Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram. A review by John Cook


Christopher Bram is one of my weaknesses. I have read most of his novels and regard his story-telling ability very highly. He also has a good grasp of literary matters and is the right age to have spanned contact with many of the authors central to his work. Typical is the titling which carries a reminder of Lytton Strachey’s “Eminent Victorians”. There is less debunking here and more a delving into the linkages, sometimes friendly, othertimes more unfriendly between authors (all male, sorry ladies) who could be described as having been literary gay outlaws paralleling John Rechy’s ‘Sexual Outlaws”. While wide-ranging, this is not the all-encompassing encyclopaedic approach some might have expected.

Bram has a case to make in that gay literature in all its forms and shapes has had a constant role to play over the years that was fundamental to the personal and social changes that have led to the amelioration of that outlaw reference.

This book is the history of fifty years of change shaped by a relay race of novelists, playwrights, and poets—men who were first treated as outlaws but are now seen as pioneers and even founding fathers. Their writing was the catalyst for a social shift as deep and unexpected as what was achieved by the civil rights and women’s movements.”

The central figures include Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin and Edmund White, Truman Capote and Allan Ginsburg, James Merrill and Christopher Isherwood, and Larry Kramer who has finally (this year) given birth to his long anticipated great gay novel “The American People, Volume 1”. Sadly, it probably will never achieve the same socio-cultural significance of something like “A Single Man”.

If you want some details on who bedded whom and when, you will find enough of this to ‘flesh’ out your understanding of the sex lives of most of the authors. However, I found the thematic organisation of the material into time-related chapters which allowed individual stories to overlap and intertwine was most interesting noting the interactions between persons and places. Reading this book was like travelling through the acquisition of my bookshelves contents. I might not agree with Bram’s assessments in all cases, but it was fascinating to remember encountering so many of the works described in their original time context and what it meant to me.

It certainly gave pleasure which only faded slightly toward the end.


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