Rictor Norton

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Rictor Norton (born 1945) is a major gay scholar who resides in London. For many years he has conducted fundamental research concerning English gay history. Some of the fruits of this work appear in his monograph on the Molly Houses and at his impressive website (rictornorton.co.uk ). He has also written about the 18th-century Gothic novel.

Rictor Nortion was born on June 25, 1945, in New York City. After his early education in Michigan and Minnesota, he obtained an M.A. and Ph.D. at Florida State University. His doctoral dissertation addressed homosexual themes in English Renaissance literature. Norton transformed the 1972 dissertation into a book, published as The Homosexual Literary Tradition (New York: Revisionist Press, 1974). He served as an instructor at Florida State University from 1970-72, where he taught a course on gay and lesbian literature in 1971, one of the earliest such courses in the United States. Norton was an active member of the Gay Liberation Front from 1971-72, and was involved in campaigning for the repeal of Florida's sodomy statute.

In 1973 Rictor Norton moved permanently to London, working as a journalist, publisher, researcher, and freelance scholar. He served as a research editor for the fortnightly London news journal,Gay News from 1974 to 1978. Throughout the 1970s he produced articles on gay history and literature for publications such as Gay Sunshine and The Advocate, and later for Gay Times. In December 2005 he established a civil partnership with his partner of nearly thirty years.

Norton has published academic articles in Renascence, American Imago, Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, the London Journal, and other periodicals. He has edited three volumes of 18th-century British erotica, including homoerotica (Pickering & Chatto, 2002, 2004). He has also written entries in Who's Who in Gay & Lesbian History (London: Routledge, 2001), and in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

His most telling body of research concerns gay history in 18th-century England, a pivotal era in modern consciousness. In this realm, his magnum opus is Mother Clap's Molly House (1992; second edition 2006), a searching, yet highly readable account of the Molly House phenomenon in England. The term Molly House designated a tavern or private room where homosexual and cross-dressing men could meet each other and possible sexual partners. Flourishing for a time in several English cities, Molly houses may be regarded as precursors of the modern gay bar.

In the second edition of his book, with two new chapters, Dr. Norton probes even more deeply into both past and present to rediscover the original foundations of the molly subculture. He challenges traditional notions by suggesting that it was primarily composed of members of the working class—blacksmiths, milkmen, publicans, and shoemakers. More extravagant personalities figure as well, such as the dramatists Samuel Foote and Isaac Bickerstaff, and the Rev. John Church, denounced for blessing gay "marriages."

Dr. Norton’s web site contains an invaluable calendar of 18th-century incidents of sodomy. Recently, this documentation has been complemented by Charles Upchurch in his book Before Wilde: Sex Between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform (Berkeley: University of Califrornia, 2009), which deals with the 19th century. Together, these two scholars have decisively refuted the spurious notion that “there was no homosexuality” prior to 1869.

Norton’s The Myth of the Modern Homosexual (London: Cassell, 1997) expands these perspectives by offering a critique of social constructionism and the Foucauldian model of sexuality. His work My Dear Boy (San Francisco: Leyland,1998) presents sixty sets of love letters from men to other men throughout history, from Ancient Rome to Twentieth-century America.

Rictor Norton’s website contains a number of valuable articles, some reprinted and revised from now hard-to-find publications. A special feature is the set of historical bibliographies. With the ever-swelling volume of scholarship, this material is increasingly difficult to control. Norton’s bibliographies make venturing into this complex realm a pleasure.

Consult his website: rictornorton.co.uk.

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