A History of Gay Literature (Magill Book Reviews)
A HISTORY OF GAY LITERATURE: THE MALE TRADITION is an extremely comprehensive attempt to chart the course of gay literature through history. Author Gregory Woods has clearly succeeded in identifying the persistence of the homoerotic imagination over time and among cultures, and in this judiciously weighted, persuasively argued critical study he not only describes the extraordinarily wide range of texts that fit within this tradition but proposes a new and provocative definition of what in fact constitutes gay literature. Though he certainly includes works by identifiably gay authors and works that contain gay characters or themes (whether by gay authors or not), his theoretical position is that gay literature is any literary material that is “amenable to gay readings.” What Woods then proceeds to do is provide just such readings—“queering the canon,” as he says—by looking at canonical texts from a gay point of view.
Woods has an enormous number of texts to work with, from ancient Greek pastorals to medieval Arabic elegies, Renaissance dramas to Victorian pornography, modern European novels to African friendship verses and contemporary AIDS journalism. In all of his commentary on these historical works he is careful not to apply anachronistic assumptions that would result in distorted readings. He is acutely aware, for instance, of the elaborately coded gender system of Periclean Athens which both celebrated the love of men and boys but which...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
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A History of Gay Literature (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Gregory Woods has undertaken a positively herculean task in writing this history of the gay male tradition in literature. Although he is not the first to attempt such an encompassing study, in the sheer breadth of his coverage and the persuasive force of his critical commentary, he succeeds in a much more comprehensive way than any of his predecessors.
The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage: A Reader’s Companion to the Writers and Their Works, from Antiquity to the Present (1995), one of several volumes edited by Claude J. Summers in the early 1990’s, is certainly a valuable guide, as are the various dictionaries on gay men’s literature available from Greenwood Press and St. James Press; but Woods has produced something much more monumental than an exhaustively annotated bibliography of gay figures and texts. He has effectively identified a new canon, or rather given a penetrating re-reading of the established canon from a gay perspective, and in a series of magisterial essays has created a sense of a usable literary past for gay readers.
Gay readers, in fact, are essential to Woods’s construction of this canon, since it is his contention that gay literature is not simply limited to the productions of gay authors nor confined to literary works containing recognizable gay characters or themes. Although gay literature may begin with an openly gay author writing explicitly about the experience of being gay, Woods proposes that it...
(The entire section is 2094 words.)