Gay Lives: Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette

Paul Robinson, Author
Paul Robinson, Author University of Chicago Press $32 (456p) ISBN 978-0-226-72180-4
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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Stanford University humanities professor Robinson provides thoughtful analyses of 14 ""autobiographers, artists and intellectuals, whose chief concern is to describe their love of men,"" selecting gay men from England, France and the U.S. He focuses on ""three issues much on the gay mind of late: identity, masculinity, and solidarity."" John Addington Symonds--who ""may have been the first homosexual to write an autobiography focused on his erotic life""--and G. Lowes Dickinson shed light on 19th-century gay life and were both concerned with ""reconciling their desires with the values of society, values they often shared,"" writes Robinson. Andre Gide was the first to have his homosexual history published during his lifetime, and Robinson sees in Gide the Gallic tendency to be ""philosophical"" or ""in the thrall of abstraction."" Representing American ""coming-out"" stories are activist Martin Duberman and novelist Paul Monette. Some of Robinson's conclusions are too broad: for example, his contention, expressed in an epilogue, that ""black homosexuals may have been spared the Great [Sexual] Repression"" that whites endured, sounds, absent elaboration, uncomfortably like the old racist stereotype of blacks as sexual exotics with little intellectual intercession. Even so, Robinson's fluid prose illuminates the lives and texts of these men in a way that doubtless would have pleased them, and it allows his subjects to engage in a literate colloquy across the century. (Feb.)
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