Review: A Class Apart by James Gardiner

The Private Pictures of Montague Glover.

A Class Apart is a selection of photographs and letters culled from the archive of Montague Glover (1898-1983) documenting the intimate, rarely recorded lives of gay men in Britain from the First World War to the 1950s.  The book features Glover’s three obsessions: the Armed Forces, working-class men, and his lifelong lover Ralph Hall.

Review by Erastes

Who was Montague Glover?  No-one, really. But therein lies the reason why his legacy (boxes and boxes of letters and photos) is so very important in gay history. Just an ordinary man, a son of middle-class parents who was sent to a minor public school.

But by cataloging his life, collecting images of men, writing ordinary and heart-warming love letters, and most importantly by taking endless photos of men he found attractive, he paints a picture of a gay man’s life, well-adjusted and ‘ordinary,’

The book is photo-heavy, as you would expect and is split into eight sections and I’ll cover a few only.

The Story

Basic intro to the man’s life. An English middle-class life. The army straight from school and off to the trenches where he was awarded the Military Cross. Then university and 30 years as an architect. As well as his photos, he collected images of men he found attractive from newspaper clippings and magazines, seeing as homoerotic art wasn’t exactly freely available!

Rough Trade

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“In common with many other middle and upper class men of his class and generation, Monty Glover was principally attracted to working class men. Gardiner purports that perhaps this is because working-class men were “manly” and completely non-effeminate. Like all the photos of unnamed men in the book, it is unlikely that most of these young men were in fact homosexual, but rather approached by Glover and simply asked to pose. As a Brit it was fascinating to see the clothes, hats and shoes from the 20’s onwards, the detailing of the clothes (belts, scarves, boots) essential to any writer of historical men in these eras. Monty shows us delivery boys, postmen, barrowboys, farmhands – and soon you get a fair idea of Mr Glover’s taste in men! As well as candid shots of real people, there’s a lovely section of posed studio style shots, most likely done in Monty’s house, where young lovelies pose in various states of dress and undress. Prostitutes or just young men eager for a thrill, we’ll never know.

Soldier Boys

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Monty started taking photos of soldiers after he signed up in 1916, and in 1918, the year he was awarded the MC, he kept a diary, snippets of this are quoted in the book and show that although dealing with lice, rats, dead Bosche and horror on a daily basis, he still found time for love. It is at this time he meets Ernest (Ernie) with whom he has at least one “night of his life.”

Ralph

image00021Quite simply, the love of Monty’s life, and to look at him, it’s not hard to understand why. Coming from a working-class background, but with the looks of an Aryan angel, photogenic and very obviously hung like a donkey, Ralph is to die for. However, when it could very easily have happened that this younger man could have been nothing more than a kept man, staying with Glover for sex and money, it didn’t happen that way. This is very clearly a love affair with a capital L, which you cannot help but see in their extensive and lavishly adoring mutual love-letters. A large portion of these were sent during the second world war, when Ralph was drafted into the RAF in 1940. Indeed, it’s hard – reading a selection of these letters which are quoted in the book – to understand how these letters got past the censor! It’s wonderful that they did though, or we would miss out on lines like this written by Ralph to Monty in November 1940:

“Do you remember the old days when we first started darling.  I went back all over it again last night.  What a time we had in them days and I am sorry to say I am crying I canot hold it back no more my Darling. I love you my old Darling. I do miss you ever such a lot my dear as you know my dear.”

Monty and Ralph lived together (after meeting around 1930) for fifty years. The photographs of their lives together (other than the beautiful, posed, and artistic shots of Ralph) are ordinary and heartwarming for their ordinariness. Sitting in their sitting room, pictures of their bath, Ralph making toast, having breakfast, Monty shaving. Love in every image.

When Monty died in 1983, he left everything to Ralph, but Ralph went into a decline and died four years later.

Anyone with any interest in gay history will find this a resource they can’t be without, particularly if writing of gay men from 1910 onwards, anyone with an interest in photography will find it fascinating. But really, anyone with a heart cannot be moved by this book and the social record it has saved for posterity.

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Buy:  Amazon UK Amazon USA

10 Responses

  1. Hon, that review broke my heart. Also means I am going to have to remove my idea for the WW1 WW2 trilogy – not going to even go there when there is something like this out there. It would be trivialising something really special.

    x

    C

  2. Heartwarming that they were able to have a life together despite the cruel laws in place that might have prevented it.

    Chris, write your trilogy – there being another story in the world won’t change the nature of this one.

  3. I don’t think we should ever shy away from writing something of a certain era – instead we should, because when people say “oh for goodness sake, no-one could have found love in the trenches” one can point at this and say, “yes, actually, they can.” I think that one should celebrate these men who risked everything to live the best way they could, and just wanted to be “ordinary.” Not to write about them would be wrong – but to try and get it as right as possible is to honour them. It’s like “Ed” and “Alex” – people might say “oh god, yet another story of tragic homos” – but it happened, and brushing it under the carpet does nothing but pretend that we are ashamed of them back then, but It’s All Right Now.

  4. Lex,

    Thanks. WW1 and WW2 are very emotive for me – was at a school that had 7VC’s and still has a massively strong military/remembrance culture, used to pass so many cenotaphs and plaques of remembrance every day. I just feel if I cannot do it justice, I should not take it on. If that makes sense.

    Chris

  5. leave it for a while, get some experience under your belt, you are young, after all – I felt taht perhaps I’d tackled JX too early, to be honest. I’m sure in years to come, you’ll do it justice.

  6. E,

    Exactly. To get it as right as possible. It is unlikely I’d ever get it THAT right. And (as above) WW1/2 are very emotive subjects for me – if I can’t do it right, then I should not take it on. :)

    Ed and Alex is a story of unparalleled genius.

    But I will shut up now, this is to laud Monty Glover and people like him whose stories will never be known.

    xC

  7. because when people say “oh for goodness sake, no-one could have found love in the trenches” one can point at this and say, “yes, actually, they can.”

    Absolutely. And I agree 100%. It is easy for us nowadays to imagine that the lives of gay men and women were always as they are now, with the concomitant rights and freedoms, but it wasn’t so. To be gay in earlier eras was downright dangerous and I think those men who found ways to live their individual truths ought to be remembered and applauded for having the courage to do so.

    Wonderful review, btw. :)

  8. Hmmmm right up my alley. It’s always the real stories that are the most surprising and the most moving. Need to read this one.

  9. This does not strike me as sad at all. They spent 50 years together.
    I don’t know if I could even stand being with the same person for that long.

  10. And now, I have to have this book.

    Thanks Erastes.

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