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While England Sleeps

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  1,260 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
Leavitt has earned high praise for his empathetic portrayal of human sexuality and the complexities of intimate relationships. In While England Sleeps, available for the first time in two years, he moves beyond precisely controlled domestic drama to create a historical novel, set against the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, that tells a story of love and the violent chaos ...more
Paperback, Revised version, 309 pages
Published June 25th 1998 by Abacus UK
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Maurice by E.M. ForsterBrokeback Mountain by Annie ProulxThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGiovanni's Room by James BaldwinThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Best Gay Fiction
77th out of 1,403 books — 1,746 voters
Maurice by E.M. ForsterBrokeback Mountain by Annie ProulxGiovanni's Room by James BaldwinThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeA Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Classic Gay Male Literature
18th out of 123 books — 87 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,381)
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Christy B
Initial reaction:

Argh, my heart.

Actual review:

Sometimes, when I finish a book, I loved it so much that I have to write a review right away, However, sometimes, a book affects me so, that I need a few days to decompress. This is the latter.

While England Sleeps takes place in 1930s Europe. It's told from the point of view of Brian Botsford, an upper class amateur writer, and tells of the relationship he has with Edward Phelan, a working class boy and Communist.

That's all you're getting out of me
Aleksandr Voinov
Enjoyed this.

Interesting plagiarism debate:

The plagiarised:

The plagiariser:
Steve Woods
Nov 29, 2014 Steve Woods rated it it was amazing
I read this book in a single sitting, I couldn't put it down. The trajectory of the relationship and the pathos of Brian's denial of what all dream of, passionate love and simple commitment (whether it is ever possible to achieve either in the form presented in this story or not is another question), and the subsequent loss of all through the meaningless and unecessary death of Edward, had me pinned in ways I would never have expected. Much of the intensity the story carried for me, may have had ...more
Aug 08, 2013 Adam rated it it was amazing
I may be adding this to my favorite shelf in the next couple days. Yes, this is a title parody of Winston Churchill's 1938 While England Slept. Leavitt's While England Sleeps takes place in 1936-1937 and focuses on a young man's coming to age story in London.

Brian Botsford, the main character, along with his Oxford classmates, Nigel, John, and Rupert are in a different caste and rebel for the cause against the rising Fascist power in Spain. Edward Phelan, with Communist beliefs, falls in love wi
Karen Wellsbury
Apr 07, 2015 Karen Wellsbury rated it really liked it
This was an intriguing read for me, I love this period, Laurie Lees As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morningis one of my favourite books, and there are similarities (which is a good thing)
I also like the casual way that sex was sometimes dealt with in the 1930's, at times.
This started off so well, it was funny, there is scene where an elderly relative writes a letter praising the way that he's dealing with Germany, where I spat water out. Brian and Edwards romance starts off gloriously, and I was s
Apr 06, 2013 JOSEPH OLIVER rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay, novel
I don't have the language for book reviews and have no wish to repeat what other reviewers have said in much better English. I found the book very engrossing and showed a flawed main character who lives with the results of his behaviour for the rest of his life. Although it sounds dramatic it could in fact happen to anyone - not knowing whether something you did or left undone would have affected someone else's life profoundly. I read the book straight through and regretted finishing it so quick ...more
Apr 20, 2015 Nancy rated it did not like it
Dreadful. The plagiarism alone would justify one star, but even on its own merits the book fails. It's chock-full of solecisms about both England and Spain in the 30s, making it obvious even in ignorance of the facts that Leavitt must have borrowed heavily - when he wasn't engaged in outright fantasy. A truly ridiculous book.
Jun 11, 2010 Erastes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay-historical
From the blurb:

At a meeting of republican sympathisers in London, Brian Botsford, a young middle-class writer and Cambridge graduate, meets Edward Phelan, an idealistic, self-educated London Underground worker. They share a mutual attraction. Across the divisions of class they begin an affair in secrecy.

But Edward posesses “an unproblematic capacity to accept” Brian and the love that dare not speak its name, whereas Brian is more cautious and under family pressure agrees to be set up with a suit
Ozmar Pedroza
Aug 06, 2016 Ozmar Pedroza rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"Así que huyes de los causantes de dolor, vas a un sitio nuevo, intentas convencerte de que el viejo sitio no existe, que la distancia borra la historia."

Una maravillosa historia sobre un amor roto, representado en una cadena de autoengaños y de decisiones que terminan por dañar a las personas más queridas. A pesar de que, desde el inicio, hay un presentimiento de la tragedia amorosa que se avecina, David Leavitt ofrece un relato extraordinario que presenta a sus personajes como humanos, con exc
Mar 24, 2013 Kelsey rated it really liked it
I'm pretty much obsessed with David Leavitt's short stories, and it turns out his writing is just as amazing in novel form. While England Sleeps is the story of a love affair in 1930s Europe between Brian, an upper-class writer, and the poor but optimistic Edward. Politics and class play a huge role in their relationship,as do struggles with identity and sexuality. Leavitt definitely knows how to tell a compelling story; I couldn't stop turning the pages of this book any more than I could Collec ...more
Shawn Thrasher
Oct 13, 2012 Shawn Thrasher rated it it was amazing
I fell right into the deep end of David Leavitt's While England Sleeps and only came up for air when I absolutely had to. The first half of the book is incredibly romantic and occasionally witty (sometimes hilarious) and details the sexual encounters of two twenty-something young Englishmen from different sides of the tracks (or in this case, the Tube), who are exploring each other's bodies (and Communism) for the very first time. The backdrop is the dark days of the 1930s, when the everything s ...more
May 31, 2012 Clare rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 31, 2010 Brian rated it it was amazing
Europe between world wars was watching the surge of fascism grow in both Germany and Spain where a fascist rebellion, led by Franco, was fighting to over throw the democratic government. The title refers to England’s hands off policy for Spain. Meanwhile thousands of young people from Europe and North America were volunteering to fight Franco’s fascists.

Brian is a upper class young man who believes that he is not really gay but having fun until it is time to settle down and marry. His lover, Edw
La Stamberga dei Lettori
Il libro proietta il lettore nella toccante storia d’amore tra Brian ed Edward: due caste sociali a confronto che si ritrovano, si scontrano e si cercano nelle pieghe di un’epoca storica incoerente e malefica, ma comunque ricca di fascino.
I due giovani si amano tra contrasti e incoerenze, in un valzer emotivo che li slancia, li allontana e poi li pone uno alla ricerca dell’altro: per quanto Brian creda che la loro storia non possa funzionare, arrivando anche a tradire il giovane e ad abbandonarl
Michael Gao
Jan 12, 2016 Michael Gao rated it it was amazing
The numerous graphic gay sex scenes, which are unapologetically pornographic, are not always pleasant to read through, especially when they drag on for pages, but they are worth enduring for the content of the book.

A great depiction of the post-Edwardian era England told through the life of Brian Botsford, an incredibly unlikeable character from beginning to end, as he attempts to deal with his own sexuality, something he believes he will one day outgrow, and love for Edward, a poor, self-educa
Richard Jespers
Jan 21, 2015 Richard Jespers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the novel at many levels: the coming-of-age aspect, "coming out" (as if) in England in the 1930s, the history, the confessional tone of the narrator.

Quickly read Gary Glickman’s story, “Spirit House,” which is ostensibly about David L. when he and Glickman were together. Funny, the characters seemed oddly similar, regardless of the author. Brian B. & “my friend” (unnamed) were both callous, self-absorbed, interested in superficial sex.

I believe Glickman may be the better writer tho
Aug 29, 2014 Jon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who enjoy gay/historical fiction
Recommended to Jon by: myself, after reading The Lost Language of Cranes
This novel is brilliant. David Leavitt's writing style and subject matter, as he takes on class differences and social/sexual situations is similar to James Baldwin (author of Giovanni's Room). With a cast of strong characters, this book soars from the beginning, and the plot makes it very difficult to put down. The setting is 1936, and the events leading up to World War II are in full swing. Brian Botsford is invited to a meeting of the Communist Party, and he decides to attend out of curiosity ...more
Feb 20, 2013 Quinn rated it it was amazing
I'm on a roll lately with the "what might have been " ilk. This was right up that alley and quite well written. That being said I can understand how there was a lawsuit involved with its first publication. I think mr. Leavitt should have just owned up to it. In an interview I read that he gave to some magazine regarding the suit he all but does admit his faux pas but at the same time seems to think he somehow should've been exempt.
Oct 11, 2007 James rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Having stayed up too late to finish this book, I can't get to sleep now, troubled by the truth it tells of love being always out of sync. And the truth of hoping to be haunted by a long-lost love when, in fact, dead is dead. The narrator's fantasy in the final paragraph is powerful enough to bear the weight of the novel--a beautiful wish he can't let go of and that won't let go of him but that, either way, will never come true.
Feb 09, 2016 n rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I understand there was an apparent plagiarism issue with this book but I can't find a lot about it online so I'm just not going to focus on it in the review. I am going to look up the author who sued though and read his own work eventually. And I don't know nearly enough about the Spanish Revolution of 1936 so I need to find books on that as well.

I really got attached to this story and the characters quickly. The prose was fluid and engaging, the author set up 1930s England very well, the charac
Jul 22, 2008 Kevin rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer-fiction
A nice stab at historical gay romance. Leavitt's at his best I think in his contemporary work, especially his short stories, but this one was sweet, and not your typical "it's rough being gay in olden times" story. This was a pleasant diversion.
Aug 20, 2007 ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: gay men
Yes I know that by all literary standards this is trite... BUT sometimes it has its place. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I'm all swooning over "Edward". Aaaahh.
Ryan: Thanks for suggesting this one.
Chris Cooke
Oct 09, 2011 Chris Cooke rated it it was amazing
While England Sleeps is my current favorite book! I'm not usually big on reading fiction, but the Leavitt's attention to detail, and writing style has made me a believer.
Andrew Gray
Aug 25, 2011 Andrew Gray rated it it was amazing
Just when you think the sad part is over, it gets sadder. That last scene driving in the car? A pain that stays with you forever . . .
Alessandro Margheriti
Un romanzo bellissimo e sconvolgente, scritto con eleganza e intelligenza, che mentre addita provocatoriamente i vizi dell'età vittoriana getta un incisivo slogan sulla libertà sessuale.
Non mancano le questioni politiche (comunismo vs fascismo, nazismo, falangismo ecc) né le tematiche personali: il percorso esistenziale del protagonista è commovente, egli raggiungerà la consapevolezza della sua omosessualità ma troppo tardi, e a caro prezzo.
A far da sfondo a tutto questo, un'Inghilterra che dorm
Vfields Don't touch my happy!
This was a solid novel with well written characters. WW2
Dec 26, 2011 Lora rated it it was amazing
Favorite book of 1993...
Matt Rohweder
Whenever LGBT literature arises in conversation it is not at all uncommon for the name David Leavitt to feature heavily in that conversation. His novel, The Lost Language of Cranes, has become a mainstay of gay fiction - appearing on best of lists, queer literature course syllabi, featured in LGBT book clubs and so on. The name Leavitt often goes hand in hand with Gore Vidal, Edmund White, Alan Hollinghurst and, when I saw a copy of this book at my local library, I figured it was a g ...more
Brian McLaughlin
Oct 29, 2015 Brian McLaughlin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A remarkable exploration of the human condition during the obvious political and social turbulence of the 1940s in England. Not exactly a thrilling page-turner, clearly not a reissued shitlicker written by James Patterson. Although much of the plot seems drab and clouded with boring disillusionment, the novel is a very complex work which details changes in the modern psyche of a relationship and of the interactions between sex and love and passion and romance and friendship, etc. This increasing ...more
Jan 12, 2013 Hey-You rated it liked it

While England Sleeps was many things: a political book, a regretful story of love lost, a class study, a tragedy, but I felt the main theme that shined through in the narrator was selfishness. True, the novel itself was incredibly ambitious, sometimes overwrought and dramatic, but the narrator was self-aware and a trust-worthy reporter, especially as the story is told by the narrator many years later, looking back.

The time and setting were relatively faithful, the novel itself was reminiscent of
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Leavitt is a graduate of Yale University and a professor at the University of Florida, where he is the co-director of the creative writing program. He is also the editor of Subtropics magazine, The University of Florida's literary review.

Leavitt, who is openly gay, has frequently explored gay issues in his work. He divides his time between Florida and Tuscany, Italy.
More about David Leavitt...

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“I could hear the knock and whistle of the water pipes, the purr of the calico cat. And at that moment a happiness filled me that was pure and perfect and yet it was bled with despair - as if I had been handed a cup of ambrosial nectar to drink from and knew that once I finished drinking, the cup would be withdrawn forever, and nothing to come would ever taste as good.” 6 likes
“To start with, at that time I'd gone to bed with probably three dozen boys, all of them either German or English; never with a woman. Nonetheless -- and incredible thought it may seem -- I still assumed that a day would come when I would fall in love with some lovely, intelligent girl, whom I would marry and who would bear me children. And what of my attraction to men? To tell the truth, I didn't worry much about it. I pretended my homosexuality was a function of my youth, that when I "grew up" it would fall away, like baby teeth, to be replaced by something more mature and permanent. I, after all, was no pansy; the boy in Croydon who hanged himself after his father caught him in makeup and garters, he was a pansy, as was Oscar Wilde, my first-form Latin tutor, Channing's friend Peter Lovesey's brother. Pansies farted differently, and went to pubs where the barstools didn't have seats, and had very little in common with my crowd, by which I meant Higel and Horst and our other homosexual friends, all of whom were aggressively, unreservedly masculine, reveled in all things male, and held no truck with sissies and fairies, the overrefined Rupert Halliwells of the world. To the untrained eye nothing distinguished us from "normal" men.

Though I must confess that by 1936 the majority of my friends had stopped deluding themselves into believing their homosexuality was merely a phase. They claimed, rather, to have sworn off women, by choice. For them, homosexuality was an act of rebellion, a way of flouting the rigid mores of Edwardian England, but they were also fundamentally misogynists who would have much preferred living in a world devoid of things feminine, where men bred parthenogenically. Women, according to these friends, were the “class enemy” in a sexual revolution. Infuriated by our indifference to them (and to the natural order), they schemed to trap and convert us*, thus foiling the challenge we presented to the invincible heterosexual bond.

Such thinking excited me - anything smacking of rebellion did - but it also frightened me. It seemed to me then that my friends’ misogyny blinded them to the fact that heterosexual men, not women, had been up until now, and would probably always be, their most relentless enemies. My friends didn’t like women, however, and therefore couldn’t acknowledge that women might be truer comrades to us than the John Northrops whose approval we so desperately craved. So I refused to make the same choice they did, although, crucially, I still believed it was a choice.”
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