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Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226426167
ISBN-10: 0226426165
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Forget about the Lincoln Bedroom scandals of the Clinton administration; the real scandal is who was in Lincoln's bed in 1837. This highly provocative, often startling reconsideration of 19th- and early 20th-century male-male sexual relationships begins with a detailed description of what Katz depicts as Abraham Lincoln's romantic, erotic relationship with Joshua Speed, the man with whom he shared a decades-long intimate friendship, as well as a bed for three years. While Speed himself wrote that "no two men were ever more intimate," Katz is not arguing that these two men were homosexual; Katz makes it clear that referring "to early nineteenth-century men's acts or desires as gay or straight, homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual" places "their behaviors and lusts within our sexual system, not theirs." Katz, whose groundbreaking 1976 Gay American History is foundational to contemporary gay and lesbian studies, has researched deeply and widely, uncovering astonishing materials: a relationship between John Stafford Fiske, the U.S. consul to Scotland in 1870, and famous British cross-dresser Ernest Boulton; the existence of the Slide, a male-male pick-up bar in Greenwich Village in the 1890s; romances between older sailors and their "chickens" during the Civil War. Walt Whitman, noted Harvard mathematician James Millis Peirce, writer Charles Warren Stoddard, English philosopher Edward Carpenter Katz finds these men engaged in deeply loving and erotic friendship with no specific labels of sexual orientation attached. All of this is described and shaped with enormous sensitivity and judiciousness. Written clearly, succinctly and free from postmodern jargon, Katz's arguments are strong and vibrant. By contextualizing "sexual, acts, sexual desires, sexual identities" in their historical periods, but never avoiding the specifics of sexual activity or emotional connection, he contributes surprising, even shocking, insights into how sexual and emotional relationships are constructed, as well as demonstrating the enormous diversity and malleability of human eroticism.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

"History at its best: informative, insightful, at times downright titillating."-Kirkus Reviews

In Love Stories, Jonathan Ned Katz presents stories of men's intimacies with men during the nineteenth century-men like Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman-drawing flesh-and-blood portraits of intimate friendships and the ways in which men struggled to name, define, and defend their sexual feelings for one another. In a world before "gay" and "straight" referred to sexuality, these men created new ways to name and conceive of their relationships, and Katz dives into history to offer us a clearer picture than ever before of how they navigated the uncharted territory of male-male desire.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226426165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226426167
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jonathan Katz, who by now is one of the most respected scholars of gay history, has written another telling volume about same-sex love in America. This one centers around the nineteenth century. Well-known names appear in these pages, principally the towering figure of poet Walt Whitman, who not only espoused the ideal of love between men in his own life, but was a mentor and inspirational figure to others struggling with their desires for those of their own gender.
Katz's overall point is that one cannot judge the sexual behavior of men of the past by today's standards and attitudes--for much of the nineteenth century, there existed no sharp dichotomy between man-woman (heterosexual) and man-man or woman-woman (homosexual) behavior. Rather, distinctions were made between _types_ of love, spiritual as opposed to carnal, and _types_ of erotic behavior, procreative as opposed to non-procreative. Even among acts judged early on to be immoral or wrong, some were more wrong than others--oral copulation for a long time was not regarded with the same revulsion as other penetrative acts, for example. Having delineated these basic arguments, Katz then tells the stories of individual men and specific incidents (trials, arrests, news reports, et al.) against this background, bringing a historical perspective of unusual lucidity to all of these disparate tales.
Although he does not specifically attempt to tie his history toward attitudes and behavior of the present day, one of the beneficial effects of Katz's study is that the careful reader can discern where the frequently virulent prejudices against gays and lesbians that remain today got their start. The fact that many of these once did NOT exist, moreover, gives hope for the future. This is an unusual, valuable, candid and ultimately very moving chronicle.
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Format: Hardcover
..and then was very disappointed in the content. When I bought the book, I assumed it was truly about "sex between men before homosexuality." Instead, I found a thinly veiled biography of Walt Whitman and his writings. Nowhere on the cover does it indicate this. Only way in the back in the acknowledgments, is this "acknowledged." When I started the book, the section on Abraham Lincoln was fascinating and I'm glad Katz advocates ensuring we look at relationships within their own context of society and culture. But he spends too much time on Whitman and hyperanalyzing every word he wrote. I am not interested at all in poetry or Walt Whitman, so it was a shame that I bought this hardcover and had to try and pick out the parts without Whitman. The only time this became interesting was toward the end where the focus was more on Whitman's life.
The best part of the book, and I have to agree with another reviewer, are the wonderful vintage photographs.
While I believe Katz is an expert and writes fairly well, I would not recommend this book to someone looking for a wide range of subjects.
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Format: Hardcover
In addition to being a wonderful collection of most if not all of the known facts about sex between men in the Western world during the nineteenth century, this book is a well-written narrative about how the mystery and the cultural taboo surrounding gay sex was gradually, sometimes awkwardly, unravelled and revealed and finally relaxed. The story of gay liberation in America and England begins here, with Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman and John Addington Symonds and the dozens of unknown but courageous men who were unwilling to let themselves be crushed by the social pressure to be less like themselves and more like the heterosexual, morally acceptable "norm." We should all be grateful to these early freedom-fighters and non-conformists, and grateful, too, to Jonathan Ned Katz for telling these stories with such passionate and admirable accuracy and feeling.
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Format: Hardcover
"Love Stories" is about a struggle for men who love men to find a place for themselves within their own imaginations. Katz examines the 19th century intellectual nexus where same-sex male lust, emotional intimacy between men and, to a lesser extent, male femininity meet and from which the origins of contemporary gay male identity are found. This book gives context to those who believe the "gay community" as it is popularly thought of today is not a point of arrival, but a temporary and, in the history of same-sex attraction, relatively short-lived form. In a time when being gay is a commodified identity analagous to rooting for a sports team, Love Stories gives substance, history and meaning to those seeking to understand where we come from. Love Letters reads easy, in parts like a Vanity Fair-style social history, with famous names and well-known historical circumstances. I hope Jonathan Ned Katz lives, researches and writes forever.
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Format: Paperback
Katz (I keep wanting to call him Ned) pretty much covers all that's known about gay men in the 1800's, primarily in the US but also some in Europe too (mostly England). He stresses that it's important to understand the historical context of the words used to describe feelings that we, today, would call "gay". I knew quite a bit about the subjects of many of the chapters, but Katz wove them together into a more coherent look at the time that we call the Nineteenth Century (plus a helpful foray into the Twentieth Century in certain chapters). I was afraid that his writing would be a bit too scholarly for my taste, but even though it is a bit scholarly here and there, it's for good reason---he's making a point and doesn't want his readers to miss it. I appreciate that, and I appreciate that he didn't do too much of it. Katz is a careful, but obviously gay writer---and I mean gay in the MOST complementary sense. Oh, and did I mention the pictures? I love great old gay pictures, and these are full page and excellent quality---it's obvious that Katz went to a lot of trouble assembling these pictures. They really make the stories come alive. FYI---three other books that cover some of this same territory (but fill in background) are: Gay Berlin, Rebel Souls, and Edward Carpenter by Rowbotham.
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