Jun 13, 2013

Gay American Renaissance

During my junior year in college, I took  Modern American Literature, Modern British Literature, Introduction to German Literature, and several other heterosexist courses.  But Dr. Ames, who taught American Renaissance, occasionally hinted that same-sex desire exists.

It was about the first great American literary movement, roughly 1840-1860, when the great books that everyone still reads sprang up out of nowhere: Moby-Dick, Walden, The Scarlet Letter, Leaves of Grass, The House of the Seven Gables.  There were five main writers.

1. Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Dr. Ames: "He kept ignoring his wife to go on speaking tours."  During his junior year at Harvard, Emerson fell in love with a man named Martin Gay, and spent the rest of his life writing him homoerotic poetry. 

2. Henry David Thoreau.  Dr. Ames: "He was sexually repressed, too shy to talk to women." And he filled his journals with reflections on the strong, noble love between men.




3. Herman Melville.  Dr Ames: "He was a little light in the loafers.  Check out the scene where the two guys are in bed together, and Ishmael grabs Queequeg's tomahawk!"  

Moby-Dick is invariably heterosexualized on screen (such as the version starring Henry Thomas, left), but Billy Budd is too homoerotic to "straighten out."








4. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Dr. Ames: "He was friends with Melville, but then things got a little weird, and they split up."  Nevertheless, Hawthorne wrote about strong same-sex coupling in The Blythedale Romance, and "Young Goodman Brown," about a man discovering that all of his friends and neighbors are Satan-worshippers, can be read as a parable for a homophobe discovering the gay underground.

The Scarlet Letter gets many movie adaptions, including Easy A (2010), with Penn Badgley (top photo) and Dan Byrd as a gay high schooler.

5. Walt Whitman.  Dr. Ames: "He scattered illegitimate children up and down the Eastern seaboard, but he also had a bit of the fruit in him."  Actually, Whitman filled his journals with detailed accounts of his nightly cruising for men.

Dr. Ames didn't mention Edgar Allan Poe at all.

See also: Walt Whitman, The Good Gay Poet.