12 June 2020
Visitor Services Manager and Volunteer Coordinator, Lilja Addeman, shares some reflections on Kettle’s Yard for Pride this month.
This pride month I wanted to share some reflections on a few aspects of Kettle’s Yard that, as a queer person and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I find especially interesting.
The three objects I’ve chosen to write about are not the only pieces of queer history we have, nor are they the only objects that can be viewed through a queer lens, so I want to encourage visitors who are interested in this topic to please ask questions of the Visitor Assistants the next time you come through our doors. Queer history is all around us all the time, and it’s not just for LGBTQIA+ people. As visitors to Kettle’s Yard soon discover, art is very much about seeing the world differently and sitting among a diversity of lived experiences. Kettle’s Yard is perhaps an untapped treasure trove of queer history waiting to be discovered.
Studies in the Psychology of Sex – Sexual Inversion by Havelock Ellis
Location: The Bechstein Room
It’s said you can learn a lot about a person by looking at their bookshelves. For me, more than Jim’s meticulous curation of art and objects, it is his books that provide the most personal insight into who he was.
There are myriad volumes on art history, archaeology, poetry, travel and religion. For instance, in The Dancer Room, there are three shelves of books whose subjects are mostly concerned with Christian theology, Eastern and Middle Eastern spirituality. From this we can assume that Jim did not just identify with Western Christianity, but was also curious about other forms of faith and spirituality.
It’s interesting to me then to single out a book that represents something of a non-sequitur on his shelves: Studies in the Psychology of Sex – Sexual Inversion (1897) by Havelock Ellis. This is the second volume in Ellis’ six volume study of sex and sexuality, and is as far as I can tell the only book like it in Jim’s collection. Though Ellis’ many conclusions are now considered problematic, at the time this book was so controversial that despite Ellis being an English physician, the book was banned in Britain until 1935. Jim’s edition was printed in Philadelphia in 1918, meaning he could have owned the book when it was banned. What most interests me though is not Ellis’ work, but why Jim kept hold of it at all. It is so unlike every other book on his various bookshelves all across the House.
In my effort to understand this book’s place in Jim’s life I turned to my library at home to see if I had anything comparable. Among my many shelves of science fiction, museum catalogues, and gaming handbooks, there is The Queer Bible Commentary (2015, by Guest, various). I own no other book like it and it represents a bit of diversion from my normal reading. I imagine that like me, Jim sought to better understand who he was and to reconcile himself to the world as he understood it.
I feel this is a relatable experience for queer people who come from non-queer affirming backgrounds. We ask ourselves “Why am I this way?” “Is there something wrong with me?” “Can I be fixed?” and books like Studies may have offered some answers, as Commentary has for me. I sometimes wonder if Ellis’ work brought Jim comfort, or if it just brought more questions. He could very well have dismissed it all out of hand and never thought about the book again. But he still held on to it, a banned book, and it lives on the right-hand side of the bookshelf in the Bechstein Room to this day.