New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1870. First edition. Half morocco over purple cloth with four raised bands and gilt to spine and boards. Pink and gold endpapers. Extremities a bit rubbed and joints cracking but holding well. Blindstamp of Chicago West Side Library to page 1. Else internally a pleasing and unmarked copy, with none of the foxing expected of imprints from this time. Just about Near Fine. Oft digitized but available in hardcopy at few institutions or on the market, this has become a particularly difficult book to obtain in collectible condition. Joseph and his Friend has been acclaimed as America's first openly published gay novel.
Young, sheltered, and wealthy Joseph Astor is engaged to the lovely Julia Blessing when he is seriously injured in a train crash. Nursed to health by a fellow passenger, the working class Philip Held, Joseph develops strong feelings and a lifelong bond to his new friend; yet he opts to move ahead with his marriage to Julia. As the plot progresses, the loveless marriage between the Astors leads to misery and resentment on both sides; meanwhile, Joseph's comfort is his deep connection, "a man's perfect friendship" with Philip. Early scholarship staged a debate on whether the relationship between the two men constituted an open portrayal of homosexual male attraction, or a close and platonic tie. Over time, criticism has become more nuanced, acknowledging the false dilemma posed by previous examinations. "Joseph and his Friend, which some scholars refer to as America's first gay novel, is a fascinating portrait of nineteenth-century American queerness...The novel portrays its two main characters as imagining future utopian spaces that resist heteronormative restrictions and allow for authentic expressions of queer affection...The novel presages popular early-twentieth-century notions of sexuality and identity that were still coalescing in the mid-nineteenth-century, offering an insightful glance into the development of American queerness. By using Christian language and imagery to present its own version of theology that posits male-male intimacy as a path to spiritual communion with God, it taps into the particularities of its own historical moment while imagining future queer utopias left for us to cultivate" (Wagner). In this sense, Taylor suggests cis-gendered, male, homosexual intimacy as having potential for being both an erotic experience and a platonic ideal. A landmark moment in American LGBTQ history. Very Good + (Item #3214)