Queer Beyond London is delighted to highlight exciting research and projects exploring queer local histories that will be featured in our upcoming Queer Localities international conference from 30 November – 1 December 2017.


Rachel Hope Cleves

In a 1921 letter, Aldous Huxley described the English colony in Florence as “a queer collection; a sort of decayed provincial intelligentsia.” This remark has been oft-quoted by intellectual historians of the early twentieth century, with a focus on the latter clause. In this paper, I focus on Huxley’s initial clause, describing the English colony in Florence as a “queer collection.” Histories of queer migration patterns often focus on the movement of individuals from the country to city. At this conference, which seeks to reconsider queer migration and localities, I will examine instead the movement of queer people following World War I who fled the metropolis of London for the “provincial” city of Florence, in search of a more congenial legal regime and social context.

“Norman Douglas at Betti’s, Florence; with Charles Prentice.” Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, June 22, 1935.  (Image: Van Vechten Trust)

Huxley’s account of Florence as a “queer collection” suggests the variety of sexual types who congregated in the city. Sexually-ambiguous spinsters mingled there with wealthy male voyeurs and gay male aesthetes. More than any other group, however, male boy-lovers made Florence their home. Drawing on a rich source base of archival letters and diaries, as well as published accounts by authors such as Huxley, Lawrence, Acton, Berenson, Douglas, West, and Sitwell, this paper re-examines what is meant by “queer” localities.

image001Rachel Hope Cleves is Professor of History at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, and author of Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (2014). She can be followed on twitter @RachelCleves.



Queer Localities: a two-day international conference

Birkbeck, University of London
30 November – 1 December 2017

Free and open to all, but please REGISTER your place here

Click here to view the Conference Programme.


A “Queer Collection”: The Anglo Colony in Florence in the 1920s and 1930s
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