Looking at The Lord Won’t Mind from a historical perspective
Title: The Lord Won’t Mind
Author: Gordon Merrick
Published: 1970; republished in 1995
Length: 255 pages
Charlie Mills and Peter Martin are both young, handsome and well-endowed. They meet and fall madly in love. The book follows Charlie’s path from a closeted gay man to a person who accepts himself. Charlie is terrified of rejection, especially that of his rigid, moralistic grandmother whom he loves but who expects him to marry and have children. Charlie at first attempts to live a double-life, expressing his homosexuality through acting and painting. But his life is incomplete without Peter.
Charlie eventually throws Peter out and marries a woman to protect his reputation. Charlie’s wife later suspects his homosexuality, and perpetrates a horrific act of violence on her husband. As Charlie works through the aftermath of the attack, he slowly comes to realize that honesty and self-acceptance are the only way out. Charlie finally confesses his love for Peter, and they move in together.
Review by Leslie H. Nicoll
I have a review posted for The Lord Won’t Mind over at reviewsbyjessewave. There I critique the book from the perspective of being an important piece of gay literary history; for this critique here at Speak Its Name I’ll consider it as historical fiction, because, bottom line, that’s what it is—or at least supposed to be.
The story allegedly takes place in the late 1930s. It opens at Charlie’s grandmother’s summer estate in Rumson, New Jersey. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of confusion on this point. Googling the book and reading various synposes and descriptions posted here and there, many people (wrongly) state that the book is the story of two Ivy League college students in the 1960s. Looking at the original cover of the book, it is easy to see how someone could make this error. Their hair, oxford cloth shirts with rolled up sleeves, no ties…the casually tied sweaters tied over their shoulders—yup, definitely preppies from the 60s. I might even have dated one or both of them.
But what about within the pages of the book? Doesn’t that give any clues? Not really. There are vague mentions of “the war” but no one actually ever goes away nor does anyone get killed. Keeping with the sixties theme, it could have been the Viet Nam War, so that’s not really a hint.
Dress, technology, locales? All vague. Park Avenue is Park Avenue; Charlie and Peter dress to look sharp but nothing that particularly ties them to the era; they talk on the phone and drive cars. In fact, near the end of the book, they drive back and forth to Stamford, Connecticut (from New York City) twice. I vaguely wondered when gas rationing began—after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I later discovered, so even that wasn’t a giveaway clue.
Manners of speech—Peter says “Golly” a lot and sounds like Mickey Rooney in the old Andy Hardy movies. They call each other “darling” (endlessly) which reminds me of the Nick and Nora Charles movies. So maybe that would be accurate to time. But then “baby” creeps in and worse, “darling baby.” Maybe that’s just sappy speech but it doesn’t sound historical to me.
Sexual behavior—Charlie and Peter have lots of sex and use a lubricant. Was that term common in the 1930s? I don’t know. K-Y jelly (water-based) was invented in 1917; Vaseline (petroleum-based) was invented in 1872. I know that in my experience, I used “Vaseline” as a generic term for years; it wasn’t until the spread of AIDS and the need to use water-based products with latex condoms that the word “lubricant” became more common in the vernacular. However, the author, Merrick, was gay and he might very well have been traveling in different lubricant-circles than the ones I inhabit so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.
On the other hand, Charlie’s wife takes him to task that he doesn’t pleasure her enough and give her enough orgasms. She even suggests that he might read a book on female sexuality. In 1939? I don’t think so. Remember that the Kinsey reports didn’t come out until 1948 (men) and 1952 (women). Thus I don’t think Hattie’s admonishment to Charlie rings true for the time. In fact, her comment sounded like it came straight from the pages of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, published in 1969. For me, this was definitely an anachronism.
So how can Merrick write a historical fiction book and not have it be…historical? A couple of points might provide insight. First, Merrick went to Princeton in 1938 and dropped out during his junior year. In the book, Charlie has just finished college. So Charlie is clearly drawn from Merrick’s life experience. Since he was there, and lived it, it is not surprising that details get omitted in the telling of the tale—they are not in the forefront of his mind. Second, for people reading in the 1970s, the forties were only three decades prior. They probably remembered those days quite clearly—I know my mother would have (and I am sure she read this book—but I am wondering how she kept it hidden from me!). Thus readers in that era did not need the historical grounding that we in 2009 might require. Last—even though the story is set in the thirties, it could be any time. Time and place is really irrelevant. I think Merrick just set it when he did based on his own life experience, as noted above.
So tallying up: historical evidence: a few words, such as “Golly” and “Darling.” Anachronisms: female orgasmic behavior and the cover of the book. Neutral: places, clothing, transportation, communication (telephone), mentions of “the war.”
Recommendation: if you are in the mood for a gay soap opera with lots of melodrama, sex, and a happy ending, read the book. If you are interested in a slice of gay literary history, give it a go. If you want accurate historical fiction full of interesting details, you probably should pass. For me, one and two outweigh three and thus I think it’s worth reading. Four stars.
Note: The book was originally published in 1970 and re-published by Alyson in 1995. Although it is out of print, it is easy to find used copies. I bought mine for this review off Amazon for less than $5. And–I bought the book so that serves as my disclaimer.