A case-study of sexuality

Percy Grainger's face, blurred, obscuring the reflection of his naked body.
Percy Grainger: a self portrait of flagellation.

The Grainger Museum provided a rich context for student seminars in the 3rd year subject HIST30004 A History of Sexualities, coordinated by Dr Una McIlvenna, Hansen Lecturer in History. A History of Sexualities explores how sexual practices and identities have evolved, been represented and expressed, from prehistory to the present day.  Students in the subject explore the ways in which sexualities have multiple histories and how they remain highly contested in the majority of cultures.

As the students learnt in their seminars, the Grainger Museum offers a rare opportunity to explore aspects of auto-eroticism and flagellation for sexual gratification in a case-study of Percy Grainger, including the social contexts of his practices and attitudes to his sexuality expressed by himself, his family and friends. Having explored Freud in lectures in the same week as the Grainger visit, students were fascinated to see how Grainger himself rejected Freudian analysis, writing in response to a letter from his close friend Alfhild Sandby in 1936:

...I have certainly never felt an instinct in connection with sex…. I am a complete enigma to myself, a riddle which I do not in the least wish to solve. My nature, my personality, does not interest me in the least. I only want to give a scientific account of myself, in music & in history… I do not know what you mean by ‘developing personality’… I don’t care a straw about god & eternity because I am quite complete as I am. I don’t have to behave morally – I am good. In other words, I am an Australian!

The more I learn about Percy Grainger the more questions I have and the more conflicted my view on him becomes. The Grainger Museum is a true example of just how complex an individual person can be. It's great that everyone can have access to this and learn more about such an intriguing and multi-faceted man. Chelsea Richards, Third Year History and Italian student.