Child-like Fantasy or Poetic Writing?

At the turn of the century, a time when emotions are high and panics are often, many people used different outlets to express their true feelings and make claims about the changing times and shifting attitudes. Writing transformed into a vehicle to not only transfer thoughts and feelings to its readers, but also as a way to uncover the developing themes of the Fin De Siècle – like personal freedom to express sexuality.

John Addington Symonds utilizes this technique through his poems to express sexual desire that has not yet been wholly publicly acknowledged. Symonds, in his poem “From Friend to Friend”, rhythmically addresses a friend in which he shares a very close, almost intimate relationship with – making us wonder if Symonds was subtly revealing a romantic lover with a particular friend.

Symonds writes “Dear Friend, I know not if such aching nights / Of sweet strange comradeship as we have spent” (Lines 1-2), revealing the relationship between the writer and the reader, as well as their shared – and potentially romantic – camaraderie.

Symonds goes on further in the octave of his sonnet, stating “of heart with heart on hope sublime intent / Or if the tide of turbulent appetites” (Lines 7-8), suggesting two hearts sharing the same feelings of a raging and unstable romance that is forming, despite the times where love like this is very secretive and not yet fully accepted.

During the Fin De Siècle, many main themes of the previous century were facing upfront confrontation by many components of society, challenging the “persistent residues of the past “ (Ledger, Luckhurst xvii). Among those themes was “questions of contemporary identity […] sexually identity, or conceptions of subjectivity itself” (Ledger, Luckhurst xvii). In the midst of the introduction of the New Women and the feminist movement came the “image of sexual freedom” (xvii) that allowed many people, much like Symonds, to express their personal sexual preferences more openly, yet still in a subtle manner as the idea slowly integrates itself into society.

However, because the idea of sexuality that was beyond the bounds of traditional, heterosexual, monogamous love was very new and fairly challenged by critics of the past century, Symonds, and other writers like him, created these fantasies that embody the feelings of the writer in a hidden format, revealing their sexual desires in a less straightforward manner.

Freud talks about this idea of “fantasy” (Freud 145) in his piece “Writers and Daydreaming”, where he concludes that “phantasies […] are [his] most intimate possessions” (145) where adults can express their true emotions in ways much similar to the way children create make-believe games in order to promote and act upon their own desires.

Symonds expresses his own fantasy through his poetic writing, bringing to light his desire to openly express his sexual craving in society. He states in the sestet that “neither chance or change nor time nor aught / That makes the future of our lives less fair” (Lines 11-12), placing emphasis on the fact that despite the way this particular sexuality is looked at currently, he will still seek to honestly express this lust for the friend which he is addressing.

Symonds fantasizes about a world in which he can express outwardly his sexual preferences without criticism, much like what Freud points in his analysis of day-dreaming and fantasy creation. Symonds returns to his childish roots to create a similar fantasy that allows him the freedom to fully portray his sexuality.