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Toward Stonewall

Homosexuality and Society in the Modern Western World

Nicholas C. Edsall

Publication Year: 2003

As recently as the 1970s, gay and lesbian history was a relatively unexplored field for serious scholars. The past quarter century, however, has seen enormous growth in gay and lesbian studies. The literature is now voluminous; it is also widely scattered and not always easily accessible. In Toward Stonewall, Nicholas Edsall provides a much-needed synthesis, drawing upon both scholarly and popular writings to chart the development of homosexual subcultures in the modern era and the uneasy place they have occupied in Western society.

Edsall's survey begins three hundred years ago in northwestern Europe, when homosexual subcultures recognizably similar to those of our own era began to emerge, and it follows their surprisingly diverse paths through the Enlightenment to the early nineteenth century. The book then turns to the Victorian era, tracing the development of articulate and self-aware homosexual subcultures. With a greater sense of identity and organization came new forms of resistance: this was the age that saw the persecution of Oscar Wilde, among others, as well as the medical establishment's labeling of homosexuality as a sign of degeneracy.

The book's final section locates the foundations of present-day gay sub-cultures in a succession of twentieth-century scenes and events -- in pre-Nazi Germany, in the lesbian world of interwar Paris, in the law reforms of 1960s England -- culminating in the emergence of popular movements in the postwar United States.

Rather than examining these groups in isolation, the book considers them in their social contexts and as comparable to other subordinate groups and minority movements. In the process, Toward Stonewall illuminates not only the subcultures that are its primary subject but the larger societies from which they emerged.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

As the sheer volume of writings on gay and lesbian history has grown in recent years, so too has the need for works of synthesis, pulling together this widely scattered and often not readily available material. What follows is just such a work...


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pp. xiii

Part 1: Making a Subculture

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pp. 1-66

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Chapter 1: Origins

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pp. 3-16

Can there be any such thing as a history of homosexuality stretching back much beyond the late nineteenth century to the early modern, let alone the medieval or ancient worlds? Or are the terms we employ in discussing homosexuality...

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Chapter 2: Patterns of Repression

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pp. 17-32

The sodomitical subcultures that emerged in northwestern Europe at the close of the seventeenth century were bound sooner or later to attract public attention, hostile public attention, since the conditions that had fostered or simply allowed...

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Chapter 3: Sodomy and the Enlightenment

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pp. 33-46

The crystallization of the image—and self-image—of members of the sodomitical subcultures of northwestern Europe as in some way a distinct and identifiable category of persons was certainly the most important development affecting...

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Chapter 4: Europe Divided

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pp. 47-60

Contemporary with the Enlightenment but rarely intersecting with it, the Protestant nations of northern and western Europe, Germany and England in particular, experienced religious revivals so widespread that they have often been referred...

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Chapter 5: Conclusion to Part 1

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pp. 61-66

Even without the French Revolution and the generation of war that followed, the various nations of northern and western Europe would have followed different paths so far as their attitudes toward the proper role of the public in private morals...

Part 2: Defining a Subculture

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pp. 67-192

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Chapter 6: Pioneers: The United States

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pp. 69-84

Well before the middle of the nineteenth century each of the major nations of northwestern Europe had established its own peculiar variations on the general theme of how best to regulate deviant sexuality in a modern, increasingly secular society and render...

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Chapter 7: Pioneers: Germany

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pp. 85-99

While Walt Whitman was perfecting his views of comradeship in America, from his first use of adhesiveness in his own special sense in the mid-1850s, through the publication of the Calamus poems in 1860 and his tending of the sick and wounded...

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Chapter 8: Pioneers: England

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pp. 100-109

For all the differences between the pioneering prophets of the love between men in the United States and Germany—Whitman the visionary poet and Ulrichs the scholarly lawyer and pedant—they had important characteristics in common...

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Chapter 9: Wilde

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pp. 110-126

If Walt Whitman was the first iconic figure, the first saint, in the modern gay pantheon, Oscar Wilde—certainly no saint—was the first martyr. The trials and imprisonment of Wilde can be read as a purely personal tragedy, the product of the conjunction...

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Chapter 10: Degeneracy and Atavism

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pp. 127-136

The trials and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde were seen at the time and have been seen ever since as important symbolic events, and not only in the development of a sense of homosexual group consciousness and gay liberation. Wilde’s persecution...

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Chapter 11: Purity and Impurity

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pp. 137-152

Although the medical profession and the categories it established rapidly came to dominate the late-nineteenth-century discussion of issues of sexuality and sexual deviance among the educated public, that only begins to answer what is surely the most frustrating...

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Chapter 12: The Cult of Youth

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pp. 153-166

The Eulenburg scandal in Germany, like the Wilde trials in England, at once reflected and heightened the fears of degeneration and decadence that were such a potent ingredient of respectable middle-class opinion at the turn of the century...

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Chapter 13: Forster and Gide

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pp. 167-182

Less than a year after Gustav Wyneken presided over the meeting he hoped would lead to the unification of the major German youth organizations, his aspirations were overtaken and destroyed by the outbreak of World War I. Like their contemporaries...

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Chapter 14: Conclusion to Part 2

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pp. 183-192

If André Gide in France and E. M. Forster in England can serve in some measure as representative of those in the pre–World War I generation of intellectuals, straight or gay, who were able to make the transition to the postwar world more or less...

Part 3: Organizing a Subculture

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pp. 193-336

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Chapter 15: Between the Wars

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pp. 195-219

The Uranian tradition of harking back to ancient Greece as a justification, an inspiration, even as a model for homoeroticism in the modern world, a tradition that had played a central role in the emergence of defined and articulate homosexual...

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Chapter 16: The Making of a Lesbian Subculture

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pp. 220-240

No less a product of the interwar years than what one historian labeled the Auden Generation was the vibrant international lesbian subculture centered in Paris, which flourished up until the beginning of World War II. A remarkable phenomenon...

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Chapter 17: Homosexuality and Psychiatry

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pp. 241-248

Auden and Isherwood were far from alone in turning their backs on Europe and emigrating to the United States on the eve of World War II. They were, in fact, part of a mass exodus that began with the Nazi rise to power and accelerated...

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Chapter 18: False Starts and New Beginnings

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pp. 249-275

With the exception of one exceptional individual, Walt Whitman, and one important social institution, the Boston marriage, the United States played at best a supporting role in the emergence of homosexual subcultures in the nineteenth century...

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Chapter 19: Reaction

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pp. 276-299

McCarthyism long ago entered the political lexicon as a convenient shorthand term for the politics of anti-Communism in the post– World War II United States. In a way that is unfortunate, since it personalizes and thereby confines something far wider...

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Chapter 20: Outsiders Abroad and at Home

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pp. 300-313

Accommodation to the politics and prejudices of the 1950s was not the only survival strategy adopted by gay men and lesbians following World War II, but it was certainly the most common. A few courageous or cantankerous individuals...

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Chapter 21: From Wolfenden to Stonewall

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pp. 314-333

As in the United States, so too in western Europe, and with particular significance in England, the conventional wisdom about homosexuality, like the taboo on the public discussion of it, began to erode in the 1950s. That England, with its long...

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Chapter 22: Conclusion to Part 3

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pp. 334-336

The passage of the Sexual Offenses Act in England in the summer of 1967 and the Stonewall riots in New York in the summer of 1969 were the two most important events, symbolically as well as in fact, leading up to the late-twentieth-century gay rights...


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pp. 337-351

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 353-363


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pp. 365-377

E-ISBN-13: 9780813923963
E-ISBN-10: 0813923964
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813922119
Print-ISBN-10: 0813925436

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Subculture -- Europe, Western -- History.
  • Marginality, Social -- United States -- History.
  • Marginality, Social -- Europe, Western -- History.
  • Homosexuality -- United States -- History.
  • Homosexuality -- Europe, Western -- History.
  • Subculture -- United States -- History.
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