Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion before Stonewall

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 2 photos Published: October 2001

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

What is it like to “feel historical”? In Foundlings Christopher Nealon analyzes texts produced by American gay men and lesbians in the first half of the twentieth century—poems by Hart Crane, novels by Willa Cather, gay male physique magazines, and lesbian pulp fiction. Nealon brings these diverse works together by highlighting a coming-of-age narrative he calls “foundling”—a term for queer disaffiliation from and desire for family, nation, and history.
The young runaways in Cather’s novels, the way critics conflated Crane’s homosexual body with his verse, the suggestive poses and utopian captions of muscle magazines, and Beebo Brinker, the aging butch heroine from Ann Bannon’s pulp novels—all embody for Nealon the uncertain space between two models of lesbian and gay sexuality. The “inversion” model dominant in the first half of the century held that homosexuals are souls of one gender trapped in the body of another, while the more contemporary “ethnic” model refers to the existence of a distinct and collective culture among gay men and lesbians. Nealon’s unique readings, however, reveal a constant movement between these two discursive poles, and not, as is widely theorized, a linear progress from one to the other.
This startlingly original study will interest those working on gay and lesbian studies, American literature and culture, and twentieth-century history.


“[P]assionate, precise, and creative readings. . . .” — Clare Connors , English

“Nealon offers a paradigm shift for gay studies, one that bridges the divide in perception of pre- and post-Stonewall cultures. . . . [He] provides a model for scholarly argumentation, deftly identifying the crucial points in earlier theories to mark the displacements from those points that define his own positions. . . . Highly recommended. . . .” — J. J. Marchesani, Choice

"[A] host of stimulating ideas. . . . [T]he provocative beginnings and equivocal conclusions that Foundlings reaches shows the urgent need for much more cross-fertilization between gay history and queer studies." — Lenard Berlanstein , Lambda Book Report

"Each chapter is glowing, precise, and detailed, illuminating how the texts in question imagine gayness not as solitary inversion but as a secret temporal relationship to others. The individual readings are rich, for they focus especially on how an author, or in some cases, artifact, reads its own relationship to history and how forms can be used to express and transform a sense of history neither pathological and individual nor celebratory and communal. Nealon’s readings should prove critical to LGBT historians and queer theorists alike. . . ." — Stephanie Foote , American Literature

"It is usual to take cover blurbs with a grain of salt, but I find myself persuaded by Judith Butler’s opinion that Christopher Nealon has produced ‘a first-rate, innovative, and unprecedented work’ in Foundlings. . . . In short, the most exciting aspect of Nealon’s work is the way his readings will provide a model for understanding numerous other possible ‘closets’ which have hidden same-sex affection in history. His analyses should provide the inspiration for a new way of examining history. . . . [S]uperb. . . . [W]e’ll be taking our muscle mags and pulp fiction seriously from now on.” — William Pencak , CLGH Newsletter

"Nealon [has] a passion and poetic insight that take one by delighted surprise. . . . [A] powerful account. . . . [E]ssential reading for scholars of sexual representation and the history of emotion." — Christopher Castiglia , Journal of American History

Foundlings is a first-rate, innovative, and unprecedented work that will take the literary world by storm. Christopher Nealon proves himself here to be the very best of a new generation of queer theorists.” — Judith Butler

Foundlings provides a new paradigm for thinking historically and theoretically about the longing for history within gay and lesbian texts. This is not just a stunning addition to queer historiography but also a challenge to the historicist turn in literary and cultural criticism.” — Bill Brown, author of The Material Unconscious: American Amusement, Stephen Crane, and the Economies of Play


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Christopher Nealon is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: The Invert, the Foundling, and the “Member of the Tribe”

1. Hart Crane’s History

2. Feeling and Affiliation in Willa Cather

3. The Secret Public of Physique Culture

4. The Ambivalence of Lesbian Pulp Fiction

Conclusion: Contexts and Afterlives



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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2697-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2688-5
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