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In the novel, David Copperfield, when David goes to school, he meets a student names James Steerforth. Confident and handsome, Steerforth is the ultimate cool kid, and David is fascinated by him.
I heard that Miss Creakle was regarded by the school in general as being in love with Steerforth; and I am sure, as I sat in the dark, thinking of his nice voice, and his fine face, and his easy manner, and his curling hair, I thought it very likely.
Steerforth becomes a protector to David, and even appears to admit that David is attractive to him.
"You haven't got a sister have you?" said Steerforth, yawning. "No," I answered. "That's a pity," said Steerforth. "If you had one, I should think she would have been a pretty, timid sort of bright eyed girl..."
To David, Steerforth seems just perfect.
I thought of him very much after I went to bed... with his handsome face turned up, and his head reclining on his arm...
Steerforth proceeds to ask David to read to him at night, and David refers to this arrangement as cementing the intimacy between them. He compares himself to Scheherazade, the fictional queen from One Thousand and One Nights. In the story, Scheherazade reads to the king every night, and after 1001 nights, he has fallen in love with her. So while David is making a joke about reading lots of stories to Steerforth, he is also comparing himself to a Queen, reading to a King, waiting for him to fall in love with her.
I admired and loved him, and his approval was enough. It was so precious to me that I look back on these trifles, now, with an aching heart.
This relationship is fascinating. There is clearly an element of power involved, as well as the natural fascination of a younger student to an older one. But its also true that any exploration of gay passion, even an innocent schoolboy crush had to be explored through the language of brotherhood and fraternity.
There's certainly a language used which, while not overtly sexual in itself, could easily be identified with by gay readers. Its worth remembering that, not withstanding the laws and social restrictions, there were probably as many gay people in the Victorian times as there are today. They were just a bit more hidden.