'The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray', 'Foolish Hearts': Gay Love and Marriage?

Love makes the world go round. And when it comes to LGBT civil rights, love is what all the fuss is all about.

Two recent books from Cleis Press (both published in 2013) brought the idea of love to the forefront of my mind, in very different ways. In The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray, a novel, author Mitzi Szereto brings to life the character of Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray, the only published novel by gay icon Oscar Wilde who was born in 1854 in Dublin and lived much of his adult life in London, where in 1895 he was sentenced to two years of hard labor under English sodomy laws. After his release from prison, Wilde left England, dividing his time between France and England, and living in poverty. He never published under his own name again.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in the 1890s, tells the story of a young man named Dorian Gray, who sits for a portrait by artist Basil Hallward. Dorian who is exceptionally handsome, blithely expresses a desire to sell his soul to the ends that the painting would age instead of him. His wish comes true. As Dorian goes on to live a life of debauchery, his portrait ages and becomes disfigured with Dorian's transgressions.

British author Mitzi Szereto takes these themes and weaves them into a gothic, erotic thriller of her own making as she recreates the debauching Dorian who lives without aging through the centuries into the present day. The novel starts with a quotation from Dorian's mentor Lord Henry Wotton:

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows thick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.

In interests of not revealing the ending, I can't say too much -- only that Dorian, who throughout the centuries is interested only in his own pleasure, finally succumbs to having a heart. In taking the story to this conclusion, Mitzi Szereto, perhaps redeems the character of Dorian Gray.

Foolish Hearts, new gay fiction, edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane, is a collection of gay love stories and all that entails, coming of age, falling in love, building lives together, working through things, wistfully gazing into our futures and stumbling on sudden recollections.

There are 17 stories in all in this collection, some authors more well known than others, but all interesting in their own ways. Seasoned and celebrated gay writer Andrew Holleran gives us a story ("Symposium") with a author narrator who is invited to an upscale guesthouse with a gay archive and library to give a talk on the gay literary tradition and gay love and ends up in a conservation with a friend quoting Sappho ( I lie alone, the Pleiades have set) and lamenting:

What if I had spoken the truth this evening at the library. What if I had told them that the last time I was in love, in mad, passionate, deep and obsessive love, it was so painful that I hope never to repeat it?

In "How to Be Single at a Wedding" David Puterbaugh shares his story of going to a gay wedding, where the single gay male protagonist bonds with Natalie who is the sister of one of the grooms.

Oh, they fight," Natalie said, when he shared his doubt with her. They're just very WASPy about it, all smiles in public until they're behind closed doors. Then they tear each other's pearls off.

The protagonist, whose name is Peter, overcomes his doubts about the couple and himself. He feels like he is a "bad gay" since he is almost forty and had no idea of how to find Mr. Right. At the end of the story, Puterbaugh writes,

"Peter took his place beside Brian, on the left, and Natalie stood next to Jason on his right. Behind him, Peter could hear Jason and Natalie's mother crying softly in the garden. He glanced past the grooms and looked at Natalie, his hands flat at his sides, covering the two rings.
I hope she finds her own best man.
I hope I do, too.
I do, I do.

You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.