Cover image for Gay lives : homosexual autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette
Gay lives : homosexual autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette
Robinson, Paul A., 1940-
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Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1999.
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xxiii, 428 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
The man of letters and the don: John Addington Symonds and Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson -- Auden & Co.: Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender -- The detective and the comedian: J.R. Ackerley and Quentin Crisp -- Three French novelists: André Gide, Jean Genet, and Julien Green -- Two American diarists / Jeb Alexander and Donald Vining -- The closet and its discontents / Andrew Tobias, Martin Duberman, and Paul Monette.
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HQ75.2 .R63 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In his autobiography, John Addington Symonds relates a glorious night of passion, in which he and his lover "lay covered from the cold in bed, tasting the honey of softly spoken words and the blossoms of lips pressed on lips." Christopher Isherwood's first autobiography, on the other hand, was far less direct; he wrote a second autobiography in part because the first was "not truly autobiographical" in that "the author conceals important facts about himself." These contradictions, evasions, and explicit sexual details of the life stories of fourteen men form Gay Lives , a revealing account of homosexual autobiography.

Paul Robinson reads the memoirs of French, British, and American gay authors--André Gide, Quentin Crisp, and Martin Duberman, among others--through the prism of sexual identity, asking fascinating questions about homosexuality and its relation to literary form. How did these authors discover their sexual identity? Did they embrace it or reject it? How did they express often conflicted desires in their words, which ranged from defiant and brutally frank to ambiguous and abstract? Robinson considers the choices each made--as a man and an author--to accommodate himself to society's homophobia or live in protest against his oppression.

Despite the threads that connect these stories, Gay Lives refutes the notion that there is a typical homosexual "career" by showing that gay men have led wildly dissimilar lives--from the exuberant to the miserable--and that they have found no less dissimilar meanings in those lives.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. André 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Robinson (humanities, Stanford Univ.) wondered whether or not there was such a thing as a "gay life." Toward that end, he has examined 15 autobiographies, not simply by gay men but rather by those who seek to explain their love of men. He limits his canon to self-described artists and intellectuals, but the range here is extraordinary. Robinson looks at men from the 19th century to the present, including Paul Monette and Martin Duberman. The famous (Stephen Spender) appear alongside little-known diarists (Donald Vining and Jeb Alexander). The differences between them (class and nationality, for example) turn out to be not so superficial, and the ways in which they conduct their lives lead Robinson to conclude that there is no paradigmatic gay life. This lucid book will be of interest to historians for contextualizing gay life over time and space and to literary critics for examining a genre that has hitherto received little attention.ÄDavid S. Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Robinson (Stanford) offers a dazzling analysis of the homosexual experience as gleaned from autobiographical writings by 14 notable male homosexuals ranging from Quintin Crisp to Paul Monette. The author includes such other figures as Christopher Isherwood, Jean Genet, Andre Gide, and W.H. Auden, pairing or grouping them in ways that sharpen the comparisons and contrasts he creates. Robinson concludes that no "typical" homosexual, no stereotype, emerges from the works he analyzes: each autobiographer has a singular identity. Some live fulfilled lives. Others, denying their sexuality, live tortured, closeted existences. Some critics will fault Robinson for excluding female homosexuals from his study. In fact, the author spent a full summer reading such works by women and concluded that "the lesbian stories seemed so utterly unlike their gay male counterparts as to belong in an alien universe." Accordingly, he wisely limits his consideration to males while acknowledging the need for a similar analytical work about women. Unlike Raymond Berger's Gay and Grey (CH, Jan'83), which explores through interviews the lives of a dozen elderly gay men, Robinson's study focuses on highly visible and sophisticated men grappling with the question of being gay. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates through faculty and for general readers. R. B. Shuman formerly, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Table of Contents

1 The Man of Letters and theDon John Addington
Symonds and GoldsworthyLowes Dickinson
The Memoirs ofJohn Addington Symonds
The Autobiography ofG. Lowes Dickinson
2 Auden & CoChristopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender
Lions and Shadows World within World Christopher and His Kind
3 The Detective and the ComedianJ. R. Ackerley and Quentin Crisp
My Father and Myself
The Naked Civil Servant
4 Three French NovelistsAndre Gide and Jean Genet and Julien
Green Si le grain ne meurt Journal du voleur Jeunes and annees
5 Two American DiaristsJeb Alexander and Donald Vining Jeb and Dash A Gay Diary
6 The Closet and Its DiscontentsAndrew Tobias and Martin Duberman and Paul Monette
The Best Little Boy in the World Cures Becoming a Man
Epilogue Sources