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Mackay, John Henry (1864-1933)  

The Scottish-German John Henry Mackay, who wrote in German, dedicated himself to the cause of gaining sympathetic recognition of man-boy love.

Mackay was born in Scotland on February 6, 1864, the son of a marine insurance broker who died when Mackay was only nineteen months old. His mother, of a well-to-do Hamburg family, then returned with him to Germany, where he grew up with German as his mother tongue.

He first gained recognition as a lyric poet and his novellas were early examples of naturalism, but it was his presentation of individualist anarchism in the semifictional Die Anarchisten (The Anarchists) that made him famous overnight. It was published in German and in English translation in 1891 and was later translated into eight other languages.

Mackay's Der Schwimmer (The Swimmer), one of the first literary sports novels, appeared in 1901. He was at the height of his fame, but the death of his mother the following year brought on a depression from which he recovered only by dedicating himself to the cause of gaining sympathetic recognition of man-boy love. (Mackay himself was most attracted to boys fourteen to seventeen years old.)

He planned a literary campaign, using the pseudonym Sagitta. He intended to publish six books in a variety of literary forms, but his project had hardly begun when the first books were confiscated and charges brought against Mackay's publisher, who never revealed the identity of Sagitta. After a nineteen-month trial, the books were legally declared obscene in 1909, and the publisher was required to pay a fine and court costs.

Mackay bore all this financial burden, yet continued the project and, in 1913, published a one-volume edition of Die Buecher der namelosen Liebe von Sagitta (Sagitta's Books of the Nameless Love), which he sold underground. Most notable in the collection is the autobiographical novel Fenny Skaller, a moving "coming-out" story of a boy-lover.

During World War I, Mackay worked on Der Freiheitsucher (The Freedom Seeker), a sequel to Die Anarchisten, which he published in 1920. Its reception was disappointing, but a real financial blow came in 1923 when the runaway inflation wiped out the value of a lifetime annuity he had purchased with his inheritance from his mother.

Despite the hardships, Mackay returned as Sagitta in 1926 with his seventh Book of the Nameless Love, Der Puppenjunge (The Hustler), a classic boy-love novel set in the contemporary milieu of boy prostitutes in Berlin. In a note to the American publisher of this book, Christopher Isherwood said, "It gives a picture of the Berlin sexual underworld early in this century which I know, from my own experience, to be authentic." Although Der Puppenjunge could be sold in bookstores in the Weimar Republic, all writings of Sagitta were banned by the Nazis.

Although Mackay wrote about homosexuality most explicitly as Sagitta, the subject can also be found in his other writings. In an early short story and in many lyric poems, the absence of personal pronouns permits a heterosexual reading of what were undoubtedly homosexual situations. Only in 1931 did he include obvious homosexual characters in the novella Der Unschuldige (The Innocent), a work almost unique at the time for its inclusion of homosexuality as a matter of fact and not as a sickness or a symbolic evil.

By the time of Mackay's death on May 16, 1933, it had long been an open secret that he was Sagitta, and he wrote in his will that any future publications were to bear his real name. This was done in 1979; since then, there has been a return of interest in this unique writer.

Hubert Kennedy


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Kennedy, Hubert. Anarchist der Liebe: John Henry Mackay als Sagitta. Trans. Almuth Carstens. Berlin: Edition Aurora, 1988.

Mackay, John Henry. Die Buecher der namenlosen Liebe von Sagitta. 2 vols. Berlin: Verlag rosa Winkel, 1979.

_____. Fenny Skaller and Other Prose Writings from the Books of the Nameless Love. Trans. Hubert Kennedy. Amsterdam: Southernwood Press, 1988.

_____. The Hustler: The Story of a Nameless Love from Friedrich Street. Trans. Hubert Kennedy. Boston: Alyson, 1985.

Mornin, Edward. Kunst und Anarchismus: "innere Zusammenhänge" in den Schriften John Henry Mackays. Freiburg/Br.: Verlag der Mackay-Gesellschaft, 1983.

Riley, Thomas A. Germany's Post-Anarchist John Henry Mackay: A Contribution to the History of German Literature at the Turn of the Century, 1880-1920. New York: Revisionist Press, 1972.

Solneman, K. H. Z. [Kurt Helmut Zube]. Der Bahnbrecher John Henry Mackay: Sein Leben und sein Werk. Freiburg/Br.: Verlag der Mackay-Gesellschaft, 1979.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kennedy, Hubert  
    Entry Title: Mackay, John Henry  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 24, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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