Lambda on Jaime Harker's Middlebrow Queer

By Steven Cordova
Lambda Literary

harker_middlebrow cover[snippet]

Harker begins Christopher Isherwood in America: Middlebrow Queer—a study part biography, part history and part literary criticism—where Isherwood’s career left off. That would be around 1976 when, with the publication of memoirs like Christopher and His Kind, Isherwood “embraced the defiant spirit of gay liberation” and became for his readers “a link to a hidden of history of gay men and a rebellious rebuke to the pre-Stonewall closet.” He has been regarded ever since as a literary granddaddy of gay rights.

Harker clearly shows how much more complicated it all gets—how Isherwood, on closer analysis, wanted to have his cake and eat it too: he wanted to champion homosexuality in a way that went beyond the sentimentality of other middlebrow novels with tragic endings (e.g., Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar) but he could also be maddeningly evasive, refusing to consider that homosexuals were a minority analogous to blacks in interviews conducted as late as 1965. Harker speculates that “When he lost [his lover] Heinz to the German war machine, Isherwood rethought his allegiance to abstract political systems.” Moreover, she recounts how conflicted Isherwood was when “masculine” writers like John Dos Passos snubbed him, responding defiantly but at the same time remaining determined to be recognized by them.

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