TIME WARPS AND ALTER-NARRATIVES: GAY AND LESBIAN ENGAGEMENTS WITH HISTORY IN BRITISH FICTION SINCE WORLD WAR II
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Contemporary British gay and lesbian authors engage with history through two distinct methods I call fixed moment/cultural critique and abstract moment/fantasy space. The fixed moment/cultural critique model focuses on a fixed historical moment, usually from the recent past. By focusing on this fixed moment, authors explicitly engage in critiques of the present that question society's homophobia and gay and lesbian people's participation in their own oppression. The abstract moment/fantasy space model uses moments from the distant past, often collapsing historical and narrative time and space to create a fantasy space for lesbians and gay men to reflect on their own cultures and identities and to create links with their literary and historical ancestries.
Mary Renault's The Charioteer (1953) and Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty (2004), both demonstrate the vein of historical engagement in gay and lesbian British fiction that builds a political argument challenging heterosexual cultural and political definitions of homosexuality and detailing the effects of such definitions on gay people. They do this while rooting this discussion in a specific near past iconic historical British moment: World War II for Renault, and the height of Margaret Thatcher's rule in the 1980s for Hollinghurst. The second vein of historical engagement is one that holds as its purpose gay and lesbian cultural fantasy. Neil Bartlett's Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (1990) and Who Was That Man?: A Present for Mr Oscar Wilde (1988) and the Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet (1998) explore authorial engagement with the more distant past as a means of examining the present and creating possible futures. The past in these works is not one sharply defined locus; rather it is broadly defined periods that the authors seek to collapse with the present. In the Coda, I turn to the films of Derek Jarman and Isaac Julien, and the plays of Alexi Kaye Campbell and Jackie Kay to see how the fixed moment/cultural critique and abstract moment/fantasy space models apply to contemporary British art mediums outside of narrative fiction.