Wells and Wings

Moving away from The Picture of Dorian Gray, we read two novels with very clear queer content that isn’t hidden away between the lines and in metaphors. With the openness of these novels comes the opportunity to explore queer issues in ways that are much more specific. Both texts define homosexuality against heterosexuality and women in a way that is very interesting; concepts of queer futurity and the Bildungsroman nature of these novels also show how their authors were trying to portray inversion to society of the time. While Kuzmin tries to shine a positive light on homosexuality in Russian society, Hall raises awareness of inversion by evoking the empathy of the reader.

The characterization of homosexuality in contrast to heterosexuality in both novels serves different purposes, but in both cases the result is an alienation of homosexuals whether for better or for worse. Where the discourse of Hellenism in Wings puts homosexuality above heterosexuality – painting it as a nobler disposition because the tradition of procreation in Judaism and Christianity seems selfish and narrow-minded, Hall’s juxtaposition of Stephen’s homosexuality against the heterosexuality of her peers serves to emphasize her exclusion from the “sense of oneness” in heteronormative nature. In either text, heterosexuality is portrayed in a negative light, evident in the quote “men who link the concept of beauty with the beauty of a woman display only a vulgar lust, and are further, furthest of all from the true idea of beauty” (Kuzmin 29) and Hall’s description of men as oak trees and women as the ivy that cling to them. Both portrayals are problematic in their (excessively) negative treatment of heterosexuality and women, but they raise the interesting question of queer futurity. What is there in store for the queer, for whom procreation does not seem to be an option?

The answer seems to lie within the exploration of beauty and art – a channel through which one can create bits of oneself and the human condition to leave behind. The Hellenes pride themselves in being “lovers of the beautiful, bacchanals of the future life” (Kuzmin 29) and shun the obsession with procreation as being restrictive and selfish; there is so much more to do and to experience. Stephen, excluded from the sense of oneness epitomized by the swans and cygnets at the park, turns to channeling her uneasiness into writing – a form of creation through which she can express herself. But will this almost forced immersion in the arts ever be enough to satisfy the soul that naturally seeks a sense of belonging? For the Hellenes, being able to experience and appreciate the beauty in life seems more than satisfactory, but Stephen’s inability to find peace with nature gives the impression that art, though a form of creation that can be compared to procreation, leaves something to be desired. This combination of suffering and artistic creation is viewed differently across cultures, but it seems a common trend for humanity to view beauty, pain and death as intimately connected. For example, in Japan a cherry blossom flower is said to be at its most beautiful the moment it falls from the tree. It is with great irony then that the people who suffer the most for being viewed as ugly, grotesque and unnatural are capable of introducing and creating such beauty for posterity.

HSK

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1 Comment

Filed under Week 5: Kuzmin, Radclyffe Hall

One response to “Wells and Wings

  1. I really enjoyed your post, especially how you focused on artistic creation being, in many ways, a beautiful alternative to procreation. I wonder how broadly “artistic creation” can be defined in this context. Is art the creation of something material, like writing or painting? Do we include the art of non-procreative sexual intercourse, like we read about in previous readings? How about the idea that one’s like can be a work of art, as written about in Dorian Gray? Something I think we can spend some time thinking about is what this “artistic creativity” really encapsulates. If living is a form of art, is there a different quality to homosexual life than heterosexual life? I don’t expect us to be able to answer all of these questions, but I think the intersection of art, life, and sexuality is so fascinating to think about, and I enjoyed reading some of your thoughts on it here.
    -EV

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