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literature

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English Literature: Twentieth-Century  
 
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It is under the inspiration of political causes that are collective in the broadest meaning of the term, and not specific to an erotic "type," that Auden moves away from writing in the difficult, not-popular styles of modernist poetry, and toward poetic forms that, however elaborate, are part of a long tradition of public-minded plainness in verse.

Isherwood shares Auden's aim to merge the specificity of homosexual desire and experience with a general public concern, but he also vividly dissents from the aim. In the extraordinary memoir Christopher and His Kind 1929-1939 (1976), Isherwood recounts his first decade as a writer in a way that connects his homosexuality to his particular history of conflicts with fascism and imperialism.

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England's enemy Germany, the agent of Isherwood's father's death in World War I, provided the post-war era with a homosexual mecca, thus impelling Isherwood to reside there, where he gathered material for the novels The Last of Mr. Norris (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939).

His German lovers, one in special, inspired Isherwood to keep them out of the German army and war, and gave Isherwood's life a crucial antinationalist, antimilitarist determination. The general object of the determination is the idea of a sexual "kind," a queer international nation whose allegiance is to pacificism and to solidarity with "deviants" excluded from the life of citizens.

In accordance with allegiance to this kind, on the eve of World War II, both Auden and Isherwood immigrated to America. Isherwood intended to became a conscientious objector; he found a motive for his decision in Eastern mysticism, partly because, under Western eyes, the latter had seemed a queer form of religion.

Yet Isherwood's pacifism is not only a result of his homosexual position; it is partly the reflex of a personal and stylistic modesty, which means to show its solidarity with ordinary public democratic norms. And even as Isherwood insists on the specifically homosexual character of his history, he also insists on his right as a novelist to an artistic detachment from exclusive preoccupation with his own sexuality.

In their commitment to finding personal and social norms, Auden and Isherwood revise the aspects of homosexual tradition: Wilde's brittleness, Firbank's high camp, Maugham's and Coward's glitter, are moderated by these later writers toward something stylistically and thematically more direct and spontaneous.

Denton Welch

Perhaps the most intense exponent of this antiartificial revision of the intermediate type is Denton Welch (1915-1948), artist, short-story writer, and novelist. Made irreversibly invalid by a motorcycle accident, Welch produced stories and novels ("When I Was Thirteen" and In Youth Is Pleasure [1944] are typical) whose homoeroticism is unequaled for their freshness and immediacy.

Welch's pictures of young noncombatant men during World War II exhibit their subjects as anarchistic, impulsive, and probably gay. Always on the edge of extremes of despair and exhilaration, living under the constant threat of death, Welch's characters--both pathetic and strong--make the dizzy pleasure of disorientation an erotic end in itself; more than any other of Carpenter's heirs, Welch's protagonists let drop the high-minded narratives of homosexuality's cultural vocation.

Elizabeth Bowen

An equivalent representation of female experience, albeit subdued, accompanied by suggestions of lesbianism, is to be found in the novels and stories of Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973). Two World War II stories about war-disoriented young women, "Mysterious Kôr" and "The Happy Autumn Fields," show Bowen's characteristic features: women finding passionate interrelations with each other via the elimination or marginalization of male intrusions on their intimacy.

The repetition of world conflict within a mere thirty years stimulated the connection of homosexuals with the passive endurance of extremity and, at the same time, with impulses to protest militantly the enlistment, on behalf of the state and the war effort, of gay and lesbian lives whose public importance and dignity had little place--outside literary culture--in peacetime.

Evelyn Waugh

An example of the heterosexual world's cruelly mixed mode of simultaneously permitting and condemning homosexuality appears in the novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) by Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966). One of the book's two heroes, the beautiful gay Sebastian Marchmain, is first idolized by the novelist and his narrator, then denounced and condemned for homosexuality and aestheticism.

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