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Modernism  
 
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Even in Virginia Woolf's novels, one finds unfavorable portraits of lesbians, especially Doris Kilman in Mrs. Dalloway (1925); however, the homoeroticism in the same novel makes a much more complex statement about human sexuality than the mere presence of Miss Kilman indicates.

Modernism and the Roots of Gay and Lesbian Liberation

Despite modernist homophobia, however, a number of events established the ground on which later twentieth-century gays and lesbians would begin to demand liberation. At first, these came in the form of books: Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), which openly discussed homosexuality, and Havelock Ellis's Sexual Inversion (1897), which was one of the first books to treat homosexuality as "neither a disease nor a crime."

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In 1899, Magnus Hirschfeld founded Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, a journal devoted to issues of human sexuality, and in 1911, he established the Institute for Sexual Science, described in Christopher Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind (1976), which remained the best-known center for the study of sexuality until it was destroyed by Nazi troops May 6, 1933. During the twenty years of its existence, it and other groups worked in Germany to repeal the notorious Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexual behavior.

In 1921, Berlin hosted the First Congress of the World League for Sexual Science; this initial meeting was followed with meetings in Copenhagen (1928), London (1929), and Vienna (1930). In the Soviet Union, homosexuality was briefly decriminalized between 1917 and 1920 and not subjected to Stalinist repressions until 1934.

In 1924, the Society for Human Rights was founded in America, the first of several slight advances continuing until Alfred Kinsey was assigned to teach a sex education class at Indiana University in 1937, research for which started Kinsey on his way to his monumental publications on human sexuality in 1948 and 1953.

Homosexual and Lesbian Modernist Writers

If one looks to modernist literature, one is struck more by the number of significant writers who were homosexual or lesbian than by the number of works addressing same-sex themes, depicting gay and lesbian characters, or exploring the relationships between these individuals and their societies.

In France, there were Colette, Jean Cocteau, André Gide, and Marcel Proust. In England, there were E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, W. Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, and a host of lesser writers such as E. F. Benson, Norman Douglas, Ronald Firbank, Hector Hugh Munro (Saki), and Frederick William Rolfe (Baron Corvo).

From America, came Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Amy Lowell, and Willa Cather, as well as Hart Crane. Elsewhere, Constantine Cavafy was boldly recording the urban gay man's world in his poems.

The homosexual and lesbian worlds of modernism also accomplished much outside fiction, drama, and poetry. Margaret Anderson founded The Little Review (1915-1917), one of the most forward-looking and experimental journals of the period, and in Paris, Sylvia Beach established perhaps the best-known bookstore of the period, Shakespeare and Company. Both women were instrumental in bringing James Joyce's Ulysses to readers.

Edward Carpenter edited Ioläus (1902), the first anthology of gay literature, one that stressed positive self-images, and other writers such as Hans Blucher in Germany and L. S. A. M. Romer in Holland brought balanced views of the homosexual to the attention of society in their The Role of the Erotic in Male Society (1917-1919) and Unknown People: The Physiological Development of the Sexes in Connection with Homosexuality (1904).

Homosexual and Lesbian Modernist Writing

Modernism saw a considerable outpouring of homosexual writing, especially in the short story and the novel, to a lesser extent in poetry, drama, and film. Although Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928) achieved notoriety because of its pornography trial and the official destruction of its first edition, it was certainly not the only nor the best of the lesbian novels.

Among the others are Djuna Barnes's Ladies Almanack (1928) and Nightwood (1936), which depicts gay life in Paris and Berlin, Colette's many stories about the tomboyish Claudine, Vita Sackville-West's Challenge (1924), which fictionalized her affair with Violet Keppel, Gertrude Stein's Q. E. D., with its explicit lesbian relationship, and Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928), which made perhaps the key statement on through having Orlando metamorphose from an Elizabethan male into a neoclassical female.

Male novelists, though, were more recognized and more rewarded, two of them being honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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