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REVIEW ARTICLES STJBJECTTVTnES IN THE AGE OF AIDS Regenia Gagnier. Subjectivities: A History ofSelf-Representation in Britain, 1832 - 1920. New York: OUP, 1991. ? + 323. $35.00 US (cloth). Kevin Porter and Jeffrey Weeks, eds. Between the Acts: Lives of Homosexual Men 1885 - 1967. London: Routiedge, 1991. ix + 153. $16.95 US. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of CaUfornia P, 1990. xi + 258. $24.95 US (cloth). Claude J. Summers. Gay Fictions: Wilde to Stonewall: Studies in a Male HomosexualLiterary Tradition. New York: Continuum, 1990. 245. $22.95 US (cloth). Three of the four books under review deal widi material from die Victorian period up to die present. The authors argue that discourses of sexuality developed at die end of the nineteenth century continue to shape the sexgender system today and, in particular, the formation of subjects of sexual minorities. Indeed, this view, which is coming to be widely accepted, is bound to affect die itinerary of work within the field of Victorian studies during die coming decade. The focus on male subjectivities in these volumes—whether homosocial, homosexual, gay or some combination of these terms—is particularly significant coming as it does at die end of a decade which has been harrowing in its effects on gay men. While ATDS affects many individuals and groups who are not gay and male, die ATDS epidemic has had a decimating impact on the first generation of gay men in the United States and Great Britain who were able botii to be "out" and to take an active, at times a leading, part in cultural life. In die United States, this phenomenon dates, roughly speaking, from die advent of Pop Art in die early Sixties. By the 1970s it became possible, in a few centres, for a large number of men to combine their work with living openly as gay. The situation is so novel and its availability so limited, however, tiiat gay men and others need to keep in mind how fragile die possibilities have been. The books under review appear at a time, in the midst of die ATDS epidemic, 44Victorian Review when possibiUties for young men to "come out" have narrowed. And, of course, for those who are not white and middle class, die risks have always been and continue to be considerably higher. Today, die sense of loss tiiat characterizes writing in what Claude Summers terms the "male homosexual literary tradition" has been amplified in new and unexpected ways by losses to AIDS, by continuing difficulty in obtaining adequate policies of public health, and by die need for gay men to develop ways of expressing their bereavement. At such a time, questions about the character of gay subjectivities and die need to formulate their history acquire an unprecedented urgency. With the exception of Regenia Gagnier's book, which deals for the .most part with questions about the cultural-aesthetic representation of members of the English working classes from 1832 to 1920, the texts under review respond to this situation. Gagnier provides a set of carefully worked out reflections on the textual construction of subjectivities during this period. Her emphasis on die relationship between work and subjectivity provides an important supplement to considerations of die sexual construction of subjectivity, which at times neglect this factor. Between the Acts attends to die AIDS crisis in an archival mode, recording autobiographical accounts by male homosexuals who came to maturity between 1885, year of passage of the anti-homosexual Labouchère Amendment, and 1967, die year in which passage of the Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalized sexual acts between men (vü). The key effect of the latter piece of legislation was to make it possible for men to speak openly about being gay, a possibility that has made a significant change for die better in British life despite a number of reverses during the Thatcher years, including passage in 1988 of Clause 28 of die Local Government Act, which prohibits "promotions of homosexuality" by local authorities (Bristow 75). Claude Summers's CtTy Fictions, which refers briefly to "die tragedy of die ATDS epidemic" (16), responds in retrospective mode by taking as its terminal point of reference June 27-28...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 43-54
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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