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Novel: Gay Male  
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The American 1960s were notoriously years of upheaval and new freedom, or permissiveness, in society, politics, pharmaceuticals, and no less in gay literature. Thanks to new translations the work of two remarkable Frenchmen began to make its mark: that of the Marquis de Sade, in which homosexual activity was only one item in a complete catalogue of revolutionary libertinage, as in The 120 Days of Sodom (1785), and that of Jean Genet (Our Lady of the Flowers [1943] and the autobiographical The Thief's Journal [1949]).

Separated by almost a century and a half, both these men wrote largely from prison, both celebrated sexual outlawry as freedom and consecration, both detested middle-class morality. Both were congenial to the temper of the 1960s.

Representative American novels of the early 1970s include Daniel Curzon's gloomy Something You Do in the Dark (1971), Terry Andrews's disturbing The Story of Harold (1974), and Patricia Nell Warren's popular melodrama, The Front Runner (1974).

Writing in 1977, Roger Austen made the suggestion that there is a kind of Gresham's Law of gay fiction: Bad writing drives out good, or more precisely, gay porn drives out serious gay art:

as a result [of the influx of hard-core gay porn] the more serious and literate gay writer has found himself the victim of a paradox: with the wide-open acceptance of frankly homosexual fiction, the future of his sort of novel is threatened by its lurid competition.

His fears were unfounded, as it turned out. Already in 1976 Armistead Maupin had published the first of his series, Tales of the City, which nearly achieved best-seller status.

And in 1978 appeared three remarkable, and quite different, gay novels: Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance, Larry Kramer's Faggots, and Edmund White's Nocturnes for the King of Naples. In the same year, David Plante began his series of Francoeur novels (The Family, followed by The Country [1981] and The Woods [1982]). For the moment, gay fiction seemed to be in very good health.

Plante's spare prose deals with an adolescent boy's coming to terms with his sexuality within a Franco-American culture.

Of the three others, Holleran's is the most lyrical, a whirlwind tour of New York gay life featuring the unquenchable monologist, Sutherland. As the title (from Yeats's "Among School Children") suggests, the novel asks, how can you tell the gay man from the world he moves in? Does it totally define him?

Kramer's novel is far earthier, as the obnoxious title makes clear, a subterranean tour of some of the same territory as Dancer.

White's Nocturnes is the most interesting technically, a meditative series of images in the vocative case, an apologia addressed by a young man to the older lover he has left.

Plante is an expatriate New Englander; the other three writers were then very much identified with the New York scene. Holleran and White were among the seven members of a short-lived but productive literary group in the early 1980s called the Violet Quill. Other novelists in the Violet Quill included Felice Picano, Robert Ferro, and George Whitmore.

The English Novel: 1950-1980

The situation in England from roughly 1950 to 1980 seems less defined, more diffuse. There was no crystallizing moment such as Stonewall there, and the nation had grudgingly legalized homosexuality in 1967.

The novels of Angus Wilson (Hemlock and After [1952] and others) and Iris Murdoch (The Bell [1955] and others) are rife with homosexual characters, but there is little inwardness of presentation. The homosexuality seems a construct, a way of investigating the social and ethical behavior of other characters, or of creating revealing situations.

In English novels of the period, homosexuality seems linked to certain institutions, particularly--and unsurprisingly--the school and the army. Such places demand uniformity in more than just garb, and in them the fate of the different or sensitive individual is highlighted.

Examples (besides The Charioteer, already mentioned) include Simon Raven's Fielding Gray (1967) and Michael Campbell's Lord Dismiss Us (1967), both school novels; Susan Hill's Strange Meeting (1971) and Jennifer Johnston's How Many Miles to Babylon? (1971), both set in World War I; and Robin Maugham's account of the military and sexual struggles of General Gordon at Khartoum, The Last Encounter (1974). Also set in World War I, and carrying strange homosexual undertones, is The Wars (1977) by the Canadian writer Timothy Findley.

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