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The Revolving Door: The Implications of Sedgwick’s Closet in Anglo-American Literature 1900-1950

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Grace Vowels
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The latter half of the twentieth century was critical in the evolution of LGBT+ rights and culture. Events like the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, which many cite as the spark of the American Gay Rights movement, and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act in the United Kingdom, which stripped away many of the criminal statutes prohibiting homosexuality, served as catalysts for societal change. However, the first half of the twentieth century also birthed important pieces of gay culture, especially with regards to literature. It is with the ideas of queer theorists of the later twentieth century that readers today can discover the homosexual subtext of texts past. One such scholars was Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, whose theories of the closet and methods of concealing homosexuality in texts were critical in the formation of my study. Using her theories, which center on the dichotomies of “known and the unknown, explicit and the inexplicit” and stressing the importance of plausible deniability to straight audiences, I will analyze works by Evelyn Waugh and E.M. Forster, working to discover the means of concealing and revealing homosexuality in their work, through both textual content and publication. I will also discuss how the reception of these works was affected by the different means of closeting in each work. Overall, I conclude that such closeting was necessary due to the social confines of the time and that it is the responsibility of modern scholars and readers to liberate these texts from the confines of the past.

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Biography

Grace Vowels is an English and History major from Elizabethtown, Kentucky. During her time at Salem, she has been involved in various clubs such as Open Up (as secretary), Incunabula (as prose editor), and Junior Marshals. Her studies have centered around the representation of sexuality and queer identity in twentieth-century English literature. Additionally, Grace has interned under faculty mentor Jo Dulan in the English department. She would like to thank all of the professors in the English and History departments, particularly her advisors Dr. Dulan and Dr. Thomas, for all the help they have given her over the last four years.
 

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