Book offers insights on gay writer

University of Otago professor Chris Brickell says New Zealand writer James Courage shared...
University of Otago professor Chris Brickell says New Zealand writer James Courage shared personal tales of being gay in repressive times. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
A series of journals by a trailblazing New Zealand author, locked away in the Hocken for decades after his death,  has been revealed by a Dunedin professor.

James Courage Diaries,  edited by Chris Brickell, uncovers the private life of an ‘‘invert’’ in a new book released this month.

Courage wrote  several novels and plays with daring themes of homosexuality at time when it was still a criminal act.

‘‘He is a New Zealand-raised author who writes about homosexuality, sometimes overtly, and talks about his own relationships and sexuality quite frankly.’’

He used the term invert or homosexual to describe himself.

‘‘He didn’t like the term queer, but he was aware of it.’’

Courage was born in Christchurch in 1903 into a wealthy land-owning family in Amberley. He moved to the United Kingdom in his 20s but maintained strong links to New Zealand.

A 1926 passport photo of New Zealand writer James Courage. PHOTO: HOCKEN
A 1926 passport photo of New Zealand writer James Courage. PHOTO: HOCKEN
Of his eight published novels, five were set in Canterbury.

In 1938 his play Private History was staged at the Gate Theatre in London, a private theatre club which enabled it to bypass censorship under the Lord Chamberlain's Office.

‘‘That was about sexual relationships between boys at boarding school, and it was incredibly well received by its audience and its critics.’’

His 1959 novel A Way of Love was the the first gay novel written and published by a New Zealander, Prof Brickell said.

He kept a diary from 1920 until he died in 1963, sharing personal tales of love and loss that painted a unique picture of life in the closeted culture of the time.

The diaries, along with literary and personal papers, were sold to the Hocken by Courage’s sister, Patricia Fanshawe, in 1975 but as part of the condition of sale she placed an embargo on them for 30 years.

Prof Brickell said the diaries were ‘‘amazing’’. When the embargo expired in 2005, ‘‘I rushed in and had a look.’’ Courage wrote frankly about his sexuality.

‘‘He talked about desiring young soldiers in the streets of London in the 1920s.’’ This made him really, really, unusual among his generation, Prof Brickell said.

The diaries chronicled his sexual experiences, picking up sailors and taking them back to his hotel, as well as his life in literary and artistic circles.

‘‘You can get a real sense of the queer world of London through his diaries.’’


James Courage Diaries edited by Chris Brickell.
Published by Otago University Press.

Wednesday August 25, 5.30pm Hocken Library, 90 Anzac Ave


Note: The book launch scheduled for August 25 has been postponed due to the Covid-19 Alert Level 4 situation.



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