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literature

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English Literature: Twentieth-Century  
 
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Brigid Brophy and Joe Orton

Two younger writers of the 1960s, the novelist Brigid Brophy (b. 1929) and the playwright Joe Orton (1933-1967), exuberantly and fantastically complement the sober maturity of Ackerley and Crisp.

Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964), Loot (1966), and What the Butler Saw (1967) celebrate the Dionysian frenzy of amoral, polymorphously perverse sexualities.

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Brophy's In Transit (1969) revives the intermediate type, via Orlando. The novel's hero(ine) has no determinate gender, and the text's middle and end become "bi-textual" inasmuch as the reader is furnished with alternative versions of the story, printed in double columns.

Under the influence of "intermediate" inspirations, language and fiction are "in transit" to a new state of art and eros. Not surprisingly, and in a way that revives the heroic gay tradition, Brophy's next book after In Transit is her colossal revaluation of Firbank, Prancing Novelist (1971), which along with The Lion and the Fox is one of the best critical studies in English of a gay writer.

The works and themes of Wilson and Brophy, along with Christopher and His Kind, remain paradigms of the literary culture of the final quarter of the twentieth century.

Writers of the Final Quarter of the Twentieth Century

During this time, homosexual men and women had to face on two fronts a new world war of sorts: first, the resurgence of religious, moral, and political conservatism in England since 1979, undermining both the modest legal gains of the Wolfenden legislation and the major literary-cultural achievements of homosexuality in the first three quarters of the century; second, the destruction of homosexual lives by the AIDS plague.

Neither the call of heroic narrative nor of erotic pleasure easily withstands the new onslaught of cultural and biological suppression. Yet the literary work went on, freshly reviving and revising the by now traditional motifs.

Jeannette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) by Jeannette Winterson (b. 1959), echoing Lolly Willowes, intermingles realism and fairy-tale narrative as it presents a woman's lesbianism emerging from her domestic and religious compulsions.

Patrick Gale

Forster's, Isherwood's, and Wilson's interest in the relation of homosexuality to post-colonial formations was taken up by Patrick Gale (b. 1962) in the comedy of Kansas in August (1987), in which the gay hero Hilary loses his lover to his sister Henry, then is maneuvered into becoming the father of his Indian landlady's illegitimate granddaughter. The gay man thereby inherits, in a transformative way, the global political condition in which he now has only an equivocally advance guard status.

Hanif Kureishi

A similar inheritance awaits the gay hero of Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), where a new breed of erotic and cultural possibilities emerges from three old histories: English, Indian, and gay.

Alan Hollinghurst

Retrospective meditations on English homosexual life's stories and pleasures, from Carpenter and Firbank to the present, are the substance of The Swimming-Pool Library (1988) by Alan Hollinghurst (b. 1954).

Hollinghurst evokes both ancient and modern nonheroic compromises of homosexuality with racism and imperialism, with cultures that condemn as well as sustain homoeroticism, and with homosexuality's own capacity for erotic pleasure. The polish of Hollingsworth's narrator masks a dark pessimistic vision of modern homosexuality's relation to politics.

Adam Mars-Jones

A more optimistically intermediate point of view is recovered, surprisingly, in the AIDS stories Monopolies of Loss (1992) by Adam Mars-Jones (b. 1954). Although fully responsive to the horrors of AIDS, Mars-Jones's stories show the unsettling power of art's capacity to treat and transform mortality itself. Given the modern tradition that associates homosexuality with aestheticism, Mars-Jones's art becomes an implicit figure for homosexual reinventions of mortality.

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