Ernest Frost, the Dark Peninsula
Ernest Frost (born 1918) was an English novelist and poet. The setting of his first novel, The Dark Peninsula (John Lehmann, 1949), is southern Italy toward the close of World War II. A group of British soldiers are occupying the region, and the first two to be introduced are Lieutenant “Mully” Mulholland and Private Arnold Thompson, who enjoy an uneasy friendship. Something is obviously strange here, when the latter looks at Mulholland and wants “to run his fingers over the jaw, to feel that light stubble of beard which glinted in the daylight” (p. 12). The reality is that Mulholland does not care for Thompson, grows genuinely to dislike him, and that both men are heterosexual. The gay member of the group is their commanding officer, Colonel Judd. A publisher before the war, he had been in love with a young poet, identified only as “A,” whom Mulholland also knew and admired. Thompson makes no secret of his hatred for Judd, who has fallen in love with the young private and who secretly rescues him from drowning:
A bobbing head I swam to, and it was he whom I love. How can you, you say, a man of my age love the least of these? But I’ll tell you for why. . . . He couldn’t recognize me. Not him. He thought I was someone else, someone kind and nice. He doesn’t like me, but he never thinks I see in him the real need to continue. (p. 112)
The affection is not returned by Thompson, who sees in Judd only “a rotten predatory spoiler of young men” (p. 194). It is Thompson’s rejection that leads Judd to force himself on another private, little more than a boy, named Kent. “There was something very lithe about his movements, something that made Judd continue to stare at him closely. The face came out of nostalgia. It surely had an element of
A’s profile” (p. 169). A hopelessly lost and despairing Colonel Judd, who hates the war and the situation in which it has placed him, sexually assaults Kent, although the circumstances of the attack are not revealed. Judd is reassigned, and Thompson, without the unknown protection of the colonel, is sent to the front line.