Feb 12, 2013

A Separate Peace

Boys at boarding school have been falling in love with each other since Tom Brown's School Days, but for some reason high school teachers -- and homophobic school boards -- never notice.  They scream in agony over novels with a brief reference to a gay uncle, but novels about schoolboys in love are perfectly fine.

In the 1970s, my junior high and high school English teachers assigned many homoromances, as Chaim Potok's The Chosen and Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, but the most overt of them was A Separate Peace (1959), by gay author John Knowles.

Based upon Knowles' experiences at the elite Philip Exeter Academy, A Separate Peace pairs shy, quiet 16-year old Gene Forrester with the effervescent, carpe-diem Finny.

In the days before teenagers had any idea that same-sex desire existed, Gene can't understand the intensity of his attraction, resulting in envy, jealousy, and anger.  He "accidently" breaks Finny's leg, ending his athletic career.  Finny forgives him.

Later, Finny falls down a flight of stairs, breaks his leg again, and dies as a result (even today, many novels about gay people kill them as psychic punishment).

When I first read the novel, I couldn't understand why Gene loved and hated Finny at the same time.  Today I know about internalized homophobia.

There have been three movie adaptions of A Separate Peace.  The producers seemed more gay-savvy than high school English teachers, as they all tried to minimize the homoromance. The 1972 version, which starred John Heyl (who never acted again) and Parker Stevenson (later to star in The Hardy Boys series with Shaun Cassidy), made the boys' uncertain future in World War II pivotal to understanding Gene's rage.

The 2004 version diluted the romance by immersing Gene and Finny into a group of four boys.  The 2011 movie short kept all of the competition and removed all of the desire.