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THE GAY TRADITION IN LITERATURE 801 imagination into a narrative. Critics may seem subjective for applying the template of their own concerns or other people's to the novels. And yet biographers are partial too, as we have seen. We are all impelled by the same desire - merely to know how on earth she did it. But there Jane Austen baffles the whole lot of us. The Gay Tradition in Literature LINDA HUTCHEON Gregory Woods. A History ofGay Literature New Haven: Yale University Press 1998. i, 456. $61.95 While, obviously, no literary history can be utterly comprehensive, this account of male gay literature manages to cross cultures, languages, and temporal periods to give a fuller sense than ever before available of the range and scope of the 'gay tradition' in literature. Aware of the difficulties of positing a continuous or even intermittent tradition, Gregory Woods nevertheless chooses to do so, pointing out that not all gay writing has always been subversive; indeed much has been mainstream, rooted in the social tradition of male privilege which made intimacy between males easier in some cultures. Though this large, compendious volume deals with all genres of writing, Woods - himself a poet - argues throughout that it is verse that offers the best 'documentary glimpse' of gay sexual history over the centuries and across national borders. The introduction, The Making of a Gay Tradition,' stresses both the tradition itself and the act of its construction: 'In the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth, homosexual people have been involved in the retrospective creation of a culture of our own - which is to say, the appropriation of disparate cultural products and producers, and the elaboration of a fiction: that of a continOlls "male love" tradition.' Woods addresses the thorny issue of selection criteria that anthologists and literary historians have always had to face, arguing for sociohistorical as well as aesthetic considerations. As the 'our' in the above citation suggests, he sees his main audience as gay readers and therefore wants 'both to induce enjoyment and to convey a sense of cultural solidarity.' His telling remark at the end of the first chapter sets up the model and tone for the literary history to follow: 'Mere1y to read the index pages of a book like this is to begin to retell one of the grandest of the grand narratives, the history of gay literature.' Despite his manifest awareness of the postmodern challenges to grand narratives and to historiography in the teleological vein - with its clear sense of origins, progression, and utopian projection into the future - Woods elects to structure his literary history along precisely these teleological lines first established by the German Romantics in the last century as the model for national literary histories. Odd as it may at first seem, this is not that uncommon today in histories written from the point of view of what we could call 'identity politics': feminist and postcolonial historians have also frequently chosen this same tried and true model to legitimize and authorize 802 LINDA HUTCHEON the literature whose history they recount. (I'll return to this issue at the end of this review.) Woods makes clear that his principle of selection is determined by the reader's interest, not by the author's intention. It doesn't matter if a poet is gay or if he intended his work to be read as gay:'If they work as if they were [gay poems], they are. The reader's pleasure is paramount.' This element of readerly pleasure likely accounts for the abundant citations and narrative outlines offered in the course of tracing and analysing gay themes and social and aesthetic contexts. Thebook is rich in detail both of the texts themselves and of past and recent scholarship on them. This is both a broad history and a set of brief but insightful literary critical essays on particular texts. While the major focus of the history is European (British, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian) and American literature, there are brief excursions into 'The Orient' (Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Japanese) and 'Black African Poetry.' The historical trajectory of the volume is from the Greek and Roman classics, through the Christian Middle Ages...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 801-804
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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