Peters, Fritz. “Finistere”, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2006. (originally issued in 1951).
One of the earliest explicit gay novels (1951) has been re-released by Arsenal Pulp Press. “Finistere” beautifully captures the gay scene and wrote what Gore Vidal says is a rare look at “the corruption and murder of innocence”.
This coming-of-age novel has been acclaimed by many and if you are at all interested in early gay erotica, this is a must-read. It is beautifully crafted and Peters’ characterization of the naïve, isolated Matthew and the bitter, cynical Michel are wonderful. We see those feelings that arise when self-awareness kicks in.
The novel takes place in the 1920’s and Matthew is 12. He is taken by his mother to live in Pars after her marriage died. While at boarding school, Matthew realizes his sexuality wit an older boy and then with a teacher, Michel. They, together, face the issues of a hostile society and their own internal struggles.
Fritz Peters captures life and relays it to us. He sheds light on what life is all about. Somewhat melodramatic, some of the early gay stereotypes are here and some of the early sad aspects of gay life which we found in literature—suicide, non-acceptance and ridicule. We also get an in-depth look at Paris after WW II during one section but above all is the portrayal of the two gay characters. Their tender love affair and the strong characterizations made this book unique.
When first published the book sold over 350,000 copies. I remember reading it when I wrapped it in a paper bag so no one would know. This new edition contains an appendix of historical materials about both the book and the author and an introduction by gay literary critic and writer, Michael Bronski.
“Finistere” is important because we learn about what was. There is a lot written about coming-out today but we do not have much from the past. This makes it even more important because by reading this book and comparing it to what we have now, we can see how far we have come and how much society has changed its view toward us. What “Finistere” really does is show us the internal struggle that a young gay man has to face while trying to find a place for him. It was bold for its time and is still quite bold today.
This is not a typical coming of-age story. Remembering when it was written, it is important to note that the life of a gay man at that time was in danger and gay men were equated with secret and underground sexual activity. The end result of gay life was thought to be loneliness. However, “Finistere” is sympathetic in its characterization of the two lovers and this also helps give the novel significance. One can just imagine how shocking the novel was when first published. The two males were 15 and late 20’s and that is still shocking. But, with all that said, this is a wonderful read and important to us all.