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Issue Details: First known date: 2020... 2020 Cheryl Ware Review of Dennis Altman, Unrequited Love : Diary of an Accidental Activist
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'The late twentieth century witnessed significant transformations in the social lives and political statuses of gay men and lesbians. From the late 1960s, the international gay and lesbian liberation movements propelled discussions about sex and sexuality into the public arena as individuals demonstrated against discriminatory legislation and police harassment, and declared pride in their sexualities. It was during this period that 21-year-old Dennis Altman—who had recently left Hobart for New York as a ‘shy and naïve graduate student’ (p. 3)—became an ‘accidental activist’ by writing about the burgeoning gay liberation movement.' (Introduction)

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    y separately published work icon Australian Journal of Biography and History no. 4 2020 21478763 2020 periodical issue

    A few years ago, in the final throes of completing my doctoral thesis on the former Western Australia Chief Protector of Aborigines and colonial artist Henry Prinsep (1844–1922), I attended the annual Christmas party of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society. Each year Marie Louise Wordsworth, a long-time member, threw open her lush garden overlooking the Swan River at Peppermint Grove and generously allowed her visitors to examine her fine collection of Western Australian art and furniture. Among her possessions were paintings, objects and ephemera from the Prinsep estate that she had purchased on the death of Prinsep’s youngest daughter Emily. She invited me to inspect them and, opening a beautifully made jarrah bureau, there lay my subject’s quills, pens, pencils and paper—and a pair of his wire-framed spectacles. Brazenly perhaps, I could not resist the chance to try them on and just for a moment I was able to see the world through his lens; gazing at his oil painting of karri forest next to the bureau, I realised that he was short-sighted and had what I took to be severe astigmatism. I already knew about the persistent stomach ulcers and respiratory problems that plagued his last years, and from the numerous images of him with cigar in hand, I assumed he would have been accompanied by the stench of tobacco. But I had not realised that he was also beset by poor vision, a burden for one who saw himself primarily as an artist, a calling that far outweighed his dedication to being a colonial civil servant. Such insights, even if seemingly inconsequential to the historical record, can add much to the quality of a biographer’s understanding, as the English historian Kathryn Hughes observed in her 2017 book Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum. She reminds her readers of Thomas Carlyle’s exhortation to remember that the past was populated by living people with a corporeal presence: ‘Not abstractions were they, not diagrams and theorems, but men, in buff or other coats and breeches, with colour in their cheeks, with passion in their stomach, and the idioms, features and vitalities of very men.’ (Malcolm Allbrook, Preface introduction)

    2020
    pg. 229-234
Last amended 7 Apr 2021 10:04:44
229-234 Cheryl Ware Review of Dennis Altman, Unrequited Love : Diary of an Accidental Activistsmall AustLit logo Australian Journal of Biography and History
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