Alan Turing’s letters reveal his private struggle


Alan Turing's letters
Alan Turing

Excerpts from Alan Turing’s letters offer a glimpse into the anguish the famed codebreaker endured in his final days.

Turing’s brilliant mind was instrumental in ending the Second World War. His invention of the modern computer enabled the cracking of the Nazi’s Enigma Code. However, his life ended in tragedy when he died at age 41, probably by suicide. Previously arrested for engaging in homosexual acts in the 1950s, he underwent chemical castration.

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The letters originally wrote the letters to friend and literary scholar Nick Furbank. Turing’s nephew, Sir Dermot Turing, now owns the correspondence. An upcoming book Prof: Alan Turing Decoded will include the correspondence.

The excerpts show Turing’s struggle with the pressure places on him to ‘turn straight’ and his relationship with his mother who tried to support her son through his darkest days.

Alan Turing’s letters

Some of the letters date from the period in his life after he underwent the ‘cure’ for his homosexuality.

“I have had a dream indicating rather clearly that I am on the way to being hetero, though I don’t accept it with much enthusiasm either awake or in the dreams.

“Mother has been staying here, and we seem to be getting on a good deal better. I have been subjecting her to a good deal of sexual enlightenment and she seems to have stood up to it very well. There was a rather absurd dream I had the other night in which I asked mother’s opinion about going to bed with some men and she said: ‘Oh very well, but don’t go walking about the place naked like you did before.’”

When discussing an upcoming trip abroad, Turing’s sexual confusion was again evident.

“I expect to lie in the sun, talk French and modern Greek, and make love, though the sex and nationality… has yet to be decided. In fact, it is quite possible that this item will be altogether omitted.

“I want a permanent relationship and I might feel inclined to reject anything which of its nature could not be permanent.”

Sir Dermot Turing

Sir Dermot Turing described the letters as a ‘very interesting’ insight into a particularly complex individual. In many respects, Allan Turing proved as difficult to decipher as the complex codes he managed to decipher.

“At the same time that he was having his psychotherapy, and… his hormones taken out… [the correspondence] indicates that he was in a good deal of turmoil, which… has historically been what everyone had assumed, but now is confirmed.”

Sir Dermot said he found the insight offered into the mother-son relationship depicted in the letters intriguing.

“There has been a tendency to ‘soppify’ this relationship, assuming that everything was tender and lovely whereas I am absolutely sure it was more complex and with some dark shades. This correspondence confirms that.”

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The 2014 film The Imitation Game depicted Turing’s life. Prior to that, in 2013, Queen Elizabeth II officially decreed a pardon for Turing’s 1950s conviction. Earlier this year, his notebook sold for $1 million.

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