A History of Gay Literature

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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.)