LGBT 20th Century Lit

Posted by on Aug 10, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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As a member of the LGBT community, it is almost taken for granted that I know the forebears of literature for my community. Sadly, though, often lumping all LGBT writers and subjects into one genre means there’s only one place to find any and all LGBT fiction (past and present) in the bookstore. So, I’ve done my research and consider this post an exploration of that section as journey through the 20th century.

Maurice – E.M. Forster

British author E.M. Forster best known for analyzing the hypocrisy of 20th century England wrote Maurice in 1913-14 after a visit with his friend Edward Carpenter and Carpenter’s lover George Merrill. Forster for his entire life tried to conceal his own homosexuality and would not have Maurice published during his lifetime. The novel follows Maurice Hall in an exploration of his own sexuality and countless attempts at hiding it from the world, including one passage where he goes to see a hypnotist. Forster wrote on the manuscript, “Publishable, but worth it?” but it was not published until 1971, after Forster’s death.

The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall

Out lesbian British author Radclyffe Hall wrote The Well after her novel Adam’s Breed was a huge commercial success. The book follows an upper-class Englishwoman with “sexual inversion” by the name of Stephen Gordon. She meets Mary Llewellyn after becoming an ambulance driver during WWI and falls in love. The two deal with social rejection, isolation, and the debilitating effects of their “inversion” during the time period. Hall was taken to court after the novel’s publication in 1928 despite the only remotely lesbian sexual reference being “and that night, they were not divided.” The British court ruled it obscene but survived in American courts. It is considered the seminal work of lesbian fiction for modern British and American literature.

Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote

No list of gay writers would be complete without Breakfast at Tiffany’s pen Truman Capote, who was an out and proud hobnobbing kiki-thrower. Other Voices, Other Rooms was his first novel, published in 1948 after two years of travelling and writing. It is the semi-autobiographical southern gothic tale of effeminate thirteen-year-old Joel Knox exploring Scully’s Landing, a large and largely decaying plantation home at which he arrives after the death of his mother. The tale includes his stepmother Amy, a transvestite named Randolph, and tomboy Idabel. After contracting pneumonia, Knox is nursed to health by Randolph and sees a ghostly “queer lady” summoning him upstairs. His joining the queer lady is seen critically as the moment at which Joel (and in turn Capote) accepted his sexuality.

The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckenridge – Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal is another obvious choice for this list. He famously and continuously said, “Everyone is bisexual” and that he did not wish to be called gay because “to be categorized is, simply, to be enslaved.” In his third novel, The City and the Pillar (pub. 1948), he outlines a coming-of-age story in which protagonist Jim Willard discovers his own homosexuality. City is most prevalent because it is the first time in gay fiction where the openly gay protagonist is not killed off for defying social norms. But Vidal’s Foucauldian view of sexuality most appears in the satirical diary-novel Myra Breckenridge (pub. 1968), wherein he uproots societal norms and casts aside all gender roles for the sake of equality. Myra explores feminism, transexuality, American machismo, and is the first time readers see a protagonist undergo a clinical sex-change.

Another Country – James Baldwin

Best known for Giovanni’s Room and Go Tell It On The Mountain, Baldwin was eminent in the twentieth century as a gay black author and political activist. In Another Country (pub. 1962), which I have included here for its specific portrayal of bisexuality and interracial couples, he tells the stories of Rufus Scott before his suicide and the group of Scott’s friends after the event. The several characters end up having sexual affairs with one another, their own relationships strained by the confusion and guilt they feel due to Scott’s decision to take his life.

Rubyfruit Jungle – Rita Mae Brown

Brown’s first novel (pub. 1973) is the autobiographical coming-of-age story that annotates the youth of Molly Bolt, who despite a bad relationship with her mother, who calls her a bastard child, accepts her own sexuality and excels to receive a full-ride to college after graduation only to lose it because of her sexuality. She then pursues filmmaking in New York City. The book is known for its explicit portrayal of lesbian sex and its success is why the lesbian coming-of-age novel cliché exists.

Annie on My Mind – Nancy Garden

Columbia-educated actress and author Nancy Garden wrote Annie in 1982. The story is one of the first coming-of-age novels that deals with lesbian sexual discovery in a positive light, following the friendship between Annie and Liza, two seventeen-year-old girls living in New York City, who eventually realize despite having different life goals that they are in love. Garden was an out lesbian, who spent over half of her life with her partner Sandy Scott.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeannette Winterson

The semi-autobiographical novel-turned-miniseries is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Jeannette who is adopted by religious Pentecostal zealots and who, upon discovering her attraction to girls, is subjected to exorcisms by her mother’s friends. Published in 1985, Winterson famously rejected the label “lesbian novel” for her book, saying that she hates how society dictates straight fiction is for everyone while the presence of a gay character means further specification is required.


P.T.StoneP.T. Stone is a student at Clemson University studying English and Philosophy. He is an avid writer of poetry and prose, a composer, a frequent Facebook ranter, and a pure-bred digital generation brat. He is finishing his first novel, flowers with no petals, and has literary blogs here and here. When he isn’t trying to become famous writing, acting, or singing, Preston can be found chasing fluffy kitties to use as pillows while they purr or Instagram stalking Lady Gaga.

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