A History of Gay Literature

The Male Tradition

Gregory Woods

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This important book is the first full-scale account of male gay literature across cultures and languages and from ancient times to the present. A work of reference as well as the definitive history of a tradition, it traces writing by and about homosexual men from ancient Greece and Rome through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the twentieth-century gay literary explosion. It includes writers of wide-ranging literary status (from high cultural icons like Virgil, Dante, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Proust to popular novelists like Clive Barker and Dashiell Hammett) and of various locations (from Mishima`s Tokyo and Abu Nuwas`s Baghdad to David Leavitt`s New York). It also deals with representations of male-male love by writers who were not themselves homosexual or bisexual men.

Working within the widest definitions of what constitutes gay literature, Gregory Woods confronts recent trends in Anglo-American gay studies, both by insisting on the internationalism of homosexual culture and by reasserting a continuity of homoerotic traditions between the ancient world and the present. He also addresses conspicuous absences and silences, such as the lack of a substantial literature of the gay holocaust and the dearth of gay writing in post-colonial African poetry.

What emerges is a gay male literature that is far from peripheral to the world`s major cultural traditions. This substantial, provocative, and highly readable work celebrates the richness and complexity of the literatures that gay men write, read, and offer to the broadest market.

Gregory Woods is reader in lesbian and gay studies at the Nottingham Trent University. He is the author of Articulate Flesh: Male Homo-Eroticism and Modern Poetry, published by Yale University Press.

A selection of Readers’ Subscription

"Woods' own artistry is evident throughout this elegant and startling book. . . . These finely honed gay readings of selected Western (and some Eastern) literary texts richly reward the careful attention they demand. . . . Though grounded in the particulars of gay male identity, this masterpiece of literary (and social) criticism calls across the divides of sex and sexual orientation."—Kirkus Reviews

"These finely honed gay readings of selected Western (and some Eastern) literary texts richly reward the careful attention they demand. . . Woods’s own artistry is evident throughout this elegant and startling book. . . Though grounded in the particulars of gay male identity, this masterpiece of literary (and social) criticism calls across the divides of sex and sexual orientation."—Kirkus Reviews

"[This book] makes for surprisingly good reading, in part because Woods has foregone strict chronology to link writers across eras and cultures."—Louis Bayard, Washington Post Book World

"Woods is a prodigious scholar who appears to have read more than Samuel Johnson and Harold Bloom combined. . . He is a smooth stylist who eschews the fustiness of academic writing for epigrams and crisply rendered judgments. For all its length and density, A History of Gay Literature makes for surprisingly good reading. . . Woods is adept not just at finding the homophobia that creeps into the work of many literary critics but at providing counter-readings of his own, and those readings are often persuasive and closely reasoned. . . We know we are encountering a fine and subtle critical mind." —Louis Bayard, Washington Post

"Woods's book reminds us that 'gay literature' includes not just writing we've rediscovered in order to have one, but also works whose 'gay' content has long been hiding in plain sight in our most canonical works."—Michael Shae, Reader's Catalog

"Woods strikes a neat balance across the centuries and cultures. All the usual anthology subjects are here, generally treated judiciously, along with plenty of the minor and the unexpected…Woods’s book reminds us that "gay literature" includes not just writing we’ve rediscovered in order to have one, but also works whose "gay" content has long been hiding in plain sight in our most canonical works." —Michael Shae, Reader’s Catalogue


"Woods has attempted nothing less than an overview of the literature of the entire world as it relates to male homosexuality. The range of his erudition is daunting."—Graeme Woolaston, Glasgow Herald

"[This book] will swiftly come to be regarded in the academic world as an exemplary piece of work."—Jonathan Bate, Sunday Telegraph

"[A] bold, intelligent and gorgeously encyclopedic study."—Philip Gambone, Lambda Book Report

"[A] bold, intelligent and gorgeously encyclopedic study. . . . Taking issue with the canon of gay literature as narrowly defined by "bookish homosexuals," Woods asserts that "gay literature" means and work that "offers the gay reader a broad range of interest."… Woods’ research is meticulous without being pedantic. . . .[He] takes pains to be clear, measured, reasonable and accurate." —Philip Gambone, Lambda Book Report


"An important, if understandably controversial book, this is a significant contribution to gay studies."—Thomas J. Campbell, Magill Book Reviews

"Woods has produced something much more monumental than an exhaustively annotated bibliography of gay figures and text. 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. . . . This is a landmark history of the gay male literary tradition, a riveting yet judiciously weighted and persuasively argued study that in spite of its obvious scholarship is easily accessible and hugely engaging. The field of gay studies has been notably advanced with the publication of this important, if understandably controversial, book."—Thomas J. Campbell, Magill's Literary Annual


"(This book) is a survey course but an excellent one. . . . It puts everything in a social and aesthetic context, and its observations are measured and well-reasoned."—Robert Plunket, Advocate

"Throughout [Woods’] point that homoerotic traditions are a literary constant is well-taken and persuasively argued. Woods make inroads in defining queer culture and illuminates the essential role gay men have played in the Western canon." —Publisher’s Weekly


"Encyclopedic and critical, evenhanded and interpretive, Woods (lesbian and gay studies, Nottingham Trent Univ.) has produced a study that stands as a monument to the progress of gay literary criticism. No one to date has attempted such a grand worldwide history. That Woods is successful in also writing a highly readable book is not be overlooked. Even those who have read extensively in the field will learn more than a little here. Especially significant is the inclusion of non-Western literatures. Woods is also sure to spark new and interesting debate on the making of a gay canon and what qualities are necessary for inclusion. This work can be considered comparable to the Cambridge or Columbia histories of literature—but only if one puts aside their more turgid qualities. For those who never had the patience to sit down and read the St. James or Greenwood Press dictionaries on gay men’s literature, this book will be like cool water. It cannot be recommended highly enough." —Library Journal

"[This] impressive new book . . . not only confirms Woods’s reputation as a leading critic of gay literature, but also offers a sweeping and generally convincing account of the representation of homosexuals in Western literature. . . . A History of Gay Literature ;is, thus, very much a personal history, reflective of a particular intelligence and sensibility and commitment. Written with conviction and passion, the book offers cultural criticism that is deeply felt and fully engaged. . . . Often witty and provocative, this fascinating and instructive book wears its deep learning lightly and deserves to be read by a wide and appreciative audience."—Claude J. Summers, Journal of Homosexuality

ISBN: 9780300072013
Publication Date: February 17, 1998
464 pages, 6 3/4 x 9 3/4
50 b/w illus.
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Male Homo-Eroticism and Modern Poetry

Gregory Woods

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