhere along the line in their careers; even in today’s more liberal society. Arizona and Uganda are proof positive that to be gay, or GBLT, is still far from mainstream in 2014.
There are some graphic sex scenes, but it is the story that predominates throughout—as it should be.
Altogether, I think this is a story that will appeal to most everyone who enjoys a well-written historical fiction. Five bees.
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