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literature

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Modernism  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  

Some, like W. Somerset Maugham, remained rigorously closeted, though his affair with Gerald Haxton and his inversion of one of his early homosexual affairs to a heterosexual affair in Of Human Bondage (1915) were well known.

Hector Hugh Munro, better known by his pen name "Saki," was equally guarded except in stories such as "Gabriel-Ernest" and "Quail Seed," and most of his readers would probably have been shocked had they known that his pen name refers to a cupbearer or beautiful boy and carries esoteric homoerotic connotations.

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Even E. M. Forster, who in 1914 in Maurice, wrote one of the frankest and most romantic explorations of same-sex love, suppressed his work. His novel reached print only in 1971, the year following his death.

Others boldly, sometimes recklessly, pushed subject matter well into previously forbidden areas: Xavier Mayne (the pen name of Edward Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson) published Imre (1908), which chronicles Oswald's affair in Hungary with Imre, a cavalry officer.

Under the pen name "Sagitta," John Henry MacKay's Der Puppenjungen (1926) explored the milieu of boy prostitutes in Berlin and espoused an agenda of "equal freedom for all," topics also addressed by Aleister Crowley in White Stains (1898), a collection of poetry.

Near the end of the modernist period, George Santayana, an American better known as a philosopher, published The Last Puritan (1935), which treated a sailor in the Royal Navy caught up in a homosexual scandal aboard ship.

To these, however, must be added names indisputably central to modernist fiction: André Gide, Thomas Mann, and Marcel Proust.

Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927) depicts numerous homosexuals--Robert de Saint-Loup-en-Bray, Charles Morel, Prince Gilbert de Guermantes, Jupien, Legandin, Nissim Bernard, and of course, Baron de Charlus, one of the most memorable characters in the novel and yet one more fictionalization of Count Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921), who had already appeared as Jean des Esseintes in Joris-Karl Huysmans's À rebours (1884) and as the peacock in Edmond Rostand's Chantecler (1910).

The title of Proust's fourth volume, Sodome et Gomorrhe (1922, translated as Cities of the Plain) foregrounded homosexuality firmly and openly, but readers expecting moral condemnation figured in the title's biblical allusion found more of Proust's attack on social snobbery and the affectations of Parisian society and were treated to an essay on the nature of homosexual love and ultimately, in the seventh volume, to the spectacle of Charlus chained to a bed in Jupien's male brothel, being whipped by a soldier.

The German author, Thomas Mann, offered an equally broad canvas liberally populated by gays, ranging from his now classic depiction of boy-man love in Death in Venice (1912) to male adolescent love in Tonio Kroger (1903) and The Magic Mountain (1924). His Doctor Faustus (1947) linked homosexuality to artistic creativity.

Mann's son, Klaus Mann, built his own literary career on tales of same-sex love, first with a collection of short stories, Before Life (1925), in which the lovers have little chance of success, and then with historical novels about three famous homosexuals: Alexander the Great (1930), Tchaikovsky (1935), and Ludwig II (1937).

Beside the works of Proust and Mann, Gide's Corydon (1924), a Socratic dialogue on sexuality, seems a slight accomplishment. Minor accomplishments can be seen in the other genres.

Mauritz Stiller, the Swedish director, created what is often called the first gay film with The Wings in 1916.

Gay and lesbian literature had indeed made major steps in subject matter, tone, and theme, in the years since Teleny; or, The Reverse of the Medal (1893) had defined suicide by the protagonist as appropriate closure.

Having been written and published between 1890 and 1940, however, does not necessarily mark a book as being "modernist." A book needs to partake of the modernist temper and ethos before it can be so marked.

But since most of the gay and lesbian fiction written during these fifty years is part of the modernist reaction against standards of both past and present and since any number of these works are also experimental in their handling of narrative, they can validly be considered a significant part of the modernist movement.

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