Jun 13, 2023

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.


1 comment:

  1. One can only imagine all of them together in a gay bar- well I know they had gay brothels in New York I wonder is they ever visited one?


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