Pages passed from hand to hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914

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Before E. M. Forster's Maurice, written in 1914, introduced a new openness about the favorable depiction of homosexuality in English fiction, a number of novels and stories carried coded portraits of homosexuals and homosexuality. Many of these were, by necessity, published privately; still others were written to insure that the homosexual component would be recognizable to a select few; still others embedded homosexual content within such "safe" genres as the Western and the public school novel. There have been several recent anthologies of twentieth-century gay fiction, but David Leavitt and Mark Mitchell's fascinating book is the first to explore the texts that circulated before the "gay fiction" genre came into being, and before greater tolerance allowed writers to treat homosexual themes directly. Leavitt and Mitchell include extracts from stories and novels by well-known writers such as Herman Melville, Walter Pater, Henry James, Willa Cather, and D. H. Lawrence, as well as work from neglected figures such as Count Eric Stenbock, John Francis Bloxam, "Alan Dale," and Gerald Hamilton -- the inspiration for Christopher Isherwood's Mr. Norris. The result is an entertaining and revelatory anthology, and a valuable contribution to our understanding of the literary treatment of homosexuality.