Get It Up: Two Lesbians and a Gay Man Walk into a Bar

Publication Date

April 2019


Sean McCann




English (United States)


This thesis began out of a research paper for the course “American Modernism” taught in the fall of 2017 by Prof. Sean McCann. The original research focused on Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood and its intersection with tragedy, particularly with the theme of overliving. The original plan for the thesis was to trace overliving as a theme in gay literature of late modernism. By and large, as I contended with various other theories and social critiques, I’ve retained that original intention with the three works this thesis is centred around: Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man, one of the texts that made a deep impression on me when I was a fifteen-year-old peering through the closet door (which appears less like a closet door than a suffocating prison: the idea of the closet up to then had not occurred to me); Barnes’s Nightwood—a modified version of my research paper from two years ago makes up Chapter 2; and Virginia Woolf’s last novel, Between the Acts. These three texts, by no means exemplary of their respective period and genre, nevertheless seem to me to portray the same theme that I found in Nightwood. The gay characters from each book all suffer from what Heather Love calls “feeling backward.” In Isherwood, this feeling manifests itself largely in relation to the process of grieving for a beloved. In Barnes, it is the controlling factor that affects both the form and content. In Woolf, a pageant play brings this feeling to bear on a whole town of people. The question, for me at least, is whether there is relief from this dark feeling (much like the feeling of the closet). The answer—well, that part is in here.

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