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A Devastating Tale of War, a Tender Story of Love

The counterintuitive truth about “the love that dare not speak its name” — a late-19th-century term of art for love between men — is that precluding the name “homosexuality,” it was allowed to be quite loud: It was sung, written, verified and moaned about everywhere, from retellings of classical myths to the dormitories of the most prestigious boarding schools. In fact, “Two Loves,” the Lord Alfred Douglas poem the phrase comes from, was published in 1894 in the Oxford student lit mag. This simultaneous ubiquity and unspeakably is the thrumming pulse under Alice Winn’s glorious, addictive debut, “In Memoriam.” As Winn puts it while describing the activities of the most popular boy at Preshute College, where the novel begins: “He could do as he pleased. Not that anyone would ever have said so explicitly — what boys did together in the dark was only acceptable if obscure.” Not silent, not hidden, but obscure: shadowed, unclear, and difficult to grasp, but known and permitted. Set in World War I, “In Memoriam” follows two upper-class schoolboys — Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood — as their limerent, expressed-but-unnamed love drives them to increasingly stupid heights, like volunteering for the war even though neither is yet of age to enlist. Gaunt, the quiet hulk, joins first after he’s publicly tarred as a coward by jingoistic young women who don’t believe he’s a teenager; Ellwood, the popular aesthete and class poet, follows soon after, supposedly in search […]

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