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literature

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War Literature  
 
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Paul Fussell's chapter entitled "Soldier Boys" in The Great War and Modern Memory is an indispensable essay on the motifs that characterize the homoeroticism in World War I poetry and their relation to the work of Victorians such as the and Housman.

However, the homoerotic content in these war elegies is invariably platonic, a muted delight in physical qualities suggesting youth, innocence, and nobility and never tainted by acts of sex beyond the poetic kiss. Stephen Spender, among others, carried on the tradition of war elegies during the Spanish Civil War.

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Homosexuality is also a fleeting presence--often somewhat veiled, but hardly more so than heterosexuality--in the memoirs of the Great War, including the most enduring: Seigfried Sassoon's lightly fictionalized Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930), T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935), and Robert Graves's Goodbye To All That (1929).

Homoerotic War Fiction

Homoerotic war fiction has its early exemplars in Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Foretopman (written 1891, published 1924) and D. H. Lawrence's "The Prussian Officer," published just two months after the beginning of World War I.

Herman Melville

Billy Budd is typical in that the repression of homosexuality in a military setting expresses itself destructively, and its villain John Claggart anticipates a long tradition of "sick" homosexual superior officers in the novels of the two world wars.

Set during Britain's wars with France, and based on a mutiny at Spithead in 1797, Billy Budd is the "Handsome Sailor" who arouses the envy of Claggart, the Master-at-arms of the warship Bellipotent. When Claggart fails to entrap Budd in a mutiny plot, he accuses Billy before the Captain. Horrified and rendered mute by his speech impediment, Budd strikes Claggart and fells him with a single blow to the head.

Captain Vere believes in Budd's innocence, and is just as conscious of Budd's charms as Claggart, but he adheres to military regulations and sentences Budd to be hanged for having killed a superior officer. Billy's last words, "God bless Captain Vere!," and the Christ imagery in his death-scene, confirm his alignment with Good and Claggart's with Evil.

Vere himself will soon die in a battle near Gibraltar, murmuring the name of Billy Budd as he expires.

The need to control and repress sexual desire drives the plot; as Robert K. Martin points out, Billy's stammer emblematizes the stifled protest that can only be expressed in violence: "In this world, charged with sexual potential, only strict control of the homosexual within can prevent a mutiny."

D. H. Lawrence

In Lawrence's "The Prussian Officer," the homoerotic impulses of the officer remain wholly unspoken and even largely unconscious; instead they manifest themselves sadistically in torments that the captain inflicts on his defenseless young orderly.

When at last the orderly murders the captain, it seems almost the inevitable consequence of his victimization. As in Billy Budd, then, the military provides circumstances in which sexual "pathology" can only lead to tragedy.

The repressed homosexual, usually in authority and so able to inflict harm on underlings, is particularly prominent in the novels written about World War II or the years immediately preceding it, as in Günter Grass's The Tin Drum (1962), Klaus Mann's Mephisto (1936), and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (1948).

Many novels written in the McCarthyist 1950s express that period's fear and suspicion of homosexuals. (See Tuthill in Ralph Leveridge's Walk on the Water [1951], Ensign Edge in Martin Dibner's The Deep Six [1953], and Sergeant Callan in Dennis Murphy's The Sergeant [1958].)

For a few writers of the World War I era, on the other hand, the Uranian movement, the Oscar Wilde trials, and the theories of Havelock Ellis and Freud (who refused to consider homosexuality a disease), made it possible to write sympathetically about "sexual inversion" and through their novels to appeal for tolerance and understanding.

A. J. Fitzroy

An exceptional work of this kind is A. J. Fitzroy's Despised and Rejected (1918). Fitzroy (the pseudonym of Rose Allatini, ca 1890-ca 1980) links the persecution suffered by homosexuals with that suffered by conscientious objectors.

Belatedly, its bisexual heroine falls in love with its homosexual hero, but the latter has fallen profoundly in love with an ardent young pacifist. Both men go to prison, but through the dialogue of pacifists and civilian militarists, the novel indicts, with insight amounting to clairvoyance, the mentality that fuels both war and sexual conformism.

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