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Gay Life Stories Hardcover – 19 Mar 2012
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'An upbeat and inspirational take on the heroes and heroines from history who have pushed a same sex love agenda' - Gay Times 'A colourful compendium of same-sex love through the ages' - Independent 'Inspirational and joyful to read ... beautifully presented ... a must-read for any LGBT person' - The Gay UK 'Engaging ... a beautiful book, and a welcome addition to what some call `gay studies' and others simply see as a celebration of human sexuality in all its diversity' - Time Out (Book of the Week)
About the Author
Robert Aldrich is Professor of European History at at the University of Sydney. He teaches and carries out research in modern European and colonial history, including the history of France since the Revolution, the history of the French and British overseas empires, the history of 'sites of memory' and the history of gender and sexuality. He is the author of The Seduction of the Mediterranean, The Age of Empires and Colonialism and Homosexuality amongst others.
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You can dip into this book anywhere - there are interesting thematic chapter divisions - but I found myself reading it cover to cover as if it was a cultural survey, and that's testament to its sheer readability. Lovely book, brilliantly written, great illustrations, quality production values: a book to treasure.
History is incomplete. Yet, undimmed by its fallibility, this passage from Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient provides a springboard to investigation. It is within the fragments of life that Ondaatje's characters thrive and grow. Reading Robert Aldrich's compelling new book Gay Life Stories, the deficits in the history of all things homosexual is even more marked. For not only has history withered the thing itself, but in many cases, the narrative wasn't there in the first place.
The book is a series of biographical snapshots throughout history, from David and Jonathan to Reinaldo Arenas. It's broad, not West-specific and is written in an engaging and informative way. But even Aldrich cannot cover the elephant in the room lacunae in the text. The suppression of same-sex instincts between the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the 19th century erased a significant part of our gay history.
For the glass half empty crowd, this lack of concrete proof is the end of the road. For the glass half full faction - as suggested by Ondaatje's fragmented narrative of a Hungarian count - it is the beginning of historical imagination. Facts are definitely useful (as far as they go), but feeling ultimately has to hold sway.
If Aldrich's book has a shortcoming, it is that he too often relies on what he knows rather than what he imagines. The latter might have got him shot down in academic flames - just think of the reaction to Maynard Solomon's 1989 article about the 'Gay' Schubert - but it would have made a thrilling read. Even without daring to envisage beyond proof, Aldrich's Gay Life Stories is a must-have text.