Sex and Serendipity in Lanka with Robert Aldrich’s New Book

Cultural Encounters and Homoeroticism in Sri Lanka: Sex and Serendipity has just appeared in print …. Published by Routledge, London, 2014.  Hardback and e-book, 234 pages.  (ISBN 978-0-415-74236-8)**

Sri Lanka was long known to travellers for its beautiful landscape, fascinating culture and unparalleled position at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean.  This book explores the sojourns of some of those who came to the island, those with a homosexual sensibility – figures such as the Victorian social reformer Edward Carpenter and the German naturalist Ernst Haeckel, the French dandies Count d’Adelswärd-Fersen and Count de Mauny, such American and British writers as Paul Bowles and Arthur C. Clarke, and the Australian painter and diarist Donald Friend.  The writings, art and other works of these figures showed, in addition to their fascination with Sri Lanka, a particular attraction to young Sri Lankan men, as models, companions, friends and occasionally as partners.  This homoerotic fascination was also reflected in the work of several Sri Lankans, notably in the photographs of Lionel Wendt.

Lionel Wendt Photo

This book is not a study of homosexuality in Sri Lanka; rather it is an exploration of ‘gay’ travel to the island, the cultural encounters that resulted, and the transnational transmission of social and artistic ideas.  It looks at the influence of Sri Lanka on the visitors, but also the influences they exercised on Sri Lankans whom they met and among whom they worked.

The study also looks at some of the Sri Lankans who shared interests with these sojourners, including Wendt (the subject of the most extensive chapter), Geoffrey and Bevis Bawa, artists such as David Paynter and George Beven, and the novelist Shyam Selvadurai.

The theme of the book is thus cultural and personal exchange among a group of Sri Lankans and foreigners – some well-known, a few infamous, others now largely forgotten – who shared interests in literature, art, dance and the serendipity of life in Sri Lanka, but who also shared erotic yearnings.

lionel-wendt Pics from Lionel Wendt: Ceylon (1950)

       Table of Contents


Chapter 1       Homoeroticism and colonial visitors in the Victorian age

Chapter 2       Spirituality, sex and scandals in turn-of-the-century Ceylon

Chapter 3       The Count de Mauny and the Gardens of Taprobane

Chapter 4       Modern art and the homoerotic photographs of Lionel Wendt

Chapter 5       Bevis and Geoffrey Bawa, Donald Friend and their friends

Chapter 6       Sojourners and the seduction of Ceylon

Chapter 7       Painting men: three views

Chapter 8       Gay Lanka?


Robert-Aldrich-1-1The Author:  Robert Aldrich is Professor of European History at the University of Sydney.  He is also the author of The Seduction of the Mediterranean: Writing, Art and Homosexual Fantasy (1993), Colonialism and Homosexuality (2003) and Gay Life Stories (2012).  He is currently doing research on the political history of Sri Lanka, especially the exile of the last king of Kandy, for a volume on Banished Potentates.  He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

 **  The book is currently available, alas, only in an expensive hardback and e-book edition, but I hope that a publisher will be interested in issuing a paperback.



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Filed under cultural transmission, heritage, life stories, photography, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, travelogue, unusual people, world affairs

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