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literature

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Comedy of Manners  
 
page: 1  2  3  

Additionally, gay comedies of manners have excelled at looking inside specific parts of the gay world that dictate their own, very specific, codes of behavior, such as the milieu of Hollywood trophy boys ("self-esteem through steroids") in Doug Guinan's California Screaming (1998), the conflict between Texas drag queens and the religious Right in Lars Eighner's Pawn to Queen Four (1995), or the clash between two sets of behavioral codes that occurs when drag-queen Arnold stumbles into the back room of a leather bar in Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy (1981).

Gay comedy of manners is now so refined that Terrence McNally can adapt to a gay milieu the traditionally heterosexual plot of a weekend in the country--with its resulting misalliances, farcical revelations, and witty banter--for a mixed Broadway audience (Love! Valour! Compassion!, 1994).

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AIDS and the Comedy of Manners

Unfortunately, the AIDS epidemic followed so closely upon the Stonewall revolution that such gay social concerns as handkerchief codes and tea dances, the pecking order of houses at Fire Island, and the etiquette of cruising while at a gay-pride march take on a nostalgic ring in novels such as Christopher Coe's Such Times (1993) and Brad Gooch's Golden Age of Promiscuity (1996).

AIDS has created its own comedy of manners, as when characters in David Feinberg's Eighty-Sixed (1989) and Spontaneous Combustion (1991) and in Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey (1994) debate the proper moment to alert a potential partner that one has anal warts and the polite way to query another's HIV status.

One of the features of post-AIDS culture are the new lifestyle choices, with their resulting social comedies--living as a celibate male, raising the child of one's heterosexual roommate, siring a child by one's heterosexual female best friend--all of which are gently skewered in novelist Stephen McCauley's Object of My Affection (1987), Easy Way Out (1992), and Man of the House (1996). A new gay age fosters different social relationships whose affectations, manners, and trends must be documented in comedy.

Comedy of Manners and Camp

The arch, yet humorous, self-awareness of social foibles that characterizes all of the above-mentioned texts allows comedy of manners to border on camp. Samuel Steward's Phil Andros novels feature a hustler who is wryly aware of the roles that his johns expect him to play and appreciative of the absurdity of the situations he sometimes finds himself in, but is nevertheless unflaggingly exuberant in his indulgence of himself and others.

Steward's novels are the antithesis of John Rechy's sexually serious Numbers (1967) and Sexual Outlaw (1977); Andros possesses a humorous self-awareness that escapes Rechy's protagonists, who invest their promiscuity with portentous existentialist significance.

Similarly, the comic indulgence of behavioral excess brings a camp element to the novels of Ronald Firbank, the drawings of Tom of Finland, the plays of Doric Wilson and Robert Patrick, and the self-proclaimed "ridiculous theater" of Charles Ludlum.

Raymond-Jean Frontain

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   Related Entries
  
literature >> Overview:  AIDS Literature

In the twenty years since its first appearance in the West, AIDS has been the subject of a large body of literature, most of it written by gay men and much of it designed to expose readers as closely as possible to the emergency of the epidemic and the suffering of affected individuals.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, gay male literature became focused as a movement, aided by the development of gay newspapers, magazines, and quarterlies and the founding of serious gay and lesbian bookstores.

literature >> Overview:  Camp

Combining elements of incongruity, theatricality, and exaggeration, camp is a form of humor that helps homosexuals cope with a hostile environment.

literature >> Overview:  Contemporary Drama

Since Stonewall, gay and lesbian drama has flourished, especially in the United States.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Nineteenth Century

From its beginning, the nineteenth century in England had a purposeful homosexual literature of considerable bulk, both male and female, though it was fettered by oppression.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Twentieth-Century

Homosexuality, both male and female, has a rich, divergent, and increasingly open expression in the literature of the twentieth century.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Twentieth Century

The contributions of gay men and lesbians to twentieth-century French literature have been closely intertwined with the course of mainstream literature.

literature >> Overview:  Humor

Like other minority groups, gay men and lesbians have had to develop both a particular sense of humor among themselves in order to make their marginal social status endurable and also a defensive awareness toward the rest of the world in order to disarm their adversaries with laughter.

literature >> Overview:  Modern Drama

Before Stonewall, censorship of the theater caused authors to encode homosexual content in publicly-presented plays.

arts >> Overview:  Musical Theater and Film

The musical has been a significant aspect of American gay male culture, manifesting itself both in diva worship and, more recently, in the presentation of openly gay characters and shows written by gay writers primarily for gay audiences.

literature >> Overview:  Musical Theater

There has always been homosexual involvement in American musical theatre and a homosexual sensibility even in straight musicals, and recently the Broadway musical has welcomed openly homosexual themes and situations.

literature >> Auden, W. H.

One of the most accomplished poets of the twentieth century, W. H. Auden found that his gayness led him to new insights into the universal impulse to love and enlarged his understanding of all kinds of relationships.

literature >> Benson, E. F.

Born of an elite Victorian family, E. F. Benson was a prolific, often campy, writer of biographies, autobiographies, and novels, many of which were informed by homoeroticism.

arts >> Busch, Charles

Actor-writer-director Charles Busch has distinguished himself through his virtuouso performances of "grand dame" characters and through his writing of dramatic vehicles for these roles.

literature >> Byron, George Gordon, Lord

The bisexual Lord Byron treated many of his homosexual love affairs in his poetry, encoding them by the use of classical references or by purporting that they were affairs with women.

literature >> Capote, Truman

Truman Capote's fiction and autobiographical works helped establish what might be called the quintessential homosexual writing style of the 1950s and 1960s.

literature >> Coward, Sir Noël

Although Coward's plays are about heterosexual couples, they are written in the language and spirit of camp and reject traditional domestic values.

literature >> Crisp, Quentin

"Not merely a self-confessed homosexual, but a self-evident one," actor, writer, performance artist, and wit Quentin Crisp left as his most significant legacy an example of courage.

literature >> Feinberg, David B.

In his novels anatomizing gay life at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, David Feinberg used humor as a defense mechanism, a means to avoid madness and despair in a world that had become nightmarishly absurd.

literature >> Fierstein, Harvey

Award-winning Harvey Fierstein is one of the finest gay male playwrights currently working in the American theater.

literature >> Firbank, Ronald

Ronald Firbank's witty, campy novels mock the dominant homophobic, materialistic culture of early twentieth-century England.

literature >> Gale, Patrick

English novelist Patrick Gale draws on his own varied background to explore gay men and lesbians in complex, often dysfunctional family units set within the worlds he finds most meaningful: London, Winchester, and Cornwall.

arts >> Herman, Jerry

A proponent of the "diva musical," Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman made homosexuality the undisguised subject of La Cage aux Folles but he did so just as gay culture lost its need of a diva to voice its concerns.

arts >> Ludlam, Charles

An innovator in the "Theater of the Ridiculous," actor and playwright Charles Ludlam drew on many elements of camp and farce, but never allowed them to obscure the seriousness of his themes.

literature >> Maupin, Armistead

A sharp social critic, novelist Armistead Maupin places his gay characters within a large framework of humanity, creating a social history of San Francisco during the tumultuous decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

literature >> McNally, Terrence

Texas-reared Terrence McNally, whose first play, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, was one of the great scandals of the 1964 New York season, emerged in the 1990s as America's most important gay playwright since Tennessee Williams.

literature >> McCauley, Stephen

A master of the modern comedy of manners, novelist Stephen McCauley has been praised for his shrewd observations about contemporary morals, his tart dialogue and ironic tone, and his charming, self-deprecating gay male protagonists.

literature >> Mordden, Ethan

Best known for his four volumes of short fiction comprising a series of interconnected stories about gay life in New York City, Ethan Mordden is also the author of novels and over twenty works of nonfiction on opera, film, and musical theater.

literature >> Orton, Joe

The gay British playwright Joe Orton, an important precursor of the queer literary movement, is perhaps the finest writer of farce in the twentieth century.

literature >> Patrick, Robert

Robert Patrick is a founding father of gay drama in America and an influence in the development of gay drama in England.

literature >> Petronius

Petronius' Satyricon is both the best evidence for homosexual behavior at the height of the Roman Empire and one of the most bumptious homoerotic picaresque narratives ever written.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> Rechy, John

In his novels about hustling, preeminently City of Night and Numbers, John Rechy moves from the world of homosexual behavior into the world of gay identity.

literature >> Rochester, John Wilmot, Earl of

In his poetry and his dramatic farce Sodom, the Restoration rake Rochester depicts heterosexual love as imperfect or incomplete and offers homosexual intercourse as a natural alternative.

arts >> Rudnick, Paul

Out American playwright, novelist, and screenwriter Paul Rudnick brings a gently subversive wit to all of his projects.

arts >> Shores, Del

Playwright and screenwriter Del Shores explores the intersection of Southern culture and glbtq culture with empathy and humor; he has also been active in championing equal rights.

arts >> Sondheim, Stephen

One of the most innovative talents of the musical theater in the second half of the twentieth century, Stephen Sondheim has only indirectly reflected his homosexuality in his work.

arts >> Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen)

Defiantly rejecting the invisibility, homophobia, and indignities of pre-Stonewall life, the men in Tom of Finland's drawings reflect a hyper-masculine, working-class version of homosexual manhood that proved important to the emerging gay rights movement.

literature >> Toole, John Kennedy

Novelist John Kennedy Toole expressed sympathy for the socially marginalized and animosity towards the powers that enforce conformity, but he was never comfortable with his own homosexuality and presents sexual non-conformity in highly conflicted ways.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.

literature >> Wilson, Doric

A pioneer in the development of contemporary gay theater, Doric Wilson has been instrumental in Off-Off-Broadway theater in New York City since the early 1960s.


    Bibliography
   

Clum, John. Acting Gay: Male Homosexuality in Modern Drama. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Hirst, David L. Comedy of Manners. London: Methuen, 1979.

Kiernan, Robert F. Frivolity Unbound: Six Masters of the Camp Novel. New York: Continuum, 1990.

Marranca, Bonnie and Gautam Dasgupta, eds. Theatre of the Ridiculous. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, for PAJ Publications, 1998.

Raby, Peter, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Frontain, Raymond-Jean  
    Entry Title: Comedy of Manners  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 17, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/comedy_manners.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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