Friday, April 11, 2008

Book rec

A book I finished recently and enjoyed: Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748-1914 edited by Mark Mitchell and David Leavitt. Many of the stories were published in the mainstream, but the "hidden" part mostly refers to who was interpreting the subtext and how. Most of the selections by well known authors are lesser-known ones people are less likely to run into (such as "I and My Chimney" by Herman Melville instead of an excerpt from Moby Dick or Billy Budd, etc). I hadn't even heard of many of the pieces, such as Louis Wilkinson's pastiche of Henry James, or Joseph and his Friend: A story of Pennsylvania by Bayard Taylor. There's the moderately well known Lord Strutwell part in Smollett's The Adventures of Roderick Random, which I've read before but still like. Edward Prime-Stevenson's "Out of the Sun" is printed in entirety, as is Alan Dale's A Marriage Below Zero, which is nice because the most recent edition seems to be the original one (1889). I have to say I enjoyed that last a lot more than I expected to; it's most commonly interpreted as pure homophobic evil but that seems to depend on taking the (extremely bitter) female narrator at her face value.

The introductions to each author by the editors are quite witty and informative, but sometimes threw me. So much research has clearly been done, but neither of them bothered to find out who said "Once a philosopher, twice a sodomite"? The text blithely asks, "Was it Rousseau?" No, it wasn't. It was Voltaire (maybe not even reliably; the closest origin I can find right now with my quick-n-dirty methods is Richard Burton, writing more than a century later in 1886, and I can't remember what book I originally read the story behind it in). Another story- Tobermory by Saki, about a cat who is taught to speak and reveals many indiscretions on the parts of some garden party attendees- I have no earthly idea why it was included. The intro claims that the tomcat that kills Tobermory was some "rough trade" afraid of him talking? I read it about three times and still missed it, and I'm basically the Queen of Subtle References.

This is me nitpicking, though, and on the whole the book is a very well researched and edited collection, worth finding a copy.

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