How to Be Gay in 1861

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Cecil DreemeCecil Dreeme: A Novel
by Theodore Winthrop
NYU Press. 288 pages, $16.95

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING completely different! When the publishers of this 1861 book describe it as “one of the queerest novels of the 19th century,” they’re not exaggerating. Cecil Dreeme is remarkable, compelling, and utterly unclassifiable.

The long-forgotten Theodore Winthrop (1828-1861) was a lawyer, traveler, novelist and critic who had once inhabited the NYU premises on Washington Square in which Cecil Dreeme is set. He wrote the novel secretly, knowing that its deeply sensual, implicitly sexual content made it unpublishable in its lifetime. I have found no evidence that Oscar Wilde discovered the book—though it may have been pressed into his hands at some point during his extensive lecture tour of the U.S. in 1882 and ’83.

Cecil Dreeme concerns the circumstances of one Robert Byng, an obvious self-portrait of Winthrop himself, as he returns to Manhattan following extensive travels.

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