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literature

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War Literature  
 
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It was well received but quickly banned. But while more famous and sophisticated writers such as E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf, took comparatively equivocal stands on homosexuality, Fitzroy's novel is unwavering.

Bruno Vogel

On the German side, Bruno Vogel's Alf (1929; banned by the Nazis in 1933), made a similarly wide-ranging critique through two students who fall in love but are separated by a misunderstanding that leads to Alf's enlistment. The bulk of the novel consists of their letters; however, these give a thin picture of wartime conditions both at the front and the rear.

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Radclyffe Hall

The Great War plays a significant role in Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928). In Book Four, however, its heroine, Stephen Gordon, joins the ambulance unit of the significantly named Mrs. Breakspeare and meets Mary Llewelyn, with whom she falls deeply in love.

Hall attaches great significance to the role of women at the front: "a battalion was formed in those terrible years that would never again be completely disbanded. War and death had given them a right to life, and life tasted sweet, very sweet to their palates." (Likewise, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas traveled around France by car as members of the American Fund for French Wounded.)

The Well of Loneliness was banned following a famous obscenity trial at which Forster, Woolf, Bennett, and other writers attempted to testify in its favor.

Virginia Woolf

Although Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (1925) is "about" neither homosexuality nor war, both figure heavily in the margins of Mrs. Dalloway's consciousness. Here too, the suggestion that unthinking conventionality has fueled the war creates a link between pacifism and sexual nonconformism.

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust took a highly sympathetic view of sexual inversion in Sodome et Gomorrhe (1921), the fourth book of À la recherche du temps perdu.

The homosexuality of the fictional Marcel's friend, Robert de Saint Loup, and Robert's uncle, the Baron de Charlus, appears well before war breaks out, but in the climactic seventh volume the prevalence of sexual inversion in Paris comes to be associated with the moral and social upheavals effected by the war's brutality.

When Marcel returns from a sanitarium in 1916, he finds that Charlus is able to see through the militaristic cant of the historical moment, but his own darker side is witnessed by Marcel when he stumbles across Jupien's hotel in a backstreet where Charlus is being brutally flagellated by a young sailor.

As the enemy's bombs explode round about, Charlus himself explicitly associates the fate of Paris with the destruction of Sodom by fire from heaven, and Marcel reflects at some length upon the analogy.

Mary Renault

Though the literature of World War II tends to portray homosexuality as depraved, there are some noteworthy exceptions. Mary Renault's The Charioteer (1954) concerns the search for true and honorable love among soldiers in a military hospital in France just after Dunkirk; it draws its title and basic theme from Plato's allegory of the soul as a charioteer pulled by two horses, one virtuous, the other vicious, who respond oppositely to the vision of beauty.

Laurie Odell falls in love with Andrew Raynes, a Quaker conscientious objector, but he is also drawn to an openly homosexual former schoolmate who has saved his life, and the plot turns on Laurie's quest for a worthy lover.

Although envisioning this as a possibility distinguishes it from many novels of the era, the depiction of the culture and etiology of homosexuality is stereotypical. Andrew's innocence derives both from his principles as an objector and from his naïveté about homosexuality.

Other War Novels

The wartime setting in Italy toward the end of World War II is more crucial in Loren Wahl's The Invisible Glass (1950); Steve, a white officer, and Chick, a black enlisted man, connect briefly but are unable to overcome the forces arraigned against them, and the novel ends in tragedy.

Several other novels of the late 1940s and the 1950s deserve to be mentioned.

Also set in wartime Italy is the "Momma" episode in The Gallery (1947) by John Horne Burns, where a gay bar that caters to an international cast of military men is portrayed through the eyes of its proprietor in strikingly positive terms.

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