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literature

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Novel: Gay Male  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

The Impact of AIDS

Then came AIDS. "The paradox is," Edmund White wrote in 1991,

that AIDS which destroyed so many of these distinguished writers [in the Violet Quill circle], has also, as a phenomenon, made homosexuality a much more familiar part of the American landscape. The grotesque irony is that at the very moment so many writers are threatened with extinction, gay literature is healthy and flourishing as never before.

Sponsor Message.

The tragic impact of AIDS on a generation and more of artists can hardly be overestimated; no writer can practice his craft today without taking account of it whether in acceptance or in defiance, in sorrow or in anger.

Yet White is correct in asserting the health of gay literature: He himself has published two more novels, A Boy's Own Story (1982) and The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) along with a considerable body of criticism; Maupin continued the Tales series; Andrew Holleran published a second novel, Nights in Aruba (1985). Given the uniquely personal nature of the AIDS crisis, it is not surprising to find works that hover between fiction and memoir, as in the writing of Paul Monette.

New talents also emerged in the 1980s. David Leavitt, to take only one luminous example, published a collection of short stories, Family Dancing, in 1985, and a novel, The Lost Language of Cranes, in 1986.

Cranes is an exemplary work because it deals with so many aspects of gay life: a father and son, Owen and Philip Benjamin, are both gay; Owen, closeted, guilty, seeking only anonymous sex in movie houses, seems to belong in a novel of the 1950s; his son is a young man of the 1980s, comfortable in his sexuality but as the novel opens uncomfortable at not having come out to his parents.

Rose Benjamin, wife and mother, feels that she has been living in a travesty of a family when the various truths do emerge.

The novel handles the well-worn theme of failure to communicate in fresh and perceptive ways, as well as portraying strategies gay men adopt for living in straight society.

Other writers of distinction who have emerged since about 1980 include Charles Nelson (The Boy Who Picked the Bullets Up [1981]), Robert Glück (Jack the Modernist [1985]), Michael Cunningham (A Home at the End of the World [1990]), Melvin Dixon (Trouble the Waters [1989] and Vanishing Rooms [1991]), Stephen Macauley (The Easy Way Out [1993]), and Louis Begley (As Max Saw It [1994]).

English writers include David Rees (In the Tent [1979] and other titles), Patrick Gale (Kansas in August [1988]), Alan Hollinghurst (The Swimming-Pool Library [1988]), Neil Bartlett (Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall [1990]), and Adam Mars-Jones (The Waters of Thirst [1994]).

Conclusion

Gay novels, like many other novels, are about a search for identity. Just as Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy need to discover who they are in order to live and function in their society, so do protagonists of gay novels. The difference is that early gay fiction presents situations in which the protagonist refuses to admit who or what he is, or, having acknowledged his sexuality, finds that his identity is repugnant to society at large.

Not until Stonewall and the gay liberation movement of the 1970s did gays achieve sufficient critical mass to establish, in urban centers like San Francisco, New York, and London, islands of gay culture (gay ghettos, in a less favorable view) where gay art might thrive.

In such art, a gay identity, whether defined by exclusion or as related to the larger culture, might be realized. Then came AIDS to attack the entire effort; once more homosexuality and death became identified, in tragic, not symbolic, terms.

Gay identity has other implications too: for the writers. Many dislike being identified as "gay writers"; some accept the label with greater or lesser reluctance; others sidestep it.

The Australian Nobelist Patrick White, with becoming modesty, attributed all the insights that made him a great writer to his homosexuality, yet until his last novel, The Twyborn Affair (1979), any possibly homosexual themes or characters in his fiction were artfully camouflaged.

Still, now is an exciting time to be a gay writer. A widespread acceptance of homosexuality coexists with manifest homophobia. How the gay novel will deal with this condition is a question continually being answered.

Michael N. Stanton

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   Related Entries
  
literature >> Overview:  AIDS Literature

In the twenty years since its first appearance in the West, AIDS has been the subject of a large body of literature, most of it written by gay men and much of it designed to expose readers as closely as possible to the emergency of the epidemic and the suffering of affected individuals.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, gay male literature became focused as a movement, aided by the development of gay newspapers, magazines, and quarterlies and the founding of serious gay and lesbian bookstores.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Nineteenth Century

Although sometimes coded as romantic friendship, both gay male and lesbian attractions are reflected in nineteenth-century American poetry and fiction, including works by such major figures as Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson.

literature >> Overview:  Camp

Combining elements of incongruity, theatricality, and exaggeration, camp is a form of humor that helps homosexuals cope with a hostile environment.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Nineteenth Century

From its beginning, the nineteenth century in England had a purposeful homosexual literature of considerable bulk, both male and female, though it was fettered by oppression.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Restoration and Eighteenth Century

Throughout the Restoration and eighteenth century, sodomitical characters were both presented and pilloried in literature.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Twentieth-Century

Homosexuality, both male and female, has a rich, divergent, and increasingly open expression in the literature of the twentieth century.

literature >> Overview:  Gothicism

The Gothic has always offered writers and readers the chance to experience the excitement of transgressive sexuality of various kinds, including male and female homosexuality.

literature >> Overview:  Historical Fiction

Glbtq historical fictions creatively interweave fiction with facts in ways that have not only won them a large readership but also have offered that readership insightful illuminations of glbtq histories.

literature >> Overview:  Romance Novels

Appealing to glbtq people who enjoy romantic fantasy, the queer romance novel has recently come into its own.

literature >> Overview:  The Violet Quill

A circle of gay male writers in Manhattan who met a few times in 1980 and 1981, the members of the Violet Quill helped create the post-Stonewall renaissance of American gay male writing.

literature >> Mann, Klaus

Klaus Mann's vision of homosexuality is marked by loneliness and alienation, and his fiction is characterized by melancholic hopelessness.

literature >> Ackerley, J. R.

A twentieth-century British editor who fostered the careers of a number of important gay writers, J. R. Ackerley also wrote a small but significant body of gay literature that includes memoirs and drama.

literature >> Andrews, Terry

Terry Andrews is the pseudonym under which was published The Story of Harold, one of the most remarkable queer books of the twentieth century.

literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

literature >> Bartlett, Neil

British theater director, performer, writer, and translator Neil Bartlett reinvents the past as a way of articulating the present.

literature >> Beckford, William

Extremely wealthy and connected to the aristocracy, British author and connoisseur William Beckford was ostracized by English society for the last sixty years of his life because of his homosexuality.

literature >> Benson, E. F.

Born of an elite Victorian family, E. F. Benson was a prolific, often campy, writer of biographies, autobiographies, and novels, many of which were informed by homoeroticism.

literature >> Brinig, Myron

One of the first Jewish-American writers of his generation to write in English rather than Yiddish, Myron Brinig was also one of the first to create homosexual characters, though he remained publicly closeted all of his life.

literature >> Burroughs, William S.

Both in his life and his novels, American writer William S. Burroughs was an outlaw and a provocateur, focusing on sexual repression as the fundamental element of social control and writing in a surrealistic and bitterly satirical mode.

literature >> Capote, Truman

Truman Capote's fiction and autobiographical works helped establish what might be called the quintessential homosexual writing style of the 1950s and 1960s.

literature >> Carpenter, Edward

Edward Carpenter, a champion of both women's and homosexuals' liberation, was one of the great socialist visionaries of England at the turn of the twentieth century.

literature >> Cleland, John

Although predominately heterosexual in its orientation, John Cleland's Fanny Hill has passages which give insight into lesbian and male homosexual roles and practices in eighteenth-century England.

literature >> Cunningham, Michael

The acclaimed novelist Michael Cunningham examines gay culture within the context of the larger society.

literature >> Dixon, Melvin

Rather than standing apart from the experience of being African American because of his homosexuality, poet and novelist Melvin Dixon embraced his community and demanded that his community embrace him in return.

literature >> Douglas, Alfred Bruce

Lord Alfred Douglas is remembered today for his tumultuous association with Oscar Wilde and as a minor poet.

literature >> Ferro, Robert

American novelist Robert Ferro explores homosexual integration into the traditional family.

literature >> Findley, Timothy

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literature >> Firbank, Ronald

Ronald Firbank's witty, campy novels mock the dominant homophobic, materialistic culture of early twentieth-century England.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> Gale, Patrick

English novelist Patrick Gale draws on his own varied background to explore gay men and lesbians in complex, often dysfunctional family units set within the worlds he finds most meaningful: London, Winchester, and Cornwall.

literature >> Genet, Jean

Jean Genet's work has left a powerful legacy to post-modernity and remains a provocation to questions of gay identity.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

literature >> Hartinger, Brent

Although best known as a writer of young adult fiction, Brent Hartinger is also a playwright and an activist against censorship.

literature >> Holleran, Andrew

The pseudonymous Andrew Holleran has placed his homosexuality at the center of his commercially and critically successful novels.

literature >> Hollinghurst, Alan

Noted for his elegant prose style and subtle representations of moral ambiguities, Alan Hollinghurst has in recent years emerged as Great Britain's most significant contemporary gay novelist.

literature >> Indiana, Gary

The prolific and pseudonymous writer Gary Indiana may be best known for his three-novel series based on real-life crimes that explores the way victims and criminals alike are often distorted and exploited by the mass media.

literature >> Isherwood, Christopher

A major Anglo-American novelist and a pioneer in the gay liberation movement, Christopher Isherwood created gay characters whose homosexuality is a simple given, an integral part of the wholeness of personality and an emblem of their common humanity.

literature >> Kerouac, Jack

The bisexual Jack Kerouac omitted references to his homosexuality from his otherwise autobiographical works.

literature >> Kramer, Larry

Controversial playwright, novelist, and essayist Larry Kramer has been a pioneer in the gay political response to AIDS in America.

literature >> Lawrence, D. H.

For his time, D. H. Lawrence was a maverick in his open and adventurous discussion of all sexual issues and especially homosexuality, both male and female.

literature >> Leavitt, David

Novelist and short story writer David Leavitt is one of the brightest stars of the gay literary world today.

literature >> Lehmann, John

One of the most distinguished and discerning British men of letters of the mid-twentieth century, John Lehmann is best known as an editor and publisher.

literature >> Lewis, Matthew G.

Matthew Lewis's scandalous masterpiece, The Monk, is one of the great works in the gay and lesbian literary tradition.

literature >> Mann, Thomas

One of Germany's greatest twentieth-century authors, Thomas Mann encoded his own homosexuality in his novels but thought that homosexuality led to the destruction of social institutions and the death of the individual homosexual.

literature >> Mansfield, Katherine

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literature >> Mars-Jones, Adam

Author and editor Adam Mars-Jones has written short stories as well as longer fiction on gay themes, including AIDS.

literature >> Maugham, Robin

The defiantly homosexual scion of a powerful family, Robin Maugham became a popular and prolific writer who regularly features homosexual themes and homoerotic situations in his work.

literature >> Maupin, Armistead

A sharp social critic, novelist Armistead Maupin places his gay characters within a large framework of humanity, creating a social history of San Francisco during the tumultuous decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

literature >> McCauley, Stephen

A master of the modern comedy of manners, novelist Stephen McCauley has been praised for his shrewd observations about contemporary morals, his tart dialogue and ironic tone, and his charming, self-deprecating gay male protagonists.

literature >> Melville, Herman

The most important American novelist of the nineteenth century, Herman Melville reflects his homosexuality throughout his texts.

literature >> Miller, Merle

One of the first mainstream American writers to discuss his homosexuality publicly, Merle Miller is best known for his groundbreaking book On Being Different and for his best-selling presidential biographies.

literature >> Monette, Paul

In novels, poetry, and a memoir, Paul Monette wrote about gay men striving to fashion personal identities and, later, coping with the loss of a lover to AIDS.

literature >> Palahniuk, Chuck

Chuck Palahniuk is known for a series of popular and provocative novels; although he has acknowledged his homosexuality, he resists being labeled as a "gay author."

literature >> Picano, Felice

Prolific author Felice Picano, a founding member of the Violet Quill, is also a pioneer in gay publishing, having founded two publishing houses.

literature >> Plante, David

The novels of David Plante examine a variety of homosexualities, their male characters ranging from openly gay to sexually ambiguous.

literature >> Rechy, John

In his novels about hustling, preeminently City of Night and Numbers, John Rechy moves from the world of homosexual behavior into the world of gay identity.

literature >> Renault, Mary

After five novels which included suggested lesbianism, Mary Renault turned to open male homosexuality in the last nine, which included The Charioteer and eight celebrated historical novels set in ancient Greece.

literature >> Rice, Christopher

Christopher Rice, the author of five popular, gay-themed suspense thrillers, has also been active in supporting glbtq causes, especially those affecting glbtq youth.

literature >> Sade, Marquis de

Whether or not the Marquis de Sade was himself bisexual, homosexual activity is an important item in his program of revolutionary sexual libertinism.

literature >> Schuyler, James

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Schuyler, a prominent member of the New York School of poets and painters, wrote openly about his homosexuality.

literature >> Scott, Paul

British novelist Paul Scott, acclaimed for The Raj Quartet, was a repressed homosexual who found in India a rich metaphor for the interior distances that must be traversed as one person seeks to connect with another.

literature >> Spanbauer, Tom

Novelist Tom Spanbauer probes the darker undercurrents of sexuality, race, and violence while simultaneously using his unique prose style to meditate on and question received notions of time, subjectivity, and history.

literature >> Thoreau, Henry David

In essays, journals, and poems, Henry David Thoreau recorded impassioned expressions of the beauty and the agony of love between men.

literature >> Vidal, Gore

The multifaceted Gore Vidal is important in the gay literary heritage because of the straightforwardness with which he pursued gay themes and included gay characters in his work.

literature >> Warren, Patricia Nell

Patricia Nell Warren is the author of significant novels about American gay culture that exemplify popular adult and young adult mainstream fiction.

literature >> Waugh, Evelyn

Evelyn Waugh, who had homosexual affairs while at Oxford but later led a heterosexual life, treated homosexuals both nostalgically and contemptuously in his novels.

literature >> Welch, Denton

Largely autobiographical, the novels of Denton Welch are suffused with homosexuality.

literature >> White, Edmund

One of the most prominent and highly acclaimed figures of contemporary gay literature, Edmund White works in many distinct categories of fiction and nonfiction.

literature >> White, Patrick

The gay Australian Nobel laureate Patrick White wrote explicitly about homosexuality only in his novel The Twyborn Affair and his autobiography Flaws in the Glass.

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.

literature >> Wilson, Sir Angus

Scattered throughout the novels and short stories of Sir Angus Wilson are a number of gay characters who are presented from a decidedly nonapologetic gay viewpoint.

literature >> Yourcenar, Marguerite

The prize-winning novelist Marguerite Yourcenar reflected her own homosexuality in her works almost exclusively through male characters, most notably in Memoirs of Hadrian.


    Bibliography
   

Adams, Stephen. The Homosexual Hero in Contemporary Fiction. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.

Austen, Roger. Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs, Merrill, 1977.

Caserio, Robert. The Novel in England, 1900-1950: History and Theory. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Levin, James. The Gay Novel in America. New York: Garland, 1991.

Lilly, Mark. Gay Men's Literature in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

Summers, Claude. Gay Fictions: Wilde to Stonewall. New York: Continuum, 1990.

White, Edmund. "Out of the Closet, Onto the Bookshelf," New York Times Book Review (June 16, 1991): 22, 24, 35.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Stanton, Michael N.  
    Entry Title: Novel: Gay Male  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 21, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/novel_gay.html  
    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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