Tom Crewe published his debut novel on January 3rd. A historical fiction set from June 1894 to March 1896 in London, England called “A New Life”, dramatizing the work of two men writing on the subject of male homosexuality and the effects of the infamous Oscar Wilde trial on public opinion. theme. Crewe’s novel follows two men: John Addington and Henry Ellis. John is a gay man who has been hiding behind his marriage to a woman for decades. Henry is a young idealist who marries his best friend Edith, who is attracted to other women, in order to serve as a model of marriage that is not tied to the politics of sex.
Ellis is part of an organization called “The New Life” which is dedicated to researching topics that lead to different ways of living. Things like socialism, environmentalism, intentional living, etc. are the focus of this group. As a non-practicing doctor by training, Ellis has always been curious about the subject of sex. He approaches Addington with the idea of writing a medical book devoted to the study of “inverts,” which was the term used to describe homosexual individuals at the time. Since Addington is a respected writer, Ellis a doctor, and both are married to women, it seems safe enough to write and publish this book without fear of being accused of “inversion” themselves.
Fear of the law is the main theme in this novel. At that time, England still had laws that prohibited homosexual encounters of any kind. Even if the two consenting adults were behind closed doors, there could be extreme legal consequences for those individuals if caught. This is what worries our two main men. Their aim in the book was to show that inversion is natural in some people and insignificant when allowed to exist without restriction, therefore the law must be changed.
Despite the early publication date, I would venture to guess that this will be one of the most honest and interesting novels to be published this year. Crewe weaves the story of two men, along with the many people they love, into a deep and nuanced examination of human desire and the politics of love. Each character introduced is fully developed and adds many moments of intrigue and intent.
Crewe’s ability to write her characters with intention, empathy and thoughtfulness is truly the highlight of this novel. It’s easy to love and hate each character. Take Edith’s lover, Angelica, for example. Angelica is a stubborn, lively and overly idealistic person who loves Edith above all else, and eventually learns to love Henry as well. Henry and Edith’s marriage never became intimate, but Edith lets Angelica know that she cares deeply for Henry, and he remains her husband despite the uniqueness of their arrangement. Angelica seems opposed to this at first and uses their lack of physical intimacy to hurt both Edith and Henry when her feelings get the better of her. Despite her place as a secondary character, Crewe takes the time to delve into Angelica’s motivations and psychology. Instead of making her an easy villain, Crewe invites her readers to love her vivaciousness and condemn her cruelty.
Crewe’s attention to character not only creates a wonderful cast of secondary characters, but he definitely doesn’t skimp on developing his two leads. Both John and Henry paint imposing pictures of literary excellence. The two men could not be more different, but each contributes to the story in such a vital way that without them there would be no story worth telling. John’s entire story unfolds against the backdrop of a family drama that sheds light on how women were often victims of a system that seemed to oppress only gay men. Although John’s wife, Catherine, is not the main focus, the reader gets an intimate look at how John hurt his wife while suffering. John’s repressed desire blinds him to the pain he causes Catherine and as an observer of the marriage the reader can see the ways in which John’s selfish indifference has ruined Catherine’s life despite the compassion a man may feel for his circumstances.
Crewe spares no expense in showing the intricate and complicated ways in which social, political, and societal factors contribute to systemic oppression, and how oppression is consistently multiple. Crewe creates characters, background and plot details that invite the reader into the world of the book. Although this novel is historical fiction, its content can easily be applied to today, and its pages are filled with lines that will ring true for generations.
My favorite line from the entire novel comes after John and Henry find out that the bookseller has been arrested for selling their book for “obscene” material. As Henry worries about what will become of him, John, and the bookstore, the narrator allows us a glimpse into his mind. “He remembered that it was really the fault of all those other people behind and before him, who went through life picking prejudices like flowers from the edge, never thinking about them even though they reeked of death” (296).
This feeling is what the novel is most concerned with. The ways in which individuals internalize ‘normal society’ and alienate people who do not conform to these beliefs. Most of what we perceive as normal is simply an appeal to tradition that prevents progress and growth. We water down our prejudices by appealing to tradition instead of flaunting buttigas of thorns that sting and scratch everyone they come in contact with. People like John Addington and Henry Ellis shed light on the inherent injustice of these systems and beliefs. Despite the danger they put themselves in, the courage it took to simply write their book was astronomical, but these are moments of bravery that resonate through the ages.
“Novi život” as a novel is rich and complex both in terms of language and themes. Tom Crewe has created a fictional world based on real people and events, which allows readers to learn about the past while applying these themes to the present. The relationship between Henry and Edith Ellis remains the pillar of the novel. Their unwavering devotion and understanding of each other is a model for all relationships. On the last page, Henry reveals his fear that his and Addington’s project has ultimately failed. Edith assures him that his project did not fail, it was simply too advanced for its time.
The last few lines reflect: “She stared at the sea. What a shame we can’t all join you there, in the future.”
A New Life by Tom Crewe is a deeply moving novel that takes time to consider the intricacies and complications of love. This novel will appeal to those who enjoy literary fiction, historical fiction, and are interested in LGBTQIA+ issues. Perhaps the plot of this novel is set in the past, but the relevance of its theme only grows.
Aubrey Roemmich is Dakota’s chief student reporter. It can be reached at [email protected]