Brideshead Among Forerunners of Gay Lit Opening

In today’s Independent, Boyd Tonkin identifies Patricia Highsmith’s novel on which the new film Carol is based as an early example of ground-breaking gay literature. The Lesbian romance was originally published in 1952 as The Price of Salt but under a pseudonym (Claire Morgan) to protect Highsmith’s then promising career that had begun a few years earlier with Strangers on a Train. According to Tonkin, the book sold relatively well despite the pseudonym.

Tonkin places the book’s publication into context with the then recent publication of books such as Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited:

In 1945, Evelyn Waugh could make Charles and Sebastian’s affair the fulcrum of Brideshead Revisited while leaving enough wriggle-room to make denials of physical intimacy just about plausible. From Angus Wilson’s Hemlock and After (1952) to Iris Murdoch’s The Bell (1958), a succession of major novels opened the closet door, inch by inch. Lifelong bliss might have been in short supply (as for conventionally married couples in the era’s fiction). Still, plenty of protagonists managed to avoid either suicide or conversion.

Ironically, it was less the homoerotic theme than the adultery that caused controversy for Brideshead. This is explained in Robert Murray Davis’s book Mischief in the Sun (1999). When MGM considered filming the book in 1947, it was understood by Waugh that the homosexual themes would be toned down or in the case of Anthony Blanche written out of the story. But the studio also insisted that the adulterous relationships (especially of Charles Ryder and Julia Flyte) would also have to go. That was a change too far for Waugh who went home without a contract. By the time the novel was eventually filmed in 1981 these issues no longer troubled the filmmakers.

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