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Rupert Brooke



The most famous of the British “war poets” rising to prominence during the First World War, Rupert Brooke combined literary talent with legendary good looks. That he died as a young soldier at the height of his beauty and popularity assured his fame in a way that his poetry alone could not. By the time he was graduated from Cambridge he had earned the sobriquet of “the Handsomest Man in England”, and it is difficult now to disentangle his literary merit from his dazzling celebrity.

While an undergraduate he attracted the amorous attentions of both men and women, but it was not until 1909, at the age of twenty-two, that he had his first sexual encounter. It was with a man. He described his seduction of Denham Russell-Smith (a former fellow student at Rugby) in some detail. (“My right hand got hold of the left half of his bottom, clutched it, and pressed his body into me. The smell of sweat began to be noticeable. At length we took to rolling to and fro over each other, in the excitement.”)

James Strachey, brother of Lytton Strachey of the Bloomsbury Group, fell deeply in love with Brooke, and while the poet did not return the intensity of feeling, he did hold Strachey in high regard. The two men exchanged correspondence for the last decade of Brooke’s life. While on a trip to America in 1913, Brooke made a brief visit to Berkeley, staying at the Carleton Hotel on the corner of Telegraph and Durant. He wrote to Strachey from the hotel:

2 October 1913
Hotel Carlton
Berkeley, California

My dear James,
Thank you for your birthday letter: my only one. It blew in sometime in the middle of September — at Nanaimo [British Columbia], was it? or way back at Field? I forget.

I hope you got my enclosures from T’ronto. They weren’t meant to distress you. Only to show you how frightfully life’s everywhere the same.

I hope you’re fairly well, fairly good, & fairly happy.


Brooke had been staying in San Francisco for a few days. He makes no mention of what he was doing in Berkeley, but it is possible that he made the ferry trip over from the City in order to witness an annual all-male Cal tradition being re-enacted that very evening: the Pajamarino. For many years, on one night in October male undergraduates gathered for an evening of skits and stunts wearing only their pajamas. The tradition is believed to have originated in a male nightgown parade first held in October of 1901.

Read More About It

  • Rupert Brooke. Friends and Apostles: the Correspondence of Rupert Brooke and James Strachey, 1905-1914 / edited by Keith Hale (New Haven : Yale University Press, 1998)
  • Paul Delany. The Neo-pagans: Rupert Brooke and the Ordeal of Youth (New York : The Free Press, 1987)
  • “Rupert Brooke,” in Gay & Lesbian Literature (Detroit, MI : St. James, 1994-1998)

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