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Middlebrow Queer

Christopher Isherwood in America

2013
Author:

Jaime Harker

Middlebrow Queer

How Christopher Isherwood reinvented himself as an American writer through gay print culture of the postwar United States

Jaime Harker shows that Christopher Isherwood refashioned himself as an American writer following his emigration from England by immersing himself in the gay reading, writing, and publishing communities in Cold War America. Weaving together biography, history, and literary criticism, Middlebrow Queer traces the continuous evolution of Isherwood’s simultaneously queer and American postwar authorial identity.

Jaime Harker’s approach to Isherwood’s American work—his Cold War novels, as she calls them—is a welcome fresh perspective on a neglected topic. In situating Isherwood’s ‘50s and ‘60s writing in the context of the rise of the paperback book, its distribution system, and readership, Harker recuperates a period of active gay and lesbian publishing. The history she uncovers of queer publishing in the Cold War years complicates the common history of homophobia and persecution associated with the era.

James J. Berg, editor of Isherwood on Writing

How could one write about gay life for the mainstream public in Cold War America? Many midcentury gay American writers, hampered by external and internal censors, never managed to do it. But Christopher Isherwood did, and what makes his accomplishment more remarkable is that while he was negotiating his identity as a gay writer, he was reinventing himself as an American one. Jaime Harker shows that Isherwood refashioned himself as an American writer following his emigration from England by immersing himself in the gay reading, writing, and publishing communities in Cold War America.

Drawing extensively on Isherwood’s archives, including manuscript drafts and unpublished correspondence with readers, publishers, and other writers, Middlebrow Queer demonstrates how Isherwood mainstreamed gay content for heterosexual readers in his postwar novels while also covertly writing for gay audiences and encouraging a symbiotic relationship between writer and reader. The result—in such novels as The World in the Evening, Down There on a Visit, A Single Man, and A Meeting by the River—was a complex, layered form of writing that Harker calls “middlebrow camp,” a mode that extended the boundaries of both gay and middlebrow fiction.

Weaving together biography, history, and literary criticism, Middlebrow Queer traces the continuous evolution of Isherwood’s simultaneously queer and American postwar authorial identity. In doing so, the book illuminates many aspects of Cold War America’s gay print cultures, from gay protest novels to “out” pulp fiction.

Middlebrow Queer

Jaime Harker is associate professor of English at the University of Mississippi. She is author of America the Middlebrow: Women’s Novels, Progressivism, and Middlebrow Authorship between the Wars and coeditor, with Cecilia Konchar Farr, of The Oprah Affect: Critical Essays on Oprah’s Book Club.

Middlebrow Queer

Jaime Harker’s approach to Isherwood’s American work—his Cold War novels, as she calls them—is a welcome fresh perspective on a neglected topic. In situating Isherwood’s ‘50s and ‘60s writing in the context of the rise of the paperback book, its distribution system, and readership, Harker recuperates a period of active gay and lesbian publishing. The history she uncovers of queer publishing in the Cold War years complicates the common history of homophobia and persecution associated with the era.

James J. Berg, editor of Isherwood on Writing

What a terrific book - smart, readable, handsomely illustrated... Through Christopher Isherwood, Jamie Harker provides a succinct, complex portrait of mid-century figures who sought to write about gay identity and life.

Michael S. Sherry, Northwestern University, Journal of American Studies

Harker’s theses are supported by the fascinating quotes she extracts from Isherwood’s diaries. A standout on the literary front.

Lambda Literary

Middlebrow Queer

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Christopher and His Readers

1. Isherwood’s American Incarnation and the Gay Protest Novel

2. “Too Queer to Be Quaker”: Gay Protest and Camp

3. “Fagtrash”: Pulp Paperbacks and Cold War Queer Readers

4. Sixties’ Literature and the Ascension of Camp Middlebrow

5. “A Delicious Purgatory”: Sex and “Salvation”

6. Secret Agents and Gay Identity: Cold War Queerness

7. Spiritual Trash: Hindus, Homos, and Gay Pulp

8. Christopher Isherwood, Gay Liberation, and the Question of Style


Notes
Bibliography
Index