Homosexuality, traditionally regarded as a disease or perversion by church, state, and society, was rigorously denounced and condemned by those same institutions. In the case of the arts and literature, works featuring homoeroticism or gays and lesbians as characters were often censored, if they were recognized at all. English-language writers, for example, wrote “gay novels” under pseudonyms and published them either privately or in foreign countries.
Gay characters and sensibilities were introduced into literature only by arch subterfuge, with writers following society’s unwritten decree that homoerotic fiction must end with the death, destruction, or extraordinary “conversion” of the questionable characters. In Bayard Taylor’s Joseph and His Friend (1870), a disastrous marriage causes Joseph to drift toward Philip, a young, golden-haired man; the novel ends, however, with Joseph’s sudden, almost inexplicable interest in Philip’s look-alike sister. This plot shift presumably was made to “save” Joseph from a fate worse than death. Henry James’s Roderick Hudson (1876) sketches wealthy Rowland Mallet’s infatuation with a young sculptor, but after a rift between them, the eponymous character sinks into a decadent languor from which he is rescued only by Christina Light, a beautiful, bored girl. Like other novels of the time, homoerotic love is forced to yield to the heterosexual imperative.
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