Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Welcome by Hubert Creekmore

The Welcome by Hubert Creekmore ; New York : Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948
New York : Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948
Don returns home to Ashton, Mississippi after having left for New York and struggling there in the Depression of the 1930s. His mother needs him to care for her after his father's death and now that he's back, wants to monopolize his time to the exclusion of his friends and love interests. His best friend, Jim, had married Doris before Don left Ashton, thus closing off their relationship. Upon his return, unresolved feelings and societal expectations come to the fore. Can Don and Jim simply be friends after having loved one another in the past? Are they still interested in being friends?  How do they handle the expectation to marry and have children? Is it fair to any woman for a gay man to marry her?

Set during the 1930s in a small town, it is an environment where everyone knows everyone else's business while everyone simultaneously believes that their struggles are their own inner secret. Creekmore highlights the significant social changes during the interwar years and how various characters have adjusted at different speeds and to different levels. What do men's friendships look like? What is an acceptable level of closeness between men? What is the role of women? Must they marry? What does it say about them if they don't.

Tray, a childhood friend to both Don and Jim is seen by some as basic—certainly not among the elite of the town. He, on the other hand, accepts everyone for who they are and is depicted as both the everyman as well as the sage advisor to both of his friends. Tray offers these wise words that speak to the theme of the book and speak to the individual struggles of all of the characters: "If only people could forgive each other for loving." 

Written in close third person, the reader comes to understand how each character thinks of their place in the world and the few options they perceive themselves to have. Particularly in Part One, as the author introduces the characters, he uses that close third to excellent effect by focusing a chapter on a particular character, introducing another character during the action of the chapter who then leaves by the end only to show up as the focus of the subsequent chapter. It's a skillful way of creating the community of Ashton and assisting the reader in understanding the characters' relationships to one another. 

Creekmore doesn't rely on simple resolutions either—such as killing off one or both of the gay protagonists which might have been more typical of the time. Likewise he also doesn't give us a happily ever after ending. The lives he presents are complex and allowing the characters to be complicated, with difficult choices to make, results in a story that feels real— both relatable and believable. 

The Welcome by Hubert Creekmore ; Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, 2023
Jackson : University Press
of Mississippi, 2023

After being out of print and virtually unfindable for decades, Phillip Gordon has shepherded a 2023 reissue through The University Press of Mississippi to which he has also provided an introduction. Gordon places The Welcome within the context of what little is known about Creekmore's life, particularly his friendship with Eudora Welty. For those interested in early gay literature, especially as regards life in the rural south, Mr. Gordon has done the world a great service by reviving this lost gem.

Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (IV); Garde (Primary 73, **); Mattachine Review (IV); Young (848,*)

Bibliographies & Ratings II: Austen (116); Gunn (American 41a); Levin (80); Slide (15)

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

In Memoriam by Alice Winn

In Memoriam by Alice Winn ; New York : Knopf, 2023
New York : Knopf, 2023
It's 1914 and Henry Gaunt and Sydney Ellwood, still in boarding school, follow the news from the war with excitement, including the heroic deaths of their friends. Gaunt, half German, enlists as a way to limit the anti-German sentiment he and his family might experience and to leave behind the feelings for Ellwood that he can't acknowledge, much less act upon. Ellwood, also silently pining for Gaunt soon follows.

The author uses a variety of forms, including letters and issues of the school newspaper, The Preshutian, to follow Gaunt, Ellwood and their friends through the actions of the war, including the horrors of the Somme and the deaths of many. 

Boarding school novels set in the 1920s often discuss the 'Old Boys'—those former students who fought in World War I and sometimes return for cricket matches against the current students.  Winn has flipped this by constructing a boarding school novel that highlights the youth and excitement of the students but then follows them into the war. What is glorified in bravery by the school and its students is a horror laid bare through their experience of the war. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Undue Fulfillment* by Kathleen Coyle

Undue Fulfillment by Kathleen Coyle ; New York : William Morrow & Co., 1934
New York : William Morrow & Co., 1934

"It is not a crime to be a poet."

"No ... it places one on a plane where crime is so sublimated that it has another name."

In the vein of Birabeau's Revelation (1930), Undue Fulfillment is focused on a mother dealing with her son's relationship with another man. Although in this instance we hear from the son, the primary focus of the action is on the mother and her thoughts and feelings about her adult son's life and whether she has been successful at raising him.

Agatha's late husband served in World War I and having struggled since his years of service committed suicide while their son Lawrence was still young. As Lawrence grew up, Agatha held him close—too close she decided. For  fear that he would not be able to disengage from his relationship with his mother enough to find a wife, Agatha returns to the convent in Ireland where she grew up, leaving Lawrence their home in Paris.

Upon hearing that Lawrence's relationship with Lena has ended, Agatha travels to Paris in hopes of bringing the two back together. Upon meeting with Lena, Agatha learns the reason for the split—Lawrence's new close relationship with Cesar Brak, a poet from Lawrence's parent's generation. While the relationship is not labeled as gay or homosexual, it is clear from what is said (and what is not said) that the relationship is sexual.

Structured around Agatha's connection to the convent and her brother Owen being a monk, there is a strong religious morality to the story. Lawrence's father who committed suicide was named Judas and appears to serve as a symbol of betrayal of his wife and child. This is juxtaposed with Cesar Brak and his generation having served in the war which was so devastating that it is hard to reconcile with the existence of any god. This is a philosophical novel about the nature of motherhood and how we reconcile our spiritual life with the challenges of being human in an ugly world. 

* Also published under the title Undue Fulfilment by Ivor Nicholson & Watson Ltd., London (1935).

Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (IV); Garde (P 50 *); Mattachine Review (IV); Young (839)

Friday, August 12, 2022

Conflict by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson

Conflict (c.1926-27) Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (English, 1889-1946) Drypoint, printed in red 34.9 x 26.1 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum
Conflict (c.1926-27)
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (English, 1889-1946)
Drypoint, printed in red
34.9 x 26.1 cm.
Victoria & Albert Museum


Sunday, August 7, 2022

Behind the Mirror by Robin Maugham

Behind the Mirror by Robin Maugham ; London : Longmans, 1955 Jacket design: John Minton
London : Longmans, 1955
Jacket design: John Minton
David Brent is a screenwriter for a film company based in London. The latest project about the life of Daphne Moore, a famous actress from the 1920s, has hit a snag. Norman Hartleigh, a former diplomat who was deeply involved with Daphne has ignored all correspondence from the firm regarding permission to depict him in the film. David journeys to Tanganyika (a British colonial territory that now makes up a portion of Tanzania) to secure Hartleigh's blessing.

Although it covers a significant amount of land, the fictional Aruna feels like a small town where rumors fly and everyone believes they know what everyone else is doing. Hartleigh is ostracized by the other residents for what they perceive as an inappropriate relationship with the young man, Bill Wayne, who lives with him. The colonists see the local residents as servants, not as equals so when Hartleigh moves an African girl into his home it creates another set of concerns for them.

While David negotiates permission from Hartleigh for the film, rumors are confirmed and secrets are revealed, endangering everyone. Hartleigh eventually reveals the truth of his relationship with Daphne Moore and their falling out, upending everything David thought he knew.

Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (III); Garde (OTP, **); Mattachine Review (III); Young (2559/2560)