Underexposed: Gerald Glaskin’s Fiction

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WHEN BARRIE AND ROCKLIFF published Gerald Glaskin’s No End To The Way in 1965, it must have raised many eyebrows, not least in the British Home Office. This frank portrayal of a gay relationship between an Australian advertising executive (Ray) and a Dutch barman (Cor) was noteworthy for its absence of the “obligatory” tragic ending by death of the protagonist. Since Britain was still two years away from decriminalizing homosexuality, any story that failed to punish its characters for committing this illegal act was deemed to be glorifying and promoting it, hence breaking the law. Even the acclaimed E. M. Forster was not willing to take such risks, preferring to have his gayest novel, Maurice, withheld from publication until after his death in 1970.

But if the UK proved a challenge to Glaskin and his publishers, his native Australia offered no solace either. The antipodean censors of the day considered No End To The Way too hot for the average Australian to handle. Apparently, the average Australian thought otherwise, for when the ban was lifted eager hands snapped up many of the 50,000 paperback copies printed. Noted Australian author and critic Robert Dessaix described No End To The Way as “in a real sense … the first Australian gay novel.” At the very least, it was the first Australian novel about a gay relationship written from a distinctly homosexual point of view by a gay man. Moreover, as Dessaix points out, “it was available not just to the cognoscenti or to prowlers in the library stacks, but to fathers of three in the suburbs stopping off at a railway kiosk on their way home from work, to men in the suburbs curious about their own sexual inclinations—in other words, to ordinary Australian readers.”

Their curiosity was amply rewarded. Right at the outset Ray meets Cor in a bar, and the attraction is mutual and electric. Relentless sex soon evolves into a more enduring relationship, but one complicated by Cor’s marriage to the pregnant Mia and the appearance of Robin Hamilton, Cor’s ex-lover and sugar daddy. So begins a story that involves bribery, betrayal, and blackmail as the four characters, later joined by others, attempt to negotiate this inherently unstable set of relationships. The story is set in Australia’s western city of Perth, Glaskin’s home for his first and last years.

Born in 1923 as the eldest of seven children, Glaskin left school at fifteen to help his working-class family make it through the depression. When war broke out two years later, he joined the Australian navy, survived a near-fatal accident, and ended up in a repatriation hospital, which, ironically, launched him on his writing career. Three years later, although discharged from the navy as unfit for service, he signed on to the air force and underwent aeronautical navigation training in Canada before returning to civilian life in Australia. Glaskin spent nearly ten years in Singapore, where he worked as a stockbroker, and nearly six years in Amsterdam, where he met his partner of 32 years, Leo van de Pas.

No End 3
The American edition

No End To The Way reflects Glaskin’s own struggle with sex. As a young man, he claimed that he “fell in love with girls but in lust with boys.” With Rock Hudson-like looks and charm, it’s little wonder that Glaskin had both sexes chasing him. Despite his boast that he was “trisexual”—try anything twice in case you don’t like it the first time—men clearly won the day, whether Chinese water-skiing friends in Singapore or fair-haired Friesians from northern climes, not to mention the odd rugged Aussie footballer or laid-back barman. Although Glaskin had many women friends and made a couple of tentative moves towards marriage, there’s nothing to suggest that such liaisons were anything more than platonic. Like most of his fiction, No End To The Way was strongly autobiographical and leaves little doubt about Glaskin’s most intensely felt emotions.

The publication of the book was significant in several ways. First, Glaskin used it to protest injustices suffered by gay men in Australian society, especially the lack of legal recognition of their relationships—a battle still being waged more than forty years later on some fronts. Although a card-carrying member of one of Australia’s earliest gay rights organizations, Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP, Inc.), Glaskin rarely involved himself in politics. He preferred to wage war with his pen and typewriter instead. On the last page of the novel, in a letter Cor writes to Ray, he says, “But just think, if we’d been able to go there [Holland] to live, we would have been legal and not just a kind of criminal.”

No End 2
The second and UK edition (1967)

Second, for thousands of closeted gay men beset by doubts and fears about their sexual orientation, the book opened a window on a part of life that had long been closed. Letters flooded in from all corners of the globe—from an Anglican priest in London who was both “moved and harrowed” by the book, from a young man in Warsaw who was “delighted that there are still writers in the world who can write about all human feelings,” and a desperately lonely guy in North Platte, Nebraska, who wanted to know where the novel was set and how he could pick up men. One of the most poignant letters came from a Lancashire lad who wrote, “Thank you for writing a book that seeks not to glorify homosexuality but rather to show that it is a very real problem and one that affects many men to whom a normal way of life is denied through no fault of their own.”

On the other side of the world, a young man from Sydney was elated when he came across a copy in a bookstore in a small Queensland town in 1974. As a university student, Jeremy Fisher had been the victim of a vicious homophobic attack by conservative members of the Anglican Church. When he started reading the book, he was ecstatic. “I—me, this person, the odd thing inside my head—could identify with it as a reader because there was an acceptance of same-sex love which seemed entirely natural to me, despite a universe and millions of voices which proclaimed the opposite,” said Fisher.

No End
The original edition (1965)

While No End To The Way affirmed the integrity of gay men and drew attention to their plight as second-class citizens, it was an important for another reason. Although Glaskin never sought the dubious label of being a “gay writer,” he did want to be a provocative writer. He liked to shock people out of their smug, middle-class lethargy and lazy naïveté. In face-to-face encounters he was a master of this art. Glaskin’s tongue could be as brutally sharp as it could be rollickingly funny, and may well have contributed to his gradual demise as a published writer. Friends, family, neighbors, agents, publishers, policemen, newspaper reporters, film producers—even unsuspecting cashiers—found themselves on the receiving end of his send-ups.

One of Glaskin’s more celebrated displays of his verbal skill occurred in 1961 when he found himself in court on a rather questionable charge of having “willfully and obscenely exposed his person” on a deserted Perth beach. He requested the suppression of the word “person” from the records and press reports, for fear that “I would soon find a queue miles long from my house of people wanting to view this so generously sized ‘person,’ only to disappoint them.” Switching anatomical sides, he added, “Buttocks might well be indecent to some but hardly obscene; moreover if two policemen should find them so, they shouldn’t be in the police force.” The magistrate was not impressed. In closing, he asked if the defendant had any other “literary comments” to make, to which Glaskin couldn’t resist replying with Wildean flair, “I am now indeed guilty of contempt of court!”

When Glaskin died in March 2000, there was little public acknowledgment of his life and work. Local papers ran brief stories about him but few people, even in the Australian literary establishment, blinked an eye. It was as though he had assumed the title of one of his more successful tales, “The Man Who Didn’t Count.” Perhaps the time has come to take a closer look at Glaskin, especially as we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the 1957 Wolfenden Report, the British government inquiry that profoundly shaped public debate on sexuality in the UK and elsewhere. This report recommended decriminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults in private, a concept that became law in Britain in 1967. While it would be hard to compare the literary merit of No End to the Way with Forster’s Maurice, the former played an important trailblazing role in focusing attention on the validity and authenticity of same-sex relationships.

 

John Burbidge, born in Australia, is writing a biography of Gerald Glaskin.

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