Title: Jeb and Dash: A Diary of Gay Life, 1918-1945
Author: Ina Russell, editor
Genre: Biography, Memoir, History
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Price: Out of Print
Here is the journal of Jeb Alexander, a gay man who lived in Washington, D.C. during the first half of the 20th century. Documents his life and details the joy and anguish of his on-and-off love affair with college chum C.C. Dasham.
This book took me months to read and even though I was tempted to set it aside more than once, I’m glad I was patient enough to see it through to the end.
This is a condensed version of Jeb’s diary edited by his niece, Ina Russell, starting from when Jeb was 12 years old and ending a year before his death in 1965. This diary covers the years between 1918 and 1959. I loved the glimpse of history between two world wars, politics, famous personalities, plays, literature, music, observations on life and the world, and the details about gay life in a time when the word “gay” had a different meaning and homosexuality was a crime. I presume Ina Russell left out many details of Jeb’s cruising in Lafayette Square to spare the sensibilities of mainstream readers, but I think these details would have added some spice and richness and shown how dangerous and difficult gay life was for many people.
Jeb meets Dash while in college and throughout his story relays his deep affection for him. Even though his feelings are not returned, the two men remain friends for many years.
August 25, 1920
“I have at last found a friend, a lovable, handsome fellow, a realization of the friend I have dreamed of during all those lonely nights while I walked alone through the streets.”
February 11, 1921
“I want love and affection. Damn it! All that Stevenson said about journals is true. This diary of mine is a tissue of posturing. My real thoughts on such matters as sex are not admitted even to myself. I will be frank. I am madly in love with C. C. Dasham.”
July 16, 1927
“Returned home tired and nervous. Dinner with Dash. His entrancing personality so enthralls me! So beautiful, so beautiful. I would do anything for him.”
August 1, 1936
“Dash got his ticket, checked his bag, and gave me a strong handclasp. The goodness, sweetness, and steadfastness of his loyal, generous nature shone from his wide, serious, green eyes. That may sound like a rhapsody, but it’s God’s truth.”
The love pouring from Jeb’s words made me sad, knowing that he and Dash were not meant to be. I wish Jeb had moved on and found someone else to love. I also wish he would have fulfilled his aspirations of becoming a writer instead of spending many lonely nights drinking and journaling about his sad life.
The center of the book contains photos of Jeb, Jeb and Dash, Jeb’s family, a copy of a handwritten page in his diary, and places he’s lived in and visited. I would have liked to see some photos of the friends who meant so much to him.
There was some lovely, evocative writing here and a sense of immediacy, particularly in the last section during the World War Two years. There were also a lot of mundane details and too much repetition, some of which became tedious to read.
I would recommend this to those interested in gay history, the history of Washington, D.C., and the impact significant historical events have on individual lives.