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"Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!” (1948) by Leslie Fiedler argued a recurrent theme in American literature was an unspoken or implied homoerotic relationship between men, famously using Huckleberry Finn and Jim as examples. Pairs of men flee for the wilderness rather than remain in the civilizing and domesticated world of women."--Sholem Stein

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Homoeroticism refers to the representation of same-sex love and desire, most especially as it is depicted or manifested in the visual arts and literature. It can also be found in performative forms; from theatre to the theatricality of uniformed movements (e.g.: the Wandervogel and Gemeinschaft der Eigenen). Homoeroticism thus differs from the interpersonal homoerotic; because homoeroticism is a set of artistic and performative traditions, in which such feelings can be embodied in culture and thus expressed into the wider society.


Notable examples in the visual arts

Such fine art is necessarily figurative.


Male-male examples, in the visual fine arts, range through history: Ancient Greek vase art; Roman wine goblets (The Warren Cup); the Italian Renaissance (such as Agnolo Bronzino, Caravaggio), through to the many 19th Century history paintings of classical characters such as Hyacinth, Ganymede and Narcissus; the work of late 19th century artists (such as Thomas Eakins, Eugene Jansson, Henry Scott Tuke and Magnus Enckell); through to the modern work of fine artists such as Paul Cadmus and Gilbert & George. Fine art photographers such as David Hockney, Will McBride, Robert Mapplethorpe, Pierre et Gilles, Bernard Faucon, Anthony Goicolea have also made a strong contribution, Mapplethorpe and McBride being notably in breaking down barriers of gallery censorship and braving legal challenges. James Bidgood and Arthur Tress were also very important pioneers in the 1960s, radically moving homoerotic photography away from simple documentary and into areas that were more akin to fine-art surrealism.


Female-female examples are most historically noticeable in the narrative arts: the archaic lyrics of Sappho; The Songs of Bilitis; novels such as those of Christa Winsloe, Colette, Radclyffe Hall, and Jane Rule, and films such as Mädchen in Uniform. More recently, lesbian homoeroticism has flowered in photography and the writing of authors such as Pat Califia and Jeanette Winterson.

Female homoerotic art by lesbian artists has often been less culturally prominent than the presentation of lesbian eroticism by non-lesbians and for a primarily non-lesbian audience. In the west, this can be seen as long ago as the 1872 novel Carmilla, and is also seen in cinema in such popular movies as Emmanuelle, The Hunger, Showgirls, and most of all in pornography. In the east, especially Japan, lesbianism is the subject of the manga subgenre shojo-ai.

In many texts in the English-speaking world, lesbians have been presented as intensely sexual but also predatory and dangerous (the characters are often vampires) and the primacy of heterosexuality is usually re-asserted at the story's end. This shows the difference between homoeroticism as a product of the wider culture and homosexual art produced by gay men and women.

Notable examples in writing

homoerotic literature

There is also a strong tradition of homoeroticism in poetry.

The male-male erotic tradition contains poems by major poets such as Abu Nuwas, Walt Whitman, Federico García Lorca, W.H. Auden, Fernando Pessoa and Allen Ginsberg.

Elisar von Kupffer's Lieblingminne und Freundesliebe in der Weltlitteratur (1900) and Edward Carpenter's Ioläus: An Anthology of Friendship (1902) were the first known notable attempts at homoerotic anthologies since The Greek Anthology. Since then, many anthologies have been published.

In the female-female tradition, there are poets such as Sappho, "Michael Field", and Maureen Duffy. Emily Dickinson addressed a number of poems and letters with homoerotic overtones to her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert.

Letters can also be potent conveyors of homoerotic feelings; the letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, two well-known members of the Bloomsbury Group, are full of homoerotic overtones characterized by this excerpt from Vita's letter to Virginia: "I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia [...] It is incredible to me how essential you have become [...] I shan't make you love me anymore by I shan't make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this --But oh my dear, I can't be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that." (January 21, 1926)

Key introductory books

Classical & Medieval literature:

  • Murray & Roscoe. Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature. (1997).
  • J.W. Wright. Homoeroticism in Classical Arabic Literature (1997).
  • Rictor Norton. The Homosexual Literary Tradition. (1974). (Greek, Roman & Elizabethan England).

Literature after 1850:

  • David Leavitt. Pages Passed from Hand to Hand : The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914. (1998).
  • Timothy d'Arch Smith. Love In Earnest; some notes on the lives and writings of English 'Uranian' poets from 1889 to 1930. (1970).
  • Michael Matthew Kaylor, Secreted Desires: The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde (2006), a 500-page scholarly volume that considers the major Victorian writers of Uranian poetry and prose (the author has made this volume available in a free, open-access, PDF version).
  • Mark Lilly. Gay Men's Literature in the Twentieth Century. (1993).
  • Patricia Juliana Smith. Lesbian Panic: Homoeroticism in Modern British Women's Fiction. (1997).
  • Gregory Woods. Articulate Flesh - male homoeroticism and modern poetry. (1989). (USA poets).
  • Vita Sackville-West. Louise De Salvo, Mitchell A. Leaska, editors. Vita Sackville-West The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf (1985)
  • Virginia Woolf. Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf Joanne Trautmann Banks, editor. (Harcourt Brace, 1991)

Visual Arts:

  • Jonathan Weinberg. Male Desire: The Homoerotic in American Art (2005).
  • James M. Saslow. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. (1999).
  • Allen Ellenzweig. The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images, Delacroix to Mapplethorpe. (1992).
  • Thomas Waugh. Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from Their Beginnings to Stonewall. (1996).
  • Emmanuel Cooper. The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West. (1994).
  • Claude J. Summers (editor). The Queer Encyclopedia of the Visual Arts. (2004).
  • Harmony Hammond. Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History. (2000). (Post-1968 only)
  • Laura Doan. Fashioning Sapphism: The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture. (2001). (Post-WW1 in England)

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Homoeroticism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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