Brian Lewis, “George Cecil Ives and the Transformation of Discourses on Sexuality” | National Humanities Center


Brian Lewis, “George Cecil Ives and the Transformation of Discourses on Sexuality”

October 13, 2023

The British writer, reformer, and criminologist George Cecil Ives lived through a transformation in our collective understanding of sexuality. Born in 1867, Ives found early inspiration in the Classical tradition and witnessed the rise of sexology and psychoanalysis before his death in the mid-twentieth century. But Ives did not simply observe these social changes; he chronicled them exhaustively through his published works, correspondence, scrapbooks, and a three-million-word diary. Brian Lewis (NHC Fellow, 2022–23) has analyzed these records to help us to understand how individuals actually experienced these philosophical and social shifts.

photo of Brian LewisBrian Lewis is a historian of modern Britain and has been teaching at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, since 1995. His first substantial book, The Middlemost and the Milltowns, analyzes the leading members of the middle classes of Lancashire cotton towns (in particular Blackburn, Bolton, and Preston) between 1789 and 1851. His second book, So Clean, is a study of William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (1851–1925), the founder of the Lever Brothers’ Sunlight soap empire. His third monograph, Wolfenden’s Witnesses, is an annotated selection of the papers of the Wolfenden Committee, which was set up in 1954 to investigate the state of the law regarding homosexuality and prostitution. Lewis’s current project, Greek to the Soul: George Ives and Homosexuality in Britain from Wilde to Wolfenden, is an investigation of (homo)sexuality and criminality in Britain between the 1880s and the 1950s using Ives, pioneer “gay rights” campaigner and penal reformer, as its focus.