I happened upon this book while I was looking up the definition of “occult” when the word is used to describe something as secret, hidden or concealed from view. There was this quotation supporting the definition: “Although in the typically occult language of the time, Garland’s prescient account [in his notorious homosexual novel of 1953 The Heart in Exile] catches society at a crossroads.” “Occult”, “prescient”, “notorious”, “homosexual” – this book seemed to have it all. I felt compelled to learn more about it. The British edition’s disturbingly frank London homosexuality cover art hooked me. The sensitive and deeply perceptive homosexual underworld cover art for the U.S. edition was not as alluring.
There is not much biographical information about the author available on the internet. Rodney Garland was a pseudonym used by Adam de Hegedus (1906 – 1958). He was born in Budapest and studied for a career in the Hungarian diplomatic service, but he moved to England during the 1930’s and began to develop his writing career. His first published work in English appeared in 1937. His first novel, REHEARSAL UNDER THE MOON, was published in 1946, and he first used the pseudonym Rodney Garland for The Heart In Exile in 1953. I came across two published reviews of THE HEART IN EXILE: in The New York Times, from October 31, 1954, and in Time, from September 20, 1954. I bought the Amazon Kindle of the first American edition for only ninety-nine cents.
As I began reading the book, I noticed, and then I began counting occurrences of the word “normal”, and I feared falling into a literary kind of numerology by the time I ticked off the thirty-third occurrence of the word – the final count was seventy-two. “Normal” is almost always synonymous with “heterosexual” in this book. I kept counts of some other words too that are no longer commonly used to describe homosexuals and their culture. “Invert” is used three times more often than “homosexual”. The society of homosexuals is called “the underworld”. There is a smattering of “pansies”, who seemingly dare to go where mere inverts fear to tread. “Abnormal” is used only four times as a synonym for “homosexual”. I was reading a cultural artifact from another age, a psychological reliquary.
The main character and narrator, Dr. Anthony Page, is a psychiatrist and an invert. We meet him in his office at his home in Kensington. He is with one of his patients, Miss Wilkins, an obsessive-compulsive hand washer. They are discussing her recent dream. As she is leaving, Miss Wilkins offers an ungloved hand for Dr. Page to shake, a sign of her improving condition under treatment. We never see Miss Wilkins again. His next appointment is a new patient. A Miss Ann Hewitt had phoned the previous day and requested an urgent appointment from Terry, Dr. Page’s office nurse and live-in housekeeper (and invert). We briefly meet Terry, who is wearing a dark blue T-shirt that shows off his physique (lifts weights three times a week at the gym) and is too busy peeling potatoes to usher the new patient into the doctor’s office. Based on her outward appearance, Dr. Page’s immediate diagnosis of Miss Hewitt is “nervous insomnia”, and, also, “County” trying to be “smart” (“Who on earth could have sold her that hat?”). Miss Hewitt tells Dr. Page that she sought the appointment because she had found his name, address and telephone number written on an empty envelope that she found on the desk of her fiance, Julian Leclerc, who was found dead the previous week (an apparent suicide). She hands the envelope to Dr. Page. Her news shocks awake emotions he thought were long lost. His heart thumps and jumps into his throat. “I hadn’t seen him in a very long time,” he says. He does not tell her the he and Julian had been lovers for a while before the war. He stealthily mines her for more information about Julian. Miss Hewitt desperately wants to understand why Julian killed himself. She suspects that Julian was involved with another woman. Miss Hewitt hands Dr. Page a note that is signed by “Ging” (Ginger), which she also found on Julian’s desk but hidden in his blotter. She is considering hiring a private detective to dig out the truth. Throughout the ensuing interview, Dr. Page keeps hidden his motivation, and inner distress, as he maneuvers his way into becoming Miss Hewitt’s doctor and dissuades her from hiring a private detective (“I shall try to find out what I can for you. And I can do it as well as a detective”). During a search of Julian’s flat the next day, he finds a photograph of a handsome young man hidden in the very same picture frame that displays Ann’s portrait. He assumes it to be a picture of Ginger. Finding this Ginger of the photograph becomes his quest as he attempts to uncover the circumstances surrounding Julian’s death. We follow him as he wends through London’s underworld and overworld, playing the sleuth, seeking out and talking to mutual friends and others who may have known Julian.
That Ann Hewitt knew Julian least becomes clear early in the story. Dim, but rich and with mannish good looks, she proposed marriage to Julian after six months of dating, having snagged him with gifts and a family business as a potential client for his law practice. Even through her dull eyes we can see Julian squirm under her smothering. Among the other people we meet: a stockbroker, who initiated Dr. Page into the mysteries of the underworld; a working class invert struggling to become normal; an English Lord with a Butler and a comfortable annual income without having to work for it; an invert Scotland Yard detective; an invert member of Parliament; a successful playwright; a working class invert struggling to climb out of his class; a normal cousin of Ann’s who had been in the Guards with Julian; a normal working class man who had an affair with Julian; and Julian’s philistine law partner. Their different viewpoints and experiences contribute pieces to the puzzle of Julian that Dr. Page is trying to assemble. We hear that Julian knew many people, but had no close friends. He was courageous during the war. He could be reckless when he “hunted” in the underworld. He was handsome, intelligent, and charming. He was a hard worker. He had a general air of sadness or unhappiness about him. He was a regular chap who understood the working class bloke. He was seen often in the company of his social inferiors. There was bit of the actor and performer in him. In the end, the pieces of the puzzle adhere loosely, because the people who knew Julian can reflect only the various surfaces that he himself effected; but some of Julian’s surfaces were necessary in order for him to keep hidden his homosexuality, the open expression of which was censured to various degrees by the society in which he lived and worked. This miasma of disapproval, in all its aspects and affects, is thoroughly explored in the conversations that Dr. Page has with Julian’s friends, acquaintances, and family, and also in his sharp descriptions of the few places where inverts could gather openly.
Throughout the meetings and conversations that Dr. Page narrates, he seems incapable of not sorting people by their social class, occupation, and dress. He types all who cross his path. The psychological categorization of his patients is, of course, an essential aspect of his profession, and also this is England; nevertheless, his analytic observations carry a peculiar, personal graveness and taste. We get phylum, class, genus and species whenever we meet someone through Dr. Page’s gaze, even when the only thing before his eyes is an image. The mere photograph of Ginger, for example, begets this analysis:
“He was what in these days some people call the Butch type, with a pleasant, open face, decidedly serious; a face which laughter sometimes doesn’t suit. I had to discount the slight alarm in the eyes facing the camera lens…, but the eyes were light-colored and large and I saw how long the eyelashes were and how generous the lines of the mouth. The nose was broad, very broad, almost flat in the middle. But apart from these features the face… was a little stereotyped….[T]his young man looked post-war working class. Except for the features, he need not have been English. At first glance, he could have been any variation of Atlantic Youth… the prototype being Guy Madison or Burt Lancaster…. It was true that the hair-style helped…. It was a “snazzy” haircut…and his thick and rich, light-colored hair lent itself perfectly for the purpose. There are only about a dozen hairdressers in London who understand the trick…. They are expensive and there is usually a queue of cyclists and barrow-boys outside them. Was this “Ginger”? … I was sure now that he was English, more likely from London than the provinces, and I was sure he was “normal.” He wore a dark jacket—obviously “semi-drape”—a spearpoint collar and a dark tie in a Windsor knot. He was the type some middle-class inverts look at on street corners with nostalgia, a type sometimes dangerous, but always uninhibited. He would spend a good deal of money on clothes as dramatic as his haircut—more than people like Julian or I or anybody in our social group. We would not be allowed to call attention to ourselves in such blatant if successful ways as Ginger…. They wanted to assert their personality and wanted to be admired by both sexes.”
This dazzling display of social and psychological taxonomy leaves one breathless, but the display tells more about Dr. Page than it tells about the character of the yet to be met Ginger. We see everything, meet everyone through Dr. Page’s eyes.
Who is this Dr. Anthony Page? He certainly does talk a lot about himself. He has enormous curiosity about people’s minds, actions and motives. He strives to practice the motto “Physician, heal thyself.” All his life, even as a boy, he was the kind of person, “[in] whom people confided at once, to whom people talked without reserve.” Dr. Page somehow inspires trust in others. This quality has proved a great asset for his chosen profession of psychiatry. It also helps him deceive others when he thinks that he needs to keep things hidden, such as his homosexuality. Dr. Page is almost always empathetic, but rarely sympathetic. The only time that he displays any sentimentality is in his telling story of his relationship with Julian; otherwise, his analyses of other people’s personal relationships – especially those between people from differing social classes – read like bills of lading, or exchanges of goods and services. He even offers a brief paean to the concept of Platonic Love. Julian had dumped him, and he confesses that this broke his heart. Dr. Page developed a “violent dislike” of love-life in general after their break up, and thus began the changes in his emotional life that still persist. During the war, in the libertine atmosphere of the London underground, he was “as promiscuous as others.” A few years after the war, while on a train heading toward New York, he experienced a “spiritual” awakening about the nature of love:“there was only one love, and it was sacred”. After that epiphany, he actively contemplated the idea of love but divorced the idea from his fleshly appetites, which were greatly diminished anyway. As he knows from his own experience with patients, this was not an uncommon condition: “I was alone because I was almost incapable of love, because I was suffering from a stunted heart….” Will he ever be able to unstunt it? During a lengthy and fascinating dialogue with his psychiatric mentor, Dr. Page confesses to a crisis of identity: how can his homosexuality fit with the other pieces of his fragmented life? In essence, this is the same question that Julian, in the course of his own life, had failed to answer for himself. If Dr. Page is finally able to answer this question, he does so in the closing chapters of the novel as he unravels the circumstances surrounding Julian’s death.
I am glad that I chanced upon this book. I was never bored while reading it. The story follows loosely the forms of the detective novel and maintains suspense reasonably well. Most of the characters are interesting to read about. The descriptions of the London underground in their gathering places are fantastic. The 1950’s terminology was at first jolting, but I became accustomed to it as I plowed through the novel. Through the eyes of its main character and narrator, the story explores the inner and outer lives of homosexuals living in a society that forces them to hide a core part of themselves. THE HEART IN EXILE offers a kind of looking glass with which to view our own new world in which the inhabitants of the former underworld seem to be becoming normal.
 A. adj. 1. A. Not disclosed or divulged, secret; kept secret; communicated only to the initiated. Now rare.