Why I’m a Fan of Graham Robb

Graham Robb is a writer of historical nonfiction, typically grappling with large topics then moving you through their history. Starting with Parisians, a fascinating story that skips through the history of this city, all while telling fascinating anecdotes. That was the first bite, and left me craving more from this author.

That led me to Strangers, Robb’s take on homosexual love in the nineteenth century. Early in the piece, he contextualizes attitudes towards, specifically, homosexuals over the course of history.

“For a thousand years at least, people have been complaining that sodomites, margeries, homosexuals or gays are more prevalent than ever before.
1102 – ‘This sin is now so frequent that no one blushes for it any more, and many indulge in it without perceiving its gravity.’ (St Anselm)
1663 – ‘Sir J Mennes and Mr Batten both say that buggery is not almost grown as common among our gallants as in Italy, and that the very pages of the town begin to complain of their masters for it.’ (Samuel Pepys)
1749 – ‘Till of late Years, Sodomy was a Sin, in a manner unheard of in these nations.’ (‘Plain Reasons for the Growth of Sodomy in England,’ in Satan’s Harvest Home

1884 – ‘Since my lectures on this subject in 1881, anal deformations caused by this unnatural act have regrettably become more and more numerous, proving that lustful acts are increasing by the day… (Dr Louis Martineau)
1930 – ‘The question of homosexuality hovers over society like a ghostly scarecrow. In spite of all the condemnation, the number of perverts seems to increase.’ (Alfred Adler)”

— Graham Robb, Strangers, 2003

This excerpt demonstrates one of the best qualities of this historian, the ability to take a step back and examine the totality of a trend, presenting it to the reader in a simple manner. So often in historical presentations, we fail to take that step in realizing that larger trends and patterns are perceived by those who are living through them, and may not be backed up by and form of data.

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