Gifford, James, editor. “Glances Backward: An Anthology of American Homosexual Writing, 1830-1920”, Broadview Press, 2007.
What James Gifford gives us in “Glances Backward” is nothing short of a treasure. We are so lucky to have this volume. Of course with the internet we could find all that he gives us but to have it in one book and easy to find makes this literature so much more pleasurable. Much of the literature included in this book is what is known as proto-gay and Gifford has collected about fifty America writers of poetry, prose and non-fiction and excerpted some of their most descriptive works. The introduction to the book instructs the reader as to what to read for and how reading between the lines will make everything so much better understood.
It is not enough that Gifford gives some wonderful selections but he also provides notes of explanation, references and sources for further reading. Not only is this a wonderful place to begin a study of gay literature but t would make a wonderful textbook for those in gay studies.
The literary value of some of the texts is questionable but their historical value is what is really important. There are times that you feel you may need a translator to help you understand some of what is written here but with time, you should not have any trouble.
Culturally Gifford attempts to be inclusive and he includes writings of native-Americans, a lesbian and even an excerpt from an African-American’s autobiography. There are also two of the Harvard poets included—George Cabot Lodge and Trumbell Stickney, names unfamiliar to most.
To many of us, our past is as far away as Europe and many of us get to know about t only by reading. This is the beauty of a book like this—it is all here in some form.
The book does not follow strict chronological order. There are some groupings dealing with themes and trends and some selections are grouped as opposites. But what we do have is a broad spectrum of genres and this broadens what we have had up until now and further explains what homosexuality was like at the beginning of the history of this country. The way the book is set up allows for us to enjoy it that much more. One of the ideas I have come up and practice daily is to balance one selection from Gifford with a modern piece that I may happen to be reading. Sometimes looking at the old helps me better to appreciate the new and vice versa.