History of Homosexuality in Europe: Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume 1

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9780875862521: History of Homosexuality in Europe: Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume 1

The period between the two world wars was crucial in the history of homosexuality in Europe. It was then that homosexuality first came out into the light of day. Charting the early days of the homosexual and lesbian scene, Florence Tamagne traces the different trends in Germany, England and France in the period leading up to the cataclysm of World War II and provides important background to any understanding of the later events. In this 2-volume scholarly treatise the author weaves together cultural references from literature, songs and theater, news stories and private correspondence, police and government documents to give a rounded picture of the evolving scene.
Tolerance for homosexuality followed different trends in Germany, England and France in the period leading up to the war. Tamagne's work outlines the long and arduous journey from the shadows toward acceptability as the homosexual and lesbian community finds a new legitimacy at various levels of society.

Volume I introduces the first glimmerings of that new openness and explores the scenes in three very different cities. Berlin became the capital of the new culture and the center of a political movement seeking rights and protections for what we now call gays and lesbians. In England, the struggle was brisk to undermine the structures and strictures of Victorianism; whereas in France (which was more tolerant, overall), homosexuality remained more subtle and nonmilitant.

Volume I introduces the first glimmerings of tolerance for homosexuality around the turn of the last century, quickly squelched by the trial of Oscar Wilde which sent a chill throughout the cosmopolitan centers of the world. Just crawling out from under the Victorian blanket, Europe was devastated by a gruesome war that consumed the flower of its youth.
Then, in the aftermath of World War I, a variety of factors came together to forge a climate that was more permissive and open. Tamagne dissects the strands of euphoria, rebellion, exploration, nostalgia and yearning, and the bonds forged at school and on the battlefront. The Roaring Twenties are sometimes seen, in retrospect, as having been a golden age for homosexuals and lesbians; and the literary output of the era shows why.

However, the social and political backlash soon became apparent, first of all in Germany. (Volume 2, ISBN 0-87586-278-0, focuses on the decline, and the counter-trend, from 1933 to 1939.) Repression arrested the evolution of the new mores, and it was not until the 1960s that the wave of liberation could once again sweep the continent.

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About the Author:

Florence Tamagne holds a PhD from the prestigious Institute of Political Studies in Paris, France. A HISTORY, her first book, is unique in its focus on the inter-war period, tracing the evolution of the second and third generations of homosexuals from the Roaring Twenties to the Fascist backlash.

Review:

This is a major contribution to homosexuality's history. Systematically thorough, it encompasses a great range and number of sources, gathered finally in a bibliography (novels, memoirs, biographies, psychology essays; in volume 2, national archives, police and magistrate records, and periodicals). The first volume argues that homosexuality, a 'high culture' sort, enjoyed a golden age consequent upon the Great War's liberalization of morals. In volume 2, reaction and repression march through the 1930s. Unusually, Tamagne's narrative comparing three countries has a close, nuanced analysis of both homosexuals and lesbians. As their affirmations of sexual identity are available in print, Tamagne demonstrates their outlook as she explicates their prose. She omits ordinary people on grounds that sources are scant and unreliable. (A decade ago, George Chauncey rescued from history's neglect ordinary gay men in the New York of Tamagne's period in Gay New York, CH, Nov '04, 32-1725). Tamagne finds that, although homosexuals and lesbians shared a common subculture, they show striking national differences. Volume 2, a less familiar story, uses materials that are similarly much less well known. A lively read. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. --Outstanding Title! CHOICE Sept 2005.

Florence Tamagne's work focuses on the three most influential European capitals of the period between the two world wars, 1919-1939. The book provides a thorough, balanced account of the homosexual and lesbian communities in Berlin, London, and Paris, emphasizing the resistance homosexuals faced to find a legitimate place in society in these large metropolitan cities. While conducting her research Tamagne examined a broad and impressive array of documents including literature, police reports, news stories and private correspondence, and she has deftly collated this material into a fascinating historical study. Topics range from the German novel and the construction of lesbian identity to the comparison of National Socialist Germany with the democracies in England and France. A History of Homosexuality in Europe consists of three parts.

Part One: 'A Brief Apogee: the 1920s, A First Homosexual Liberation,' provides a brief history of homosexuality, and then examines homosexual life during the 1920s, in the aftermath of World War I. The book explores this 'golden era' in terms of social movements, clubs, homosexual publications, nightlife and slang, and provides a comparison of the male and female scenes in the three capital cities: Berlin, London, and Paris.

Part Two, 'Unacknowledged Fears And Desires: Ambiguous Speech and Stereotyped Images' suggests that homosexuality became commonplace during the inter-war period. [Continuing in Volume 2,] Tamagne examines the medical model imposed on homosexuals and compares such views to self-imposed concepts of identity.

[Further in Volume II] Part Three: 'A Facetious Tolerance: Losing Ground Under the Repression.' analyzes the years leading up to World War II. The introduction of numerous methods introduced to repress homosexuals in 1933, especially with the rise of fascism in Germany, led to anti-homosexual legislation and a backlash against the permissiveness of the twenties.

Throughout the work Tamagne discusses relevant literature of the period. The wide range of authors represented in the study include Gide, Proust, Radclyffe, Nathalie Barney, Colette, Vita Sackville West, and Virginia Woolf. One of the most significant aspects of the book is Tamagne's deft examination of the impact these individuals made on their respective cultures and their seminal role in the development of attitudes toward homosexuals.

The book will appeal to scholars of history, GLBT studies, and European literature of the period.

Several appendices provide additional valuable material, including German legislation on homosexuality and information regarding the experiments conducted by Dr. Carl Vaernet in 1944 at Buchenwald. There is a detailed bibliography that will be useful to any scholar interested in research of the period. --The Independent Gay Writer

Tamagne impressively bridges national and linguistic difference her study's great achievement when she describes these international influences. Otherwise, the story she narrates is familiar enough: sexual liberation flourished in the 1920s across Europe, especially in Berlin, but was annihilated in the 1930s by the rise of Nazism in Germany and conservatism elsewhere.
But she also argues quite controversially that homosexual suppression by local law enforcement agencies in Germany was more significant than the later persecution of homosexuals in concentration camps. Her narrative can be slow, and the structure disjointed; Tamagne often offers more evidence than seems necessary for her claims. But many examples from her vast archive of sources letters, memoirs, newspapers, quotes from prominent intellectuals are vivid enough to keep readers intensely interested. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. --Publishers Weekly

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