REDISCOVERING the history of gay and lesbian fiction has never been easier. Thanks to intrepid small publishers such as Valancourt Books of Richmond, Virginia, it has become possible to explore the byways of gay fiction: the many publications that may have caused a great splash on publication but were soon forgotten. For every Forster or Woolf, there were a hundred fellow travelers: authors whose works constitute what the art critic John Ruskin called “the books of the hour,” not “the books of all time” (“Sesame and Lilies,” 1891). Still, there is always the possibility that a long-neglected work, on republication, may strike a wide new readership as falling in the latter category: such as—in the non-gay context—Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française. GLBT titles from the past often have a vexed and curious publication history too. Take Forster’s Maurice, completed in 1914, but unpublished until 1971 (his own decision).
There are many good reasons to spend time discovering both the books of the hour and books potentially with greater staying power. Half a dozen recently republished postwar British novels on gay male themes present an irresistible opportunity to reflect and discriminate.
Richard Canning is author or editor of nine books, including an edition of Ronald Firbank’s Vainglory (Penguin Classics, 2012).