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literature

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German and Austrian Literature: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries  
 
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Arnold Zweig's (1887-1968) novel De Vriendt kehrt heim (De Vriendt Returns Home [1932]), based on the life of the Jewish poet Jacob Israel de Haan, describes a lawyer and professor who becomes a political leader in Jerusalem. He falls from power when his love for an Arab boy becomes public knowledge.

In the novella Verwirrung der Gefühle (Confusion of Feelings [1927]), Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) depicts a character who is tragically unable to build a homosexual identity. His story is sympathetically narrated by his former student, who rejected the professor's desire but never his mentor.

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For the most part, the literary discourse on homosexuality between the wars did not search for identities that violated the norms of a bourgeois moral code. (Bruno Vogel's [1898-1987] works, especially Alf [1929], are exceptions; they refuse to concede the right to control males who love other males to any authority.)

The development of the homosexual character moves not toward opposition but quite emphatically toward integration. By the late Weimar years, homosexual characters who had so often given up the ghost under the heel of heterosexual condemnation now refuse to die and begin to fight back.

Yet the promise that the literary presentation of homosexuality seemed about to fulfill--namely, the erasure of the stigma of difference--remained a distant dream. The stamp of difference was reapplied in German society with a vengeance in the Nazi era.

The Third Reich: 1933-1945

During the Third Reich (1933-1945), homosexuality quickly became an unspeakable theme within acceptable National Socialist literature. It was considered an attribute of Jewish or decadent (that is, non-Aryan) lifestyles, aimed at undermining the natural divisions between masculine and feminine.

Prior to 1933, however, this was not always the case in proto-fascist or right-wing fiction, which sometimes included homosexual characters, as, for example, in Partenau by Max René Hesse (1885-1952).

Some authors who went into exile in the Hitler years did continue to depict homosexuals, but difference remains their hallmark, as in Klaus Mann's novels from exile.

Hans Siemsen's antifascist novel Die Geschichte des Hitlerjungen Adolf Goers (The Story of the Hitler Youth Adolf Goers, written in 1938, first published in English in 1940) tries to differentiate between the true homosexual love felt by two of its characters and the situational homosexuality involving forced sex between some Hitler Youth leaders and their charges.

A similar attempt to rescue male-male love from its National Socialist perversions occurs in Ludwig Renn's (1889-1979) Vor großen Wandlungen (Before Great Changes [1936]).

The Second Half of the Twentieth Century

In the post-war world of rebuilding infrastructure and restoring social order, gay and lesbian characters returned mostly to the closet. They functioned as secondary figures bearing the meanings assigned by stereotype.

In Wolfgang Koeppen's (b. 1906) novel about Germany's failure to come to terms with its Nazi past, Der Tod in Rom (Death in Rome [1954]), the nephew of a former SS-general is gay. He is a composer, is attracted to boys, and the locale is Italy; in short, it incorporates many of the old stereotypes.

The "Trivialliteratur" produced by the homophile movement continued the Weimar tradition of magazine fiction and poetry. The Swiss journal Der Kreis (The Circle) gave voice to a variety of male homosexual experiences. Published from 1939 to 1967, the magazine reached an international audience and often printed stories in German, French, and English.

Weimar traditions are also continued in the prose works of Hans Henny Jahnn (1894-1959). His lengthy, often monumental novels, some of which were published in their unfinished form after his death in 1959, center on male friendships that often are erotic, excessive, and incapable of union (Perrudja, vol. 1 1929, vol. 2 1968; Fluß ohne Ufer [River without Shore], 3 vols. 1949 and 1961; Jeden ereilt es [Each One Is Overtaken], 1968).

A great admirer of Jahnn, Hubert Fichte (1935-1986) stands alone as the one post-World War II author who presents homosexuality without apology, graphically, and with a challenging, modernist language. Taken together, his novels, published between 1965 and 1974, construct a gay identity: Das Waisenhaus (The Orphanage [1965]), Die Palette (The Palette [1968]), and Versuch über die Pubertät (Treatise Concerning Puberty [1974]).

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