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21. The Gay Novel in the United States 1900–1950

Christopher Looby

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00024.x


Is the novel fundamentally inimical to queer sexuality? Charles Warren Stoddard was the first American novelist to wonder if this might be the case. Could the fit be so tight between, on the one hand, a literary genre (and its formal conventions) and, on the other hand, the normative organization of sexuality in a given society, so tight that the genre was itself impossible to claim for dissident sexual representation? Stoddard's 1903 novel For the Pleasure of His Company: A Tale of the Misty City, Thrice Told , confronts this question both implicitly (in its own formal experimentation) and explicitly (in a conversation two characters have about the writing of novels). In the present essay I will return repeatedly to the stakes of the discussion Stoddard stages between his two aspiring novelists (his protagonist, Paul Clitheroe, and Paul's friend Miss Juno, aka Jack), who articulate contending visions of what a novel must be. Later American novelists who, in one way or another, tried to fit the novel out for queer purposes also confronted the vexing question of the genre's queer potentiality, and arrived at a variety of general answers and formal experiments. From one general perspective, the novel might seem well suited to queer sexuality. The novel has a long history of discreditation as a low genre, both on the basis of its ostensible formal appeal to dangerous readerly absorption ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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