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This review is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Cover of Homintern: How Gay Culture  Liberated the Modern World
Nicolas TredellMagical Mystery Tour
Gregory Woods
Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World
Yale University Press, 2016 (£25)
Homintern is a fascinating excursion, a ‘magical mystery tour’ as Woods calls it, with an itinerary that is nonetheless solidly founded on scholarly research and empirical evidence. It is ‘a poet’s book’, written with clarity, wit and precision, which often aims ‘to cast an image, or sequence of images, on the reader’s visual imagination, rather than persuade by linear argument’. Woods has ‘no qualms about using literature as evidence’, quoting copiously from prose and poetry by writers who felt they could only speak the name of their love indirectly, in fictional guise, and he knows how to select material that is both revealing and richly phrased.

The word ‘Homintern’ is derived from the abbreviation ‘Comintern’, used to refer to the Communist International (also called the Third International) that Lenin established in 1919 and that lasted until 1943. Cyril Connolly, Maurice Bowra, W. H. Auden, Jocelyn Brooke and Harold Norse have all been credited with coining the word but Woods suggests that ‘it was the felicitous invention of many minds’. While Connolly, Auden and others jokingly applied it to ‘the sprawling, informal network of friendships’ among homosexuals, Cold War paranoia presented it with grim seriousness as ‘the international homosexual conspiracy’. In fact, Woods argues, the Homintern, in this coherent and conspiratorial sense, did not exist. ‘It was a joke, a nightmare, or a dream’, depending on your viewpoint, but ‘despite its lack of substance, it still occupied a solid and prominent site near the centre of modern life’. Networks of gay friendships did exist but the ...

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