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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

     
Historical Fiction  
 
page: 1  2  3  

Alma Routsong, writing under her pen name, Isabel Miller, self-published A Place for Us in 1969; two years later, the American Library Association honored the novel by granting it the first Gay Book Award. It was republished in 1972 as Patience & Sarah. This lesbian romance set in early-nineteenth-century Connecticut and New York quickly gained an extensive readership, becoming an important landmark of lesbian literature.

Recent Glbtq Historical Fiction

Today, one of the most widely read glbtq historical fiction writers is Sarah Waters: her novels about cross-dressing and lesbian romances in Victorian England--Tipping the Velvet (1998), Affinity (1999), and Fingersmith (2002)--are so popular that two of them have been made into television mini-series. Similarly, Christopher Bram's Father of Frankenstein (1995), about the famous director James Whale became a highly acclaimed film: Gods and Monsters (1998), directed by William Condon and starring Ian McKellen.

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Some recent glbtq historical fiction novels explore the lives of major literary figures. Colm Tóibín's The Master (2004) focuses on Henry James; Monique Truong's The Book of Salt (2003), on Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and their Vietnamese cook; Nancy Freedman's Sappho: The Tenth Muse (1998), on the ancient Greek poet, Sappho. Mark Merlis's American Studies (1994) offers a fictionalized composite of literary critics Newton Arvin and F. O. Matthiessen. Merlis later published An Arrow's Flight (1998), which draws on Homer, Sophocles, and Virgil to re-tell the story of the Trojan War from an archly campy perspective.

In addition to Waters, many other novelists also explore glbtq history in England. David Leavitt's While England Sleeps (1995) presents a window on gay life in 1930s London. Emma Donoghue's Life Mask (2004) goes further back, to eighteenth-century London; Maria McCann's As Meat Loves Salt (2001) goes further still, to the seventeenth century.

Historical fiction novels treat a diverse array of glbtq subjects and settings. David Ebershoff's The Danish Girl: A Novel (2001) tells the story of Einar Weigener (Lili Elbe), the first man to undergo sex-change surgery. Judith Katz's The Escape Artist (1997) chronicles lesbian romances among Jewish immigrants in early twentieth-century Buenos Aires. John Williams's Clifford's Blues (1998) recounts the survival of a gay African-American jazz musician in a Nazi concentration camp.

Lisa See's Snow Flower and The Secret Fan (2005) tells of a nineteenth-century lesbian romance in China. Jamie O'Neill garnered critical acclaim for At Swim, Two Boys (2001), a gay romance set during the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland. Earl Ganz's The Taos Truth Game (2006) recreates the relationship of novelist Myron Brinig and artist Cady Wells in the Taos, New Mexico artist colony dominated by Mabel Dodge Luhan in the 1930s.

These works of glbtq historical fiction represent just a fraction of the genre as a whole. While most of the works mentioned above are serious works of literature that have received critical as well as popular acclaim, one could also create an even more extensive list of popular glbtq historical romance novels. These typically range from subtly erotic to explicitly pornographic. While such novels can be just as formulaic as their heterosexual counterparts, many of them evince creativity and originality, and they continue to enjoy significant popularity among readers.

Conclusion

While certain glbtq historical fiction novels have been lauded by scholars, the genre as a whole remains underrepresented and underappreciated in glbtq scholarship. Nevertheless, the genre is popular and vibrant.

Whereas critics tend to focus unnecessarily on the bugbear of possible anachronisms, fans of these stories rightly find much to enjoy and appreciate in the genre. Glbtq historical fictions offer imaginative explorations of the past that are useful as well as enjoyable. They offer insights about the mysteries of sex and gender both in the past and in the present, illuminating these wonderfully murky and fascinating aspects of human experience.

Norman W. Jones

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Though closeted, Henry James had a number of intimate relations with young men, and his sexual orientation imbued his fiction.

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    Bibliography
   

Dinshaw, Carolyn. Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.

Donoghue, Emma. "Introduction" to Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2005. 9-19.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. Robert Hurley, trans. New York: Random House, 1978.

Jones, Norman W. Gay and Lesbian Historical Fiction: Sexual Mystery and Post-Secular Narrative. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Rigney, Ann. Imperfect Histories: The Elusive Past and the Legacy of Romantic Historicism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Waters, Sarah. "Wolfskins and Togas: Maude Meagher's The Green Scamander and the Lesbian Historical Fiction Novel." Women: A Cultural Review 7.2 (1996): 176-88.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Jones, Norman W.  
    Entry Title: Historical Fiction  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated April 21, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/historical_fiction.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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