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Middlebrow Queer

Middlebrow Queer: Christopher Isherwood in America

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Middlebrow Queer
    Book Description:

    How could one write about gay life for the mainstream public in Cold War America? Many midcentury gay American writers, hampered by external and internal censors, never managed to do it. But Christopher Isherwood did, and what makes his accomplishment more remarkable is that while he was negotiating his identity as a gay writer, he was reinventing himself as an American one. Jaime Harker shows that Isherwood refashioned himself as an American writer following his emigration from England by immersing himself in the gay reading, writing, and publishing communities in Cold War America.

    Drawing extensively on Isherwood's archives, including manuscript drafts and unpublished correspondence with readers, publishers, and other writers,Middlebrow Queerdemonstrates how Isherwood mainstreamed gay content for heterosexual readers in his postwar novels while also covertly writing for gay audiences and encouraging a symbiotic relationship between writer and reader. The result-in such novels asThe World in the Evening, Down There on a Visit, A Single Man,andA Meeting by the River-was a complex, layered form of writing that Harker calls "middlebrow camp," a mode that extended the boundaries of both gay and middlebrow fiction.

    Weaving together biography, history, and literary criticism,Middlebrow Queertraces the continuous evolution of Isherwood's simultaneously queer and American postwar authorial identity. In doing so, the book illuminates many aspects of Cold War America's gay print cultures, from gay protest novels to "out" pulp fiction.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3921-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Christopher and His Readers
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    Christopher isherwood’schristopher and his kind(1976) begins with queer bravado. Explaining why he really went to Berlin in the 1930s—in a word, boys—Isherwood frames his homosexuality defiantly: “Girls are what the state and the church and the law and the press and the medical profession endorse, and command me to desire. My mother endorses them, too. She is silently brutishly willing me to get married and breed grandchildren for her. Her will is the will of Nearly Everybody, and in their will is my death.Mywill is to live according to my nature, and to find...

  5. 1 Isherwood’s American Incarnation and the Gay Protest Novel
    (pp. 1-24)

    When christopher isherwood and w. h. auden set sail for New York in 1939, it seemed to most like simply another adventure. Ever since purposely failing the Tripos (a cumulative two-year exam) at Cambridge and leaving the narrow confines of his upper-crust upbringing, Isherwood had been a wanderer. His most profound attachment had been to Berlin, despite, or perhaps because of, his mother’s continued outrage at Germany for her husband’s death in World War I. When the Nazis took power in 1933, Isherwood traveled around Europe, looking for a new nationality for his German boyfriend, Heinz Neddermeyer; he also began...

  6. 2 “Too Queer to Be Quaker”: Gay Protest and Camp
    (pp. 25-44)

    The world in the eveninghas been panned critically since its publication in 1954; even Isherwood’s friend Dodie Smith, after reading the novel, claimed that America was “destroying his sense of values and even his taste” and “has almost ruined his talent.”¹ Isherwood disavowed the novel almost as soon as he had completed it, and continued to trash it whenever he got the chance. During his university lectures in the 1960s, for example, he was so critical of the book that his students asked him if he wasn’t being too hard on himself.² His most telling comment, though, was his...

  7. 3 “Fagtrash”: Pulp Paperbacks and Cold War Queer Readers
    (pp. 45-70)

    The publication ofthe World in the eveningdidn’t bring Christopher Isherwood the accolades he wanted, despite his careful cultivation of a prestige press, Random House, which published W. H. Auden, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and Stephen Spender, and the well-regarded literary agency Curtis Brown.The World in the Eveningled to an enthusiastic American gay readership, not through the original hardback edition but through the paperback reprint. Isherwood was thus enmeshed in one of the most lucrative and debated movements in Cold War print culture: the “paperback revolution.”

    The rise of paperback books in the United States¹ began with...

  8. 4 Sixties Literature and the Ascension of Camp Middlebrow
    (pp. 71-88)

    The sixties marked christopher isherwood’s most productive decade as an American novelist; after publishing one novel per decade from 1940 to 1960, he published three novels between 1960 and 1967. Certainly an important factor in Isherwood’s productivity was the emerging ethos of experimentation and rebellion during the 1960s. While most discussions of the sixties emphasize the Civil Rights movement, SDS, the antiwar movement, and Black Power, Isherwood avoided political protests and mass movements.¹ Even his relations with the emerging gay rights movement in California were measured. Rather than radical politics, the cultural and aesthetic expression of the 1960s fostered Isherwood’s...

  9. 5 “A Delicious Purgatory”: Sex and “Salvation”
    (pp. 89-110)

    The new sixties ethos was apparent even early in the decade. Homosexuals began to emerge in literary culture as a particular kind of antihero, often as hustlers, quite different from the American boys next door in postwar gay protest novels. These gay men were social outcasts, symbols of the larger despair in American culture. These novels featured sordid sexual encounters, and in many ways confirmed stereotypes of the “homosexual lifestyle.” They also universalized gay experience for a wide range of readers, insisting that the gay underworld was emblematic of a human experience, not solely a gay one. If gay characters...

  10. 6 Secret Agents and Gay Identity: Cold War Queerness
    (pp. 111-134)

    Asingle manhas become one of isherwood’s most-lauded and well-known novels; Edmund White, for example, embracedA Single Manas “one of the first and best novels of the modern gay liberation movement.”¹ The novel has been read as prophetic, anticipating the gay liberation movement of the 1970s and queer theory of the 1990s and later. Tom Ford’s beautifully filmed movie of the novel in 2009 introduced it to a new generation of readers. These subsequent critical appreciations ofA Single Mandon’t indicate how Isherwood created and framed the novel within and against the cultural mores of the...

  11. 7 Spiritual Trash: Hindus, Homos, and Gay Pulp
    (pp. 135-162)

    Early in the 1967 novela Meeting by the river,patrick, on his way to India to persuade his brother Oliver not to become a monk, receives a special gift from his lover Tom in Los Angeles:

    That coverless and obviously much thumbed-through paperback novel you suddenly pulled out of your pocket and gave me at the airport—wow(as you would say)!! You know, you might at least have warned me what it was about! I suppose I should have guessed, from your wicked grin. Anyhow, I didn’t. After we’d taken off, I opened it in all innocence at...

  12. 8 Christopher Isherwood, Gay Liberation, and the Question of Style
    (pp. 163-180)

    The appearance of an articulate, outraged, insistent public gay presence was the incarnation of Isherwood’s most fantastic queer fantasies. After the riots at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, gay liberation fronts emerged in a number of urban areas, and political groups claimed public space vigorously. Gay liberation was a complex political and cultural movement; I am most interested in gay liberation print culture, which was a central means of creating gay and lesbian reading and writing communities. Gay pulp may well have created the audience for this explosion of print culture, but the shift from underground gay pulps and adult...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 181-192)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-200)
  15. Index
    (pp. 201-203)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 204-204)