GAY LIVES by Paul Robinson

GAY LIVES

Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Cultural historian Robinson (Humanities/Stanford; Freud and His Critics, not reviewed, etc.) examines provocatively a century’s worth of authors whose homosexuality is a central subject of their autobiographical narratives. Covering 14 British, American, and French writers, most of them professional men of letters, Robinson focuses with sometimes claustrophobic reductiveness on “what they did in bed, what they wanted to do, what they didn—t want to do.” The lives here and the way their authors represented them are remarkably various: The posthumous memoirs of 19th-century belletrist John Addington Symonds and Edwardian don G. Lowes Dickinson evidence lots of flowery Greek-inspired idealism but precious little sexual success in a society that was not so much repressive as willfully oblivious. In 1951 Stephen Spender disparaged his gay past through “elaborate avoidances,” while Christopher Isherwood’s post-Stonewall Christopher and His Kind recreated much of the same milieu without Spender’s backpedaling. J.R. Ackerley found lasting (nonsexual) love only with his dog; the flamboyantly effeminate Quentin Crisp flatly disdained sex. The French indulged in philosophical contortions: AndrÇ Gide wrote that his physical desires had nothing to do with emotion; Jean Genet claimed that his homosexuality was, like his criminal career, a deliberate choice to remove himself from conventional society; Julian Green couldn—t reconcile his sexuality with his Roman Catholic faith. The diarists Jeb Anderson and Donald Vining both endured the post-WWII crackdown on gay life in America, the former miserably and the latter with inexplicable perkiness. Memoirs by Andrew Tobias, Martin Duberman, and Paul Monette all center on emergence from the closet. In general, Robinson writes with crisp elegance, but he tends to dive for his subjects” genitals with unseemly relish. And though he is often shrewd in assessing literary strategies as psychological evasions, he just as often ends up berating writers unfairly for lack of candor, self-knowledge, or 1990s political savvy. Nevertheless, Robinson covers an impressive amount of previously unsurveyed ground. (15 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-226-72180-9
Page count: 430pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionNOT SO GOOD A GAY MAN by Frank M. Robinson
by Frank M. Robinson
IndieONE NIGHT STAND AND OTHER POEMS by Arnold T. Schwab
by Arnold T. Schwab