Author Blog

  • Spirit, Wit, and Forgeries: The Beautiful Untrue Afterlife of Oscar Wilde

    After ten years of detective work following Oscar Wilde forgeries, Beautiful Untrue Things author Gregory Mackie talks queer poets, roguish impostors, and the shifting reputation of everyone's favourite Victorian gay icon.


    Oscar Wilde is an instructive case study in how literary reputations can change drastically. When he died in 1900, in exile after his release from a prison sentence for the crime of “gross indecency” – the legal term for sex between men in Victorian Britain – he was a pariah. Over the course of the twentieth century, he has gone from being “unspeakable,” in the words of E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice (1913), to being the ultimate gay icon, revered as a saint and martyr. (If you don’t believe me there, check out his lipstick-kissed tomb in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery.) Wilde remains a haunting presence in literary history, which is why I frame my examination of multiple Wilde forgeries in terms of an “afterlife.” And indeed, in one chapter of Beautiful Untrue Things, I mean this idea quite literally: it explores what Wilde’s voluble spirit says about art and theatre from the great beyond, when channelled by zany 1920s spiritualist mediums. Without giving too many details away, I can say here that Wilde’s ghostly wit is characteristically devastating.

    I have been working on this book for over a decade now, and during that time the topic of my research – literary forgeries of Oscar Wilde – has intrigued nearly everyone I have told about it. That such curiosity has survived my nerdy bibliographical enthusiasms is, I think, a testament to the topic’s appeal, although whether more fascination attaches to Oscar Wilde or to forgery I can’t say. For me, the process of assembling, orchestrating, and analyzing the obscure publications, archival bits and pieces, and outrageous, long-neglected stories that make up the book has been wonderful. And I mean that in the word’s literal sense: researching and writing Beautiful Untrue Things has kept me in a sustained state of wonder, which for an academic is a rare treat. What do I mean by wonder? I mean learning things that few people currently alive likely know or remember; reading books that no one else has touched for a century; following up obscure leads to unexpected revelations (not to mention the occasional disappointment); and finally putting together the pieces of an intricate puzzle. In some ways, working on forgery means thinking like a detective – and, sometimes, even like a forger – as much as a traditional literary scholar.

    Following the leads of the mysterious and eccentric characters who populate the book – forgers that include the queer poet “Dorian Hope” and the roguish impostor Mrs. Chan-Toon – has meant that much of my sleuthing has been done in rare-books libraries. I visited archives, some of which have only recently been catalogued, across North America and Britain. Researching this book has also meant remaining attentive to information emanating from unexpected places. I continue to be amazed by the wealth of information about forgotten literary adventurers held by people working in the rare-book market, for instance. One of the most crucial sources for Beautiful Untrue Things is the private archive of a well-established London dealer – still in business today – contacted by “Dorian Hope” in 1921. These kinds of places represent a living repository of lore about book history and the book trade.

    Of course, my research methods have also had to keep up with the times. Early in this project, I travelled to the British Library’s offsite newspaper archive in North London in search of an otherwise unobtainable interview with Mrs. Chan-Toon. I spent a full day trying to access one small news article. That library is now closed, as widespread digitization of historical newspapers has transformed the work and expense of a transatlantic journey into a matter of a few well-chosen clicks in an online database. And yet online research has also saved me from momentous mistakes. One of the book’s signature contributions is the uncovering of the real identity of “Dorian Hope” in New York and Paris, thereby solving a mystery that has puzzled literary researchers and librarians for decades. Quite late in the production process, as the book was nearly ready to go into print, I still believed that it was impossible to prove with certainty who “Hope” really was. If it hadn’t been for a chance database search on another project – a veritable tumble down the archival rabbit-hole – I wouldn’t have been able to connect the dots to arrive at the forger’s unmasking. With this new information in hand, the game is newly afoot: I hope to go back to the archives, to learn more about a certain Brett Holland (from Gastonia, North Carolina) who reinvented himself as the French fashion journalist and literary chronicler “Sylvestre Dorian” after the Wilde forgeries he peddled under the name “Dorian Hope” proved profitless. But that’s another story.


    Gregory Mackie is an associate professor in the Department of English Language and Literatures at the University of British Columbia, and the author of Beautiful Untrue Things.

  • Decriminalization According to Whom? Reflections on the Recriminalization of Homosexuality in 1969


    A demonstrator is arrested at protests against bathhouse raids in Toronto, June 1981.

    The Arquives: Canada's LGBTQ2+ Archives

    Written by guest blogger Tom Hooper.

    As a historian studying the Toronto bathhouse raids, one of my first research questions was about the criminal code reform in 1969. How could so many people be arrested in the decades that followed the ‘decriminalization’ of homosexuality in Canada? This special edition of the Canadian Historical Review provided an opportunity to explore the 1969 reform in greater detail.

    What I found is that the law reform did not match any common definition of the term “decriminalization.” No laws were repealed, gay sex remained a criminal code offense, and the number of people who faced charges increased. This included the innovative use of the bawdy house law against gay bathhouses, but also the continued use of the very provisions that were reformed in 1969. In the weeks following the 1981 bath raids, the gay liberation newsmagazine The Body Politic printed the headline, “recriminalization?”

    I resurrect this question in the hopes of revisiting the term “decriminalization.” Any celebration of reform must incorporate the ground-level interactions between LGBTQ2 people and police officers who were tasked with enforcing criminal law. When taking that perspective into account, 1969 did not represent a turning point toward equality and human rights. In addition to the community reaction to the reforms, I re-examined the debates in the House of Commons to search beyond the moral and medical rhetoric. I found members from all major political parties expressing their skepticism that the reform amounted to a decriminalization. Reactions in the media were similarly doubtful that the changes in law would have any practical effect.

    Activists in the 1970s and beyond devoted much of their resources toward fighting the continued criminalization of LGBTQ2 communities. This includes the 1971 “We Demand” protest on Parliament Hill, in which activists called for an actual decriminalization with the full repeal of gross indecency and indecent acts. Branding the reforms as “decriminalization” is part of a deeper process of homonationalism, in which the struggles of queer people both before and after 1969 get erased. Progress in both legal and social transformation is not credited to these struggles. Instead, it is a celebration of Pierre Trudeau and the policies of the Liberal Party.

    I am honoured to be joined in this special edition by other authors taking a critical perspective of Pierre Trudeau’s “Just Society.” Katrina Ackerman and Shannon Stettner examine the provisions in the criminal code regulating abortion, they argue these changes were so limited that it did not change women’s ability to access these services. Marcel Martel similarly argue that the Official Languages Act was not a turning point. Sarah Nickel examines the 1969 White Paper, which called for the destruction of indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights. The idea that these policies would end marginalization or promote equality represents a setter-oriented framework of justice.

    Tom Hooper is a historian of the Toronto bathhouse raids. He is contract faculty in the Law and Society Program at York University. He has appeared before parliamentary committees in both the Senate and House of Commons on matters related to the criminalization of LGBTQ2 people in Canada. His article “Queering ’69: The Recriminalization of Homosexuality in Canada” is available free to read for a limited time on CHR Online.

  • When English is not your first language

    Written by guest blogger Jessica Mayra Ferreira.

    For those whose English is not their first language, it might be a challenge to submit a manuscript and not receive the comment “needs to be reviewed by a native English speaker”. I have always considered myself as a fast learner when it comes to new languages and it wasn’t such a struggle for me to learn how to communicate in English. However, when I decided I wanted to work as a researcher starting by my Master’s degree in Brazil, I had no idea that writing well enough for scientific literature would be such a demanding task. I received the same comment above in most my manuscripts reviews, even though some of those manuscripts were previously reviewed by a native English speaker, which made the work frustrating and stressful at times.

    Following, I will present five tips that I have gathered throughout my academic work and hopefully will help not only Brazilians but also other researchers worldwide to write well in their future works.

    1. Do not start a sentence with numbers. For example:
      “1156 women were included in the study.”

      Instead, use:

      “A total of 1156 women were included in the study.”

    2. Avoid begging sentences with “the” – include it only when referring to something specific.
      “The computers are of enormous assistance in the scientific world.”

      Instead, write:

      “Computers are of enormous assistance in the scientific world.” (In this case, we are talking about computers in general, not specific ones.)

      “The research found that…” (In this case we are talking about a specific research and “the” is acceptable in the sentence.)

    3. Passive voice is well accepted and even encouraged in scientific literature:
      “The government has given little attention to the environment.”

      Instead, use:

      Little attention has been given to the environment by the government.”

    4. Do not use contractions such as “don’t” “aren’t”, “isn’t”, etc.:
      “Pregnant women shouldn’t smoke.”

      Instead, use:

      “Pregnant women should not smoke.”

    5. Avoid writing long sentences and try to simplify as much as possible. Instead of using “in order to”, use only “to”.

    I believe an extra tip would be to practice a lot! The key to do anything perfectly, or as near to perfection as possible, is to practice. Try to read English articles as much as you can and pay attention to the way it was written. Make notes on what you think it is helpful and apply them in the next manuscript you will write. Trustingly, you will receive less comments that your work “needs to be reviewed by a native English speaker”.

    Photo of author

    Jessica Mayra Ferreira is a Physiotherapist graduated in 2009 at Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), Brazil, she specialized in Women's Health, with emphasis in Human Reproduction and Human Sexual Health, she did her Masters and PhD in Health Science at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil. She was a visiting PhD student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2017 under the supervision of Dr. Lori Brotto. Her latest article in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, “Analysis of 16 years of calls and emails to the Options for Sexual Health ‘Sex Sense’ information and referral service,” is free to read for a limited time here.

  • Dragging Theory

    As she gets ready to celebrate the launch of her new book, Viva MˑAˑC author Andrea Benoit talks Judith Butler, the art of drag – and looks back to that notorious VIVA GLAM ad featuring RuPaul. During the month of June, proceeds from sales of Viva M·A·C will go to Casey House, a stand-alone hospital where people with HIV/AIDS can receive compassionate care without judgment.


    Written by guest blogger Andrea Benoit.

    Image courtesy of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.

    In season 9 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” drag queen Sasha Velour considered performing as philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler for the infamous Snatch Game challenge, which showcases the queens' best celebrity impersonations in a game show setting. Aside from wondering what that would look like (and we’ll really never know as Sasha decided to perform as Marlene Dietrich instead, I was struck – yet again – at the prevalence of drag and how it’s now considered in wider and more popular contexts since the 1990s, when I talk about the art of drag in my new book, Viva MˑAˑC: AIDS, Fashion, and the Philanthropic Practices of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.

    Viva MˑAˑC  is the first cultural history of the originally Canadian cosmetics brand, and uncovers the origins of the company’s corporate philanthropy around HIV/AIDS awareness and fundraising. When MˑAˑC first started raising money through sales of its signature VIVA GLAM lipstick to support local AIDS organizations in 1994, AIDS was still largely a verboten subject for corporations. While many myths about AIDS were beginning to be dispelled, such as how HIV was transmitted, there was still great fear and rampant homophobia surrounding this medical condition.

    MˑAˑC chose the relatively unknown drag queen RuPaul to be its first spokesperson for VIVA GLAM and Chairperson of its new charity, the MˑAˑC AIDS Fund. In 1995, RuPaul appeared in the company’s first advertisement, a provocative image that portrayed him spelling out the letters of VIVA GLAM, including the notorious letter “M” that gloriously depicted his legs splayed wide-open. Twenty-five years later, the Fund has raised almost $500 million for AIDS organizations globally. RuPaul’s mantra of “loving yourself,” combined with his entertaining, over-the-top glamour, brought international attention to the MˑAˑC AIDS Fund, and made addressing the AIDS epidemic a bit more palatable to a mass audience. Much has changed since the 1980s and 1990s, when Viva MˑAˑC’s narrative takes place. Folks live with HIV for decades now, as it’s no longer an immediate death sentence, thanks to antiretroviral medications.

    And RuPaul is now famous. Back in early 2009, as I was beginning to outline the contours of what would eventually become my book, an intriguing new show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race” appeared on Logo TV, a niche American LGBTQ television channel. Debuting at the height of the reality television phenomenon (itself a subject of scholarly inquiry within my own field of Media Studies), RuPaul offered a completely different take, which promised to reveal “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” riffing on the then-popular “America’s Next Top Model” show to great, if unexpected, success.

    Now, Sasha Velour considering performing as Judith Butler on season 9 harkens back to Butler’s own theorizing of drag twenty-five years earlier in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity  (1990) and later in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), when Viva MˑAˑCs narrative takes place. Traditionally, a drag performance is a very self-conscious presentation of gender norms, often being a hyper-stylized representation of femininity. Depending on the context, however, such performances offer potential sites for challenge, critique, and action, especially regarding the AIDS epidemic. While Butler did not really consider commercial or media contexts when she described the ways and spaces in which gender performances could be subversive in the 1990s, I argue in Viva MˑAˑC that MˑAˑC’s notorious VIVA GLAM ad featuring RuPaul should also be considered subversive: the very fact of featuring a drag queen “performing” in a beauty ad to promote awareness and fundraising for HIV/AIDS organizations was unheard-of for that time.

    We’ve now come full circle: Sasha Velour can invoke Butler, confident that many in the audience would understand the reference. Butler herself responded to Sasha (much to her delight), admiring how “radical and fierce” Sasha was but also pointing out they were both connected in a mutual project that addressed the “struggle for freedom, for self-expression, for political rights, for the ability to walk down the street without being harassed, to be able to move across borders and express one’s political desires and have a form of life in which one can live and breathe and move as one pleases."

    Drag as an art form has evolved in amazingly creative and increasingly diverse and inclusive ways, and it’s now also mainstream entertainment, drag’s underground vernacular and traditions, even its theoretical underpinnings, becoming common parlance, thanks largely to “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It’s worth remembering, though, and not just during Pride, that drag’s political and activist commitments run deep, wherever they show up: in the bar, on television, or in a lipstick ad. Viva MˑAˑC tells a little of that story.


    Andrea Benoit is the Academic Review Officer in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. She is the author of Viva MˑAˑC: AIDS, Fashion, and the Philanthropic Practices of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.

  • Miner, Author, Singer, Lone-Actor Terrorist: The Lives and Death of Paul Joseph Chartier

    Written by guest blogger Steve Hewitt

    Paul Joseph Chartier led a colourful life as a miner, hotelier, private detective, author, and singer in pursuit of a recording career. He ended his life as a lone-actor terrorist. On 18 May 1966, Chartier expelled his last breath on a marble washroom floor outside of the House of Common’s in Ottawa after an explosive device packed with shrapnel he had constructed exploded prematurely before he could toss it into a chamber packed with politicians.

    The how and why of Chartier’s ending is what led me to research and write my article that appeared in volume 100, number 1 of the Canadian Historical Review. Although the incident occurred more than a half century ago, it is more pertinent than ever given an increase in acts of extreme violence carried out by men acting on their own as part of a phenomenon known as lone-actor terrorism. The House of Commons’ was the site of one such incident in October 2014 when a gunman, proclaiming allegiance to Islamic State, killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a soldier on ceremonial duty at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. He then managed to enter the Centre Block on Parliament Hill with his rifle before he was shot and killed. The reaction struck me as ahistorical, something I wrote about at the time, with media coverage suggesting that Canada had encountered serious terrorism for the first time. Missing, of course, were famous events the Air India bombing of 1985 in which over 300 people, including 268 Canadians, were killed, and the October Crisis that involved the kidnapping and murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. Less surprisingly absent from Canadian historical memory was Paul Joseph Chartier.

    Chartier had a failed life and, fittingly, his failure extended into his effort to be a terrorist. In that sense, his story and trajectory resembles many of those who have received media attention in the present as a result of acts of extreme and deadly violence. There is a tendency in media, political, and event academic discourses to portray lone-actor terrorism as a modern phenomenon. This is inaccurate to say the least. Indeed, there is an opportunity for historians unburdened by the restrictions governing primary source material for more recent lone-actor terrorism to provide considerable insight into terrorism in general. The 1300-page police file at the heart of my research about Chartier was released almost with only a handful of redactions. Terrorism studies scholar Marc Sageman has pointed to history specifically as a discipline where innovative work is being done in a field dominated by social scientists.

    Another key aspect and one that my future research will examine is the place of masculinity within lone-actor terrorism. As with mass shooters, lone-actor terrorism is almost exclusively carried out by men. In Canada, between 1868 and 2018, I have identified 19 lone-actor terrorist attacks, 18 of which were carried out by men of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious beliefs. The common thread across the attacks is the male identity of the perpetrators. And yet, gender is largely ignored in the various discourses around terrorism unless women are involved. This must change because, as demonstrated in recent attacks in Christchurch and San Diego, men carrying out acts of lone-actor terrorism shows no signs of abating.

    Photo of Steve Hewitt

    Steve Hewitt is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History and the American and Canadian Studies Research Centre at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. He has written a number of articles and books related to security and intelligence in the past and present, and in a Canadian, British, and American context, including Spying 101: The RCMP’s Secret Activities at Canadian Universities, 1917-1997 (University of Toronto Press, 2002), The British War on Terror (Continuum, 2008) and, co-authored with Christabelle Sethna, Just Watch Us: RCMP Surveillance of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Cold War Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018). Currently, he is working on two related projects: a history of lone-actor terrorism in Canada and a history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Canada. In particular, he is interested in the intersection of masculinities and extreme violence, particularly among lone-actor terrorists He also has had a lengthy involvement in Canadian studies in the United Kingdom, including as president of the British Association for Canadian Studies from 2011 to 2014. He tweets regularly at @stevehewittuk and on the history of terrorism at @TerrorisingHis1

    His latest article in the Canadian Historical Review, ‘Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow’: Lone-Actor Terrorism, Masculinity, and the 1966 Bombing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa,” is free to read for a limited time here.

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