Dayneford's library: American homosexual writing, 1900-1913 by James Gifford

By James Gifford

The trendy gay is frequently obvious as having emerged totally shaped out of the Oscar Wilde trials. This paintings disputes this sort of view, providing photographs of homosexuality in early 20th-century American literature and trying to identify the meanings of homosexuality as then understood by means of homosexuals.

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The Arrow Collar Man and all he represents appear, for example, in Paul Clitheroe, the debonair hero of Charles Warren Stoddard's For the Pleasure of His Company, the many Henry James bachelor-heroes, and most pointedly in the literary reminiscence of the 1890s Harvard clique of Oscar Wilde imitators, The Cult of the Purple Rose. We see that the love of aesthetic pursuits such as the arts and musicparticularly operais also a marker of homosexuality. Attesting that the image of the Aesthete homosexual was already far advanced by 1908, Edward Prime-Stevenson notes that the homosexual is "aesthetically receptive, because of his natural predilection for what is concretely beautiful" (388).

Nothing is to be taken as absolute in the realm of human sexuality. David M. Halperin reasonably argues that "homosexuality" is a cultural construct and warns us against taking sexual categories for granted (46). At the end of the nineteenth century in America, what the homosexual might be(come) was very much in flux; there was no single workable paradigm of homosexuality. The medical establishment was creating a pathological portrait at the same time that the effeminized aesthete (à la Oscar Wilde) presented an obviousand notoriousrepresentation of homosexuality to late Victorian America.

Each had its expanses as well as its limitations; each offered the possibility for hybridization. Similarly, the present offers us no single, clearly limned homosexual imago; we still struggle with conflicting data. The march on Washington for 1For a further examination of the similarities between the current fin-de-siècle and the nineteenth century's, see Elaine Showalters amusing but hardly revelatory study. Sexual Anarchy; a deeper study of the very concept of fin-de-siècle and its several centennial applications is Hillel Schwartz's Century's End.

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