Early in “The Line of Beauty”, it
becomes clear how the society in the 1980s viewed homosexuality with the case
of Hector Maltby, a junior minister in the Foreign Office, who “had been caught
with a rent boy in his Jaguar.”(The Line of Beauty,) While discussing the
subject in the Feddens house, Nick feels “as if he’d been caught in a
Jaguar himself”() because of the tension in the kitchen and because he
knows just exactly how Gerald and Rachel feel about homosexuality. Nick feels
restrained and shy when he is around Gerald after this talk.

The Feddens like to think that they keep their
social image by not mentioning “delicate” subjects. An example of
this is visible when Catherine’s godfather and Rachel’s friend Pat dies. Rachel
and Gerald try to hide the actual reason for Pat’s death by saying that he died
of pneumonia whereas he actually died of AIDS. This outrages Catherine, and she
makes her family face the truth of Pat’s death. The desire to uphold an image
of “respectability” in the upper-class society prevented these people
from openly discussing homosexuality which was considered as a taboo.

 

Sally Tipper, the wife of Sir Maurice Tipper, is
ready to criticise anyone whose lifestyle is not “proper” for her.
When talking about Pat’s death with Sir Maurice and Nick, she implies that Pat
had it brought AIDS on himself by having sex with men, and says that the
homosexuals are “going to have to learn.” After Nick’s statement
about oral sex, Sally asks if Nick meant kissing. “Nick went on
flatteringly. . .’there are other things one can do. I mean there’s oral sex. .
.’ Sally took this stoically. ‘Kissing, you mean.’ ” (The Line of
Beauty,)  Turning a blind eye and
adopting a “see no evil, speak no evil” policy is the way these conservatives
of upper-class live.

Nick’s first lover, Leo Charles, takes him to his
house where he lives with his sister and his religious mother. Mrs Charles, who
is Leo’s mother, does not accept that his son was gay even after his death
caused by AIDS. Her choice to stay silent and not talk about his son’s
homosexuality is fueled by her intense religious belief. Leo’s sister Rosemary
makes clear that Mrs Charles chooses to close her ears to the fact his son
loved and had sex with men.    ”
‘She doesn’t accept he was gay. It’s a mortal sin, you see,’ said Rosemary, and
now the Jamaican stress was satirical. . .’And her son was no sinner.’ ” (The
Line..) Mrs Charles likes to think that Leo got AIDS “off a toilet seat at
the office, which is full of godless socialists.” (The Line of) In
addition to Leo, his sister Rosemary is a homosexual. Gemma, who is her lover,
knows that Mrs Charles will never be okay with Rosemary’s homosexuality, and
will never accept this fact. Mrs Charles’s attitude towards homosexuality is
the reflection of conservatives.

The homosexuals, unlike the heterosexuals, were
not able to meet in public places and be open about their sexuality in the
Thatcher era. Nick and Leo cannot find a place to meet and feel comfortable
without people judging them. The two cannot even talk on the phone without the
stare of Gerald: “Gerald looked at him again as if to say that the brute
reality of gay life, of actual phone calls between shirt-lifters, was rather
more than he had ever imagined being asked to deal with. . .”(TLB) After
their first date, they cannot find a place to be alone together because there
is not a single place they know where they will not be stared at and judged
because of the intense homophobia at the time.

The fear of coming out is apparent with Wani
Ouradi, Nick’s upper-class lover with whom he has an affair. The novel gives
many examples of how the upper-class society in the 1980s view homosexuality
and disapprove and judge it. As part of this circle, Wani feels repressed and
does not openly live his “actual” life because of his heterosexist
father. As revealed later in the novel, Wani’s mother pays Martine to keep her
pretending to be Wani’s fiancee. This fact surprises Nick who never noticed
that Martine was given an allowance, and realises what a lie Wani has been
living. ” ‘What are you going to do about Martine?’ said Nick. ‘Oh, just the
same. She’ll carry on getting her allowance, at least until she marries. . .’ ”
(The Line of Beauty,) Wani and his mother are afraid that Wani’s father will
find about his homosexuality, so Wani reveals to Nick that his son having a
fiancee is “his last illusion.” (The Line,)

Nick wants to feel part of the Feddens family,
but Gerald’s attitude towards homosexuality and his stern belief in a society
which is only heteronormative keeps Nick from being himself around Gerald and
Rachel. As he is a gay man not of upper-class, Nick is doubly marginalised in
the 1980s Britain. His uncertain status in the household and society makes him
“dangerous” in the eyes of homophobic society. At the end of the
novel, right after Gerald’s affair makes the news and Wani’s illness is heard,
Nick is chosen as the scapegoat and is humiliated and sent out of the Feddens
house. The conversation he has with Gerald right before the end of the novel
demonstrates how he likes to play the ignorant man who has no knowledge of gay life.
When Gerald mentions Martine, Nick tells him the truth about Wani and Martine’s
nonexistent relationship. ” ‘Oh yes, but she wasn’t actually his
girlfriend.’  ‘No, no, they were going to
get married.’ ‘They might have got married, but it was just a front, Gerald.
She was only a paid companion.’ . . .The facts of gay life had always been a
taboo for him.” (TLB)