Giovanni's Room Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

James Baldwin

Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

The publication of Giovanni’s Room in 1956 produced a round of generally favorable reviews. Although there were dissenting voices that balked at the “sentimental” and “sensational” treatment of homosexuality, and although some critics wished that Baldwin would return to the theme of race he had so powerfully explored in Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), the reception of this second novel was, on balance, positive. Both John Clellon Holmes and Mark Schorer described the book as “beautifully written,” and Granville Hicks in The New York Times Book Review wrote that Baldwin handled the book’s bisexual triangle “with an unusual degree of candor and yet with dignity and intensity.” The praise was solid, if not wildly enthusiastic.

Such reviews were more than sufficiently satisfying, however, given the difficulty of getting the book published in America at all. Because of the explicitly homosexual nature of the novel, no American publisher would touch it. Only after the British firm of Michael Joseph brought out an English edition to good reviews did a young editor at Dial Press accept the manuscript and publish, in 1956, the American edition.

The book did come as a surprise to readers in that it included no black characters, focusing instead on a sexual triangle among three white characters in Paris. Baldwin had been working on a novel that would take up the twin issues of race and homosexuality, but...

(The entire section is 465 words.)