DTA research seminar: Emma Parker (Leicester) - The Joe Orton Diaries: Love, Death and Wolfenden

Selly Oak Campus - venue TBC
Wednesday 4 December 2019 (16:00-17:30)

  • DTA research seminar

Best known for his three stage plays, Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964), Loot (1966) and What the Butler Saw (1969), Joe Orton also produced one of the most (in)famous diaries in literary history. By considering the diary as a privileged form of expression for sexual minorities in the pre-Stonewall era, this paper challenges the prevailing view that the diaries explain Orton’s sensational murder in terms of Kenneth Halliwell’s professional and sexual insecurity. Often seen as chronicling a relationship in decline, the diaries in fact acknowledge the life and love that Orton shared with Halliwell; posthumous publication ensured the lasting visibility of a partnership that Orton was compelled to elide in public before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. The political significance of the diaries is further reassessed by reading them as a response to the Wolfenden Report (1957). Rather than implying that Orton’s promiscuity was the catalyst for Halliwell’s deadly rage, the diaries counter the construction of a ‘respectable’ homosexual deserving of social acceptance through a candid record of public, group and (what became in 1967) underage sex. Overall, this re-reading of The Orton Diaries opposes the narrative of tragic queerness that typically defines Orton’s life, casting new light on his relationship with Halliwell and on the diary as a form of queer protest.

Emma Parker (University of Leicester) works on postwar and contemporary literature, especially women's writing and issues relating to gender and sexuality. She is  a founder member of the Contemporary Women's Writing Association and a former co-editor of  the journal Contemporary Women's Writing (2012-2017), published by Oxford University Press and winner of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals' 'Best New Journal' award (2009). She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Orlando women's writing project (Cambridge University Press) and the Advisory Board of the journal Writers in Conversation