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literature

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German and Austrian Literature: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries  
 
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The Freudian View of Homosexuality

Hirschfeld's was not the only medical theory to influence literary portrayals. The Freudian view of homosexuality as a stage within adolescent development also became a significant theme although it never shaped works to the extraordinary degree that the Third Sex theory did.

The main character of Robert Musil's (1880-1942) novella Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß (The Confusions of Young Törleß [1906]) experiences a homosexual episode at a boys' military school. One of the other boys, weaker and seemingly effeminate, is forced to submit to the sadistic sexual fantasies of two pupils. Törleß becomes at first a voyeur of their sexual acts, then a desirous participant. Finally, however, he rejects such activities, presumably having outgrown them.

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In the Wilhelmine period, the fictional presentation of homosexuality in German literature gradually evolved via a literary (as opposed to a purely medico-scientific) discourse centered on characters who love individuals of their own gender.

Some writers, like John Henry Mackay, used literature to defend homosexual love against the condemnation of a hostile society. Others, like Thomas Mann, employed homosexuality as a literary metaphor for the precarious position of those whom society deems "different."

No matter the author's intent, several characteristics are shared by this body of literature. Physicians appear in many works and function most often as mouthpieces for the defense of homosexuality as a natural phenomenon. Even when he does not speak very loudly, the doctor serves to set the limits of social acceptance.

No portrayal of sexual activity between members of the same sex is permitted. A kiss or an embrace is as far as the characters go, and they are satisfied with such brief tenderness.

The Homosexual as a Tragic Figure

This desexualized love led, almost of necessity, to portraying the homosexual character as a tragic figure. This role of tragic outsider, the unjustly persecuted, was designed to evoke the sympathies of the heterosexual majority, just as the nonerotic relationship aimed not to offend the majority's sensibility. The tragedy of persecution was underscored by the death of almost every homosexual character during this period.

Homosexuality in Poetry

Some of these features may be found in the poetry of the time, but the freedom of the genre to avoid becoming trapped in meanings assigned from outside allows the expression of sentiments that would be decried if they were expressed with the clarity of prose.

Stefan George's (1856-1933) poems mask the love that often motivates them, but that desire still speaks, usually to a genderless "You." In such works as Maximin, Ein Gedenkbuch (Maximin, A Memorial Book [1907]) and Der Stern des Bundes (The Star of the Union [1914]), George employs a hermetic, often symbolic language whose meaning was to be interpreted by an artistic, male elite, the "George-Circle."

The Weimar Years: 1918-1933

The tentative and ambiguous homosexual identities of the Wilhelmine period grew into more complete and artistically successful characters during the increased freedoms that accompanied the Weimar years. During the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), the depiction of homosexual characters in German literature moved away from strict conformity to the medical model and explored other conceptions of the lives of people who love individuals of the same sex.

The medico-scientific discourse on homosexuality never disappeared completely, but its power waxed and waned. Between the world wars, the dominant discourse influencing literary portrayals of homosexuality shifted from Hirschfeld to Freud.

Homosexual acts figure as a kind of substitute for the lack of female company in Peter Martin Lampel's (1894-1965) play Revolte im Erziehungshaus (Revolts in the Educational Home [1928]) and his novel Verratene Jungen (Betrayed Boys [1929]). This kind of psychological discourse about homosexuality still compelled the erasure of homosexual desire and still necessitated the destruction of the character who could not grow out of homosexuality, as in Dr. Angelo (1924) by Erich Ebermayer (1900-1970).

Between 1918 and 1933, the creation of homosexual identity, often in the face of opposition and condemnation by the majority, becomes the central theme in prose works and in dramas centering on homosexuality. Certainly, poets also dealt with the question of identity, but no significant volumes of poetry by openly homosexual authors were produced during the Weimar era. Nor were significant poems about homosexual love by nonhomosexual authors produced.

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