EDMUND MARLOWE'S ALEXANDER’S CHOICE REVIEWED BY EMILE LUCIEN
Alexander’s Choice, a love story set at England’s most famous boarding-school, Eton College and written by old boy Edmund Marlowe, was published on 12 December 2012. The following review of it was published on Amazon.co.uk on 28 May 2013.
Authentic Voice *****
This book is important and timely in its treatment of the age-old phenomenon of boy-love in the Classical Greek sense of the term, and its clandestine survival in the modern era. It is also exceptional in its clear presentation of theme and character as the story unfolds, the players in the setting of Eton College enacting a complex web of intrigue, high emotion, hope, frustration and distrust as the various threads lead the reader irresistibly - with an inevitable sense of foreboding - on to the final act.
The sense of flow reflects the craft of a writer not only at home with the place and the life and tradition of a great school, but also well-versed in the emotional world of the adolescent male, his needs, his contradictions, and not least his search for friendship and love. The tools of language, the detailed references to classical Antiquity, and the wonderful realisations of the doubts, fears and questionings in the minds of the main protagonists, Alexander, Julian and the young master, Damian, are masterly.
The theme of the book is topical though set in the 1980's. Today, UK age-of-consent laws are set firmly at 16, while child protection and the pillorying of paedophiles is a top media pursuit. The sexuality of young teenagers does not fit this template, but it is unrealistic to imagine that the practice of Greek love in a modern setting - even given the undeniable benefits, both personal and educational, in the case of Alexander and Damian - could ever find public acceptance, unless the sexual dimension was suppressed or (somehow) nullified. Centuries hence, in a more enlightened world, who knows?
Damian in conversation with his father ventured: "Plato believed that a love of the soul which had transcended sexual desire was the very highest ideal...just supposing Plato's ideal could be achieved today, boys could get all the benefits of Greek love without homosexuality, couldn't they?" But there is an unconscious doubt in the question.
Topical also is the recent comment of the British PM (an Old Etonian), referring to the controversial same-sex marriage bill, that he is "proud" that young boys who are gay will now be able to "stand that bit taller". The irony is clear to those who have even a passing perception of the schoolboys so described, that any kind of identification with the `gay community' would be hotly denied: as Alexander did in the book. In spite of the claims of much popular literature, even by some (presumably partisan) scholars, the Greeks were not `gay'. As Edmund Marlowe emphasised, the Greeks could love and educate boys (the two being complementary) and still look forward to marriage with a woman. The love between man and boy had a purpose beyond attraction and affection. By contrast, "the rare adult males thought willing to take passive roles were always harshly ridiculed as unmanly and degenerate."
The clash of our present society with such values underlies the powerful challenge of `Alexander's Choice'. The destruction of love and hope and fulfilment is inherent in the political strictures of the modern age, where distinctiveness, difference, and youthful aspiration can too easily be submerged in the tide of equality, anti-elitism and ignorance. The terrible events in the final chapters have the impact of the mindless inhumanity meted out to Julian's Jewish family in Germany before his father escaped to England after the war.
As Damian's wise father had said earlier to his son: "Whatever happens, I of course know you too well to doubt you'll do anything but good to your young friend. Just beware of the malevolence of a world that assumes most when it understands least."