Invisible ink no 258: Rodney Garland

 

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The Independent Culture

Here’s a pseudonym created for a single book. Adam Martin de Hegedus was born in Budapest in 1906. His father was an important official working in the Hungarian treasury. When Adam was 21, he travelled to England in order to read up on international law and learn English, in preparation for a career in the Hungarian diplomatic service. Dividing his time between his Kensington lodgings and the British Museum, he became fascinated by London life, so much so that he abandoned his impending career for journalism, writing for The Observer and certain periodicals. 

In 1934, he wrote The Golden Cock, which didn’t make much of a splash, and a volume of autobiography that partly described his life as a van driver. But de Hegedus had a secret; he was enjoying London life because it allowed him the freedom to be gay. In Paris he befriended André Gide, but soon returned to London and settled for good. A melancholy, private man, it’s hard to say what made him take the extraordinary step of writing a gay novel, 14 years before homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain.

Produced under his Garland pseudonym, The Heart In Exile chronicled homosexual life in wartime and post-war London, telling the story of a gay married psychiatrist whose determination to discover the truth about his former lover’s suicide leads him into what one reviewer described as an “underground” and the “humiliations of this half-world, viewed with detachment but without distaste”. Even the good reviews were unwittingly condescending: “It can arouse no disgust, only a deep pity, coupled with new understanding.”

Subtly delineated, sombre, and grittily realistic, the book was a shock success and ran into several British and American editions, even though (or perhaps because) it was packaged with increasingly gaudy covers. The New York Times described it as a “sensitive and deeply perceptive story of the homosexual and his underworld”. De Hegedus followed it with other gay-themed books, including a thriller, The Troubled Midnight. As a historical document The Heart In Exile remains an important volume, and is the only book for which de Hegedus is remembered. Indeed, very little else is known about the author. Five years after it was published, he committed suicide somewhere in London’s Marble Arch area. Perhaps we don’t want to be reminded of the nation’s sexually hypocritical class system, or gruesomely depressing times when socially stigmatised “inverts” were forced to lead double lives or risk blackmail.

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