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Reviewed by:
  • Gay Fictions: Wilde to Stonewall
  • Thomas Dukes
Claude J. Summers . Gay Fictions: Wilde to Stonewall. New York: Continuum, 1990. 245 pp. $22.95.

The emerging field of gay studies brings a number of revisionings (for example, those of Adrienne Rich) of canonical and not-so-canonical texts. Claude J. Summers acknowledges in the introduction to this volume of his essays the political and social changes that make such revisionings possible and the inevitable intersection of politics and literature that an analysis of gay texts demands. He claims that his book, although "free of propagandistic intent and unearned claims, . . . is at the same time unabashedly committed to the idea that the representation of gay men and lesbians in literature is a vitally important subject both for its own sake and for its consequences in the real world. . . ."

Such thinking informs Summers' essays on Wilde, Cather, Forster, Vidal, Capote and Tennessee Williams, Renault, Baldwin, and Isherwood. The essays consider these authors' fictions significant both because of their subject matter and the way that subject is handled. Most significantly for the scholar in gay studies, Summers also shows a linear historical continuity among the fictions as well as an historical connection to the times in which they were written. Summers notes the changes of attitudes about homosexuality in the writers' works, beginning with the "blurred and inexact" homosexual subculture of The Picture of Dorian Gray and the "humane plea" of "an imaginative accommodationism" in Cather's "Paul's Case," written in part, Summers believes, as a response to the Wilde scandal. With the increasing frankness allowed by time and circumstance, the fictions become more direct.

In subsequent chapters, Summers continues to link gay fictions to each other. For example, he believes the ending of Maurice echoes Wilde's conclusion of De Profundis where he "looks to nature for healing and wholeness." Summers connects The City and the Pillar and The Charioteer by showing how they "reflect their [End Page 352] historical moment even as they subvert some of the widely held notions of their day." His closing appreciative essays of Baldwin's oft-maligned Giovanni's Room and Isherwood's somewhat neglected small masterpiece A Single Man bring much needed favorable attention to these novels.

Although Summers admits he has omitted works by a number of other authors whose fictions could easily be placed in his historical study, he indeed demonstrates, as he intends, that these novels "merit an honored place not only in the history of representations of homosexuality, but also in the broad range of the Anglo-American literary tradition." Although some scholars might wish for a more extended consideration of other criticism of some of these books, Summers' informative notes suggest the critical history, and in some cases, controversy, that these books have triggered. (He also ignites some of his own as in his comment on Cynthia Ozick's essay on Forster and Maurice.) Gay Fictions: Wilde to Stonewall is an excellent survey for student and experienced scholar alike, an important work in our efforts to articulate the gay contribution to British and American letters in the first half of the twentieth century.

Thomas Dukes
The University of Akron


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