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Despised and Rejected

by Rose Allatini

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A facsimile of The Times from October 1918 in which the trial was reported.
The first 1000 copies of Despised & Rejected will come wrapped in a copy of this page.

 


WITH AN AFTERWORD BY JONATHAN CUTBILL
364pp
ISBN 9781910263167

Persephone book No. 126 was first published 100 years ago under the pseudonym ‘AT Fitzroy’ (the author lived at Fitzroy Street W1). The wonderfully titled Despised and Rejected by Rose Allatini (1890–1980) is everything we would like a Persephone book to be: by a forgotten writer who deserves to be revived and with strong themes: opposition to war, acceptance of homosexuality, tolerance of others, awareness that ‘it is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple, one must be woman-manly or man- womanly’ (A Room of One’s Own). And it is a very well written novel, and a page-turner.

The book begins deceptively as light social comedy (one reason it is not better known): in July 1914 a family gathers at a holiday hotel in Devon. There is a dominant father and a socially ambitious mother who adores her son Dennis. When he arrives it is at once clear to the reader why he does not fit in with his smugly conventional family. Then, with the outbreak of war, the tone of the book changes: it focuses on Dennis’s refusal to fight, indeed on his abhorrence of violence; his falling in love with Alan; and his close friendship with Antoinette, who has not realised she is lesbian but is unabashed when she does. Dennis, however, is in agony about being ‘a musical man’ (slang for being gay): ‘Abnormal – perverted – against nature – he could hear the epithets that would be hurled against him. But what had nature been about, in giving him the soul of a woman in the body of a man?’

Running through all this is the background of the war. At first everyone thought it would be over by Christmas. Then there were the horrors of 1915. And then conscription started. Month by month one sees what happens to Dennis and the other COs (conscientious objectors) he knows. Rose Allatini had published three romantic novels when she wrote Despised and Rejected in 1918. It was published by Charles Daniel entirely because of its pacifist stance (CWD, as he was always known, had already spent two months in prison because of an anti-war pamphlet). The book was published on May 22nd 1918, had a polite review in the TLS on June 5th (‘a well-written novel – evidently the work of a woman – on the subjects of pacifism and of abnormality in the affections’) and sold 800 copies over the summer. It was not until September that the remaining 200 copies were seized and ordered to be destroyed.

The two-day trial was a foregone conclusion, the report in The Times on October 11th (on this page) declaring that the book was ‘likely to prejudice the recruiting, training, and discipline of persons in his Majesty’s forces.’ Sir Charles Wakefield said that the question of whether the book was obscene was not before him, but he described it as ‘morally unhealthy and most pernicious’.

Despised and Rejected was much ahead of its time in its depiction of homosexual love and desire, in Antoinette’s ‘crushes’ and slow acceptance that she won’t be able to be in love with a man, in its honest attitude to the war, and in the radical way it links maleness with belligerence and being gay with the refusal to kill. And it is a book that longs for Britain and Europe to be united. Dennis sees that ‘the roads and railways that had been made throughout Europe to connect one country with another had been torn up to form frontiers and sever the connection.’ He wishes that ‘the barriers of racial hatred and racial envy be swept away; art and civilisation arise once more in place of murder and barbarity.’ Despised and Rejected is brave; and it is balanced, generous, sane and civilised.


Endpapers taken from 'Lines of Crescents', a printed silk designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for William Foxton, London 1918 © V&A Images

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