While England Sleeps Critical Essays

David Leavitt

While England Sleeps

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Leavitt tells his story from the point of view of a fictitious narrator named Brian Botsford, an Oxford-educated aspiring writer in his early twenties. Brian has already had innumerable homosexual contacts but thinks he will eventually outgrow this juvenile phase and settle down to marriage, home, and family. Although he is not particularly interested in politics, he gets drawn into Communist gatherings because so many of his intellectual friends are joining the Party.

The time is 1936. The Spanish Civil War is raging, and liberal sympathies with the Republican cause are inducing many young Englishmen to become card-carrying Communists and even to join international brigades to fight against Generalissimo Franco’s fascists. Brian meets a handsome young working-class homosexual named Edward Phelan at a Communist gathering. They quickly become lovers and begin living together in Brian’s tiny London flat.

Brian’s tyrannical Aunt Constance, who provides him with meager and irregular financial support, keeps pressuring him to get married. She finally matches him up with a young woman named Philippa Archibald who intrigues him because of her intelligence and liberated attitude. He carries on a heterosexual affair with her while maintaining his homosexual relationship with Edward. Eventually, however, Edward finds out about his rival and becomes so distressed that he volunteers to fight for the Republican cause in Spain.


(The entire section is 427 words.)