Sunday, February 17, 2019

396. Beauties, Dancers, Whores



                
 The Eye That Never Sleeps 



     Pre-order my new novel,The Eye That Never Sleeps, from the publisher, Black Rose Writing, at a 15% discount from the retail price of $18.95; it will ship on the release date, May 2. E-book available soon after that.  Author's copies available now at $20.00 + postage.


 The Eye That Never Sleeps eimage.jpg

Summary: The fourth title in my Metropolis series of historical novels set in nineteenth-century New York, The Eye That Never Sleeps tells the story of the strangest friendship that ever was. Hired by the city’s bankers to apprehend the thief who is plundering their banks, private detective Sheldon Minick develops a friendship with his chief suspect, Nicholas Hale, an elegant young man-about-town who is in every way the sober Methodist detective’s opposite. They agree to a truce and undertake each to show the other the city that he knows and values.  Further adventures follow, including a cancan, a gore-splattered slaughterhouse, and a brothel with leap-frogging whores.  But when the truce ends, the inevitable finale comes in the dark midnight vaults of a bank.

Not a standard detective story.  Sheldon Minick is scared of women, wears elevator heels, and loves to belt out Methodist hymns at church.  He is fascinated by Nicholas Hale, who is young, dapper, free-spending -- a risk-taker, deft with women, bisexual.


                     Beauties, Dancers, Whores


         This post was inspired by three beauties at the Met, the scandalous Madame X, and a celestial dancer.

         I am fascinated by the works of the Spanish master Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (let’s just call him Goya), who painted portraits, genre paintings, heroic historical scenes, and grotesque works conveying the horrors of war.  Trouble is, you don’t find much of his work outside Spain.  So when, some years ago, the Met announced two Goya works on temporary loan from the museum of Lille in northern France, I rushed to see them.  (Lille?  Yes, Lille.  Because Napoleon encouraged provincial museums to expand their collections, and Lille managed to snag two Goyas).

         The two Goyas, though acquired by Lille separately, were a perfect pair, for they were about the same size and displayed elegantly dresses majas.  At the time I took maja to mean a belle or beauty, which seemed to fit the subjects of these paintings.  One shows two gauzily dressed young women sitting in a box at a bullfight, with two shadowy, mysterious gentlemen behind them.  


File:Goya (attr.), majas al balcon, 1800-10 ca. 01.JPG
Another version, with a balcony, at the Met.
Sailko

The other painting shows a well-dressed young woman reading a letter, while her maid holds a parasol over her.  (A love letter, the museum notes suggested.)  On the ground near her, presenting a stark contrast, are several working-class women doing their laundry on a river bank.  Clearly, she is a lady, or a good imitation of one, and they are not.

         The two paintings made a great impression on me, and I wondered what kind of a reputation the majas might have.  This was, after all, Goya’s Spain of the early nineteenth century, far more conservative than post-revolutionary France.  And when, recently, I found an online definition of maja as “a Spanish belle of the lower class,” I was even more curious.  If these majas are of the working class, who paid for their finery?  The mysterious gentlemen escorts of the bullfight/balcony scene, one suspects. So are majas simply glorified whores?

         In the nineteenth-century U.S. it was risky for a respectable woman to draw undue attention to herself.  Middle-class wives didn’t want their names in the newspapers, and if they had their portrait painted, it was meant for display only in the home.  This was true even in sophisticated Paris, where the American artist John Singer Sargent shocked the public when he exhibited, in the 1884 Paris Salon, his Portrait of Madame X.  

File:Sargent MadameX.jpeg
Here she is, with both shoulder straps intact.

The work showed a handsome woman in black satin, her head in profile, with one strap of her low-cut gown unfastened.  The subject of the dramatic painting, the world soon learned, was the American wife of the French banker Pierre Gautreau, noted for her beauty and her rumored infidelities.  The work was not painted on commission, but at a request from the artist.  The reaction to it was so negative that Mme Gautreau, who at first thought it a masterpiece, felt humiliated, and the chagrinned young artist left Paris for London and remained there for the rest of his lengthy career.  As for the painting itself, Singer kept it, later displayed it at international exhibitions, and sold it to the Met in 1916, convinced that it was the best work he had ever done.  Another version is in the Tate in London.

         If respectable women were not supposed to put themselves on display, what about actresses?  The public might applaud an actress’s brilliant performance in the theater, but respectable women wouldn’t think of inviting her into their home, and dreaded the thought that one of their sons might fall in love with a thespian (the meaning of which they weren’t quite sure).  So actresses were both acclaimed and excluded -- the same ambiguous position that burdened Molière and his troupe, men and women alike, in seventeenth-century France.  

         A woman’s respectability is the subject of Henry James’s delightful story “The Siege of London” (1883).  It opens with two Americans at the Paris opera, a newcomer,and a seasoned widower wise in the ways of the world.  The newcomer confesses that he doesn’t understand how his friend can tell at a glance if a woman is respectable.  Eyeing a box with his opera glasses, he asks the old hand if the woman there is respectable or not.  His friend takes a look and immediately says she isn’t, but adds that the young man with her is.  Then he realizes that he once knew the woman and decides to say hello to her at the intermission.  So begins a story that hinges on whether or not a much-married American woman can in any way be called respectable.

         The women mentioned so far – Goya’s majas, Sargent’s Mme Gautreau, and James’s protagonist – risked society’s rejection, but they were not performers.  If in the nineteenth century respectable women were not supposed to put themselves on display, what about actresses?  Respectable women and their husbands might applaud an actress’s brilliant performance in the theater, but they wouldn’t think of inviting her into their home, and dreaded the thought that one of their sons might fall in love with a thespian (the meaning of which they weren’t quite sure).  This applied even to Sarah Bernhardt, the acclaimed French actress whose first tour of America in 1880 garnered attention, rave reviews, and money (which, being debt-prone, she could use), but not respectability.  Not that she needed it, preferring freedom and a series of male lovers.  “Have you seen my latest?” she would ask an old acquaintance, usually referring to some fledgling actor discovered in the provinces, whom she had annexed and, to the annoyance of her troupe, given roles he was unequipped to handle.  (The annexed young man lasted a season or two.)  So society’s wariness of actresses was not without foundation. 

File:Joseph Karl Stieler-Lola Montez1847.jpg
Lola Montez in Munich, 1847.

         So how about dancers?  Worse still.  A dancer’s ability to wreak societal havoc was demonstrated by the career of the Irish dancer who took the name Lola Montez. After engaging in numerous dalliances and provoking a duel between two admirers with fatal results in Paris, in 1846 she performed in Munich.  There she became the mistress of the smitten king, Ludwig I, who created her Countess of Landsfeld and gave her an annuity. She then meddled in politics, and when the 1848 revolution erupted, Ludwig no. 1 had to abdicate, and she too fled the country.  Coming in time to the U.S., she shocked and titillated audiences, especially the gold miners in California, with her wiggly Spider Dance.  In and out of marriages, she began wasting away, spent her last days doing rescue work among fallen women, and died in Brooklyn in 1861, at age 39, of syphilis.  She is buried in Green-Wood cemetery, a repository of celebrities that also harbors Boss Tweed, assorted minor Roosevelts, and mobster Albert Anastasia.  Good company, indeed.

         Mention of the notorious Lola brings to mind – at least to my mind – the life-size sandstone statue of a contorted Hindu dancer in the South Asia hall of the Met.  


File:India semi-devine attendant Dancing Celestial.jpg
Rosemania
Though she lacks arms and legs, she looks wonderfully supple and sensual.  Identified as a celestial dancer of the mid-eleventh century, she must be performing in honor of the gods, who are thought to inhabit temples and consider them their home.  Presumably the real-life celestial dancer would be performing in a temple, but I can't help wondering about the status of her secular equivalent, perhaps a dancer at court.  Would she hope to captivate a monarch, as Lola did, or to advance her position in society otherwise? 

         Such matters will be considered in the next post; see below.


                             BROWDERBOOKS


For my other books, go here.


Coming soon:  Artists or Whores?  Nautch Girls, Geishas, and the Dancing Girls of Lahore.




©   Clifford Browder   2019


        


Sunday, February 10, 2019

395. Gay Slang of the 1950s, plus Thoughts on Camp


                   The Eye That Never Sleeps 


     If you want my new novel, The Eye That Never Sleeps, and can wait until the release date, May 2, pre-order it now from the publisher, Black Rose Writing, at a 15% discount from the retail price of $18.95; it will ship on May 2.  The e-book will be available soon after that date.  The more sales I have online, the better.  I will sign copies later on request.  If you can't wait, buy a signed author's copy from me now at $20.00 + postage.


 The Eye That Never Sleeps eimage.jpg


Did you ever have a friend who at times acted like your enemy, or an enemy who at times became your friend?  The Eye That Never Sleeps tells the story of just such a friendship.  To be released May 2, this is fourth title in my Metropolis series of historical novels set in nineteenth-century New York.  Detective Sheldon Minick, one of the two main characters, is already known to readers of my novel Bill Hope, for characters in the series turn up in more than one novel.

Summary: Hired by the city’s bankers to track down and apprehend the thief who is plundering their banks, private detective Sheldon Minick develops a friendship with his chief suspect, Nicholas Hale, an elegant young man-about-town who is in every way the sober Methodist detective’s opposite. They agree to a truce and undertake each to show the other the city that he knows and values.  Further adventures follow, including a cancan, a gore-splattered slaughterhouse, and a brothel with leap-frogging whores.  But when the truce ends, the inevitable finale comes in the dark midnight vaults of a bank.

This is not a standard detective story.  Sheldon Minick is a bit scared of women, wears elevator heels to add to his height, and loves to belt out Methodist hymns at church (though he leaves the praying to his wife).  He is fascinated by Nicholas Hale, who is young, dapper, free-spending -- a risk-taker, deft with women, bisexual.


                 Gay Slang of the 1950s, 
                plus Thoughts on Camp


         Self-conscious subgroups have always had a lingo of their own, and that has certainly been true of gay people, especially when they constituted an underground society, hidden from the majority straight world but known to the knowing few.  Gay men needed their own society and slang, for the straight world – with exceptions – viewed them with scorn and distaste.  Or worse still, with pity.  Here are some of the straight world’s terms for gay males back in the 1950s, ranging from the least to the most offensive.

1.    Homo
2.    Queer
3.    Faggot, fag
4.    Fairy
5.    Pervert
6.    Degenerate

To which I might add "fruit" and the adjective "fruity," except that today I wouldn't add it at all.  Instead, I can imagine a gay kid saying, "Fruit?  What's wrong with being soft, ripe, sweet, and good to eat?  I'll buy into that, you bet!"

         When I first entered the gay world in New York in the 1950s, I learned its lingo effortlessly, picking it up from gay friends and from the talk in gay bars.  Using it made you feel special and in the know; it stamped you as a member of your tribe.  So here are some of the terms I learned.  I suspect that some are still current today, and others forgotten or remembered fondly as “quaint.”

butch / nelly:  a masculine / feminine gay person  (also used as adjectives)

queen:  feminine gay guy  (often used loosely for gay men generally)

fluff:  nelly  (used by the macho leather jacket crowd for non-leather gays)

trick:  a gay guy you’ve had (or hope to have) sex with (as in “to pick up tricks”)

an ex:  a gay guy you once had sex with  (“one of my exes”)

trade:  hetero males willing to have sex with gay guys (often with a suggestion that they are latently gay, as in the saying “Today’s trade is tomorrow’s competition”)

rough trade: violence-prone trade

S and M: sado-masochism (a kind of cult among some gay men)

hustler: a male prostitute

chicken: a young gay guy new to the game, innocent

swish: an effeminate gay man (also used as a verb and adjective)

auntie: an older gay guy (pejorative)

sea food: sailors

jail bait:  a gay kid below the age of consent

fish: a woman (pejorative)

fag hag: a hetero woman who hangs out with gay guys (not pejorative)

blow job: oral sex

69: simultaneous oral sex of two male partners (a verb and adjective)

tea room: rest room, john

to cruise: to go looking for a partner for sex

to camp: to talk or behave in an ostentatiously gay manner

         The term “camp,” whether a verb, an adjective, or a noun, is of unknown origin, though many origins have been proposed.  Be that as it may, it has quite a history.  I first knew it in the 1950s as a gay verb, as just noted.  By the 1960s it was used more broadly in the meaning of “excessive” or “over the top,” and as such was akin to “theatrical” and “artificial.”  It might or might not be pejorative, but often suggested a trendy and “with it” pattern of behavior.  Very influential was Susan Sontag’s 1964 article “Notes on Camp” in the Partisan Review.  She defined “camp” as “one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon,” but went on to call it “failed seriousness,” which some have labeled not “camp” but “campiness,” meaning frivolous and “so bad it’s good.”  For some, it was identified not only with artifice and ostentation, but also with naïve middle-class pretentiousness, in which case the trendy became teasingly pejorative. 

File:Carmen Miranda in The Gang's All Here trailer cropped.jpg
Carmen in all her glory, in
The Gang's All Here, 1950.

         One example of “camp” cited by Sontag was singer and movie star Carmen Miranda, "The Brazilian Bombshell," whom I recall appearing in old musicals wearing tropical fruits that came off as outrageously and implausibly funny.  In time, “camp” came to include drag queens and other performers like Dame Edna, Divine, Boy George, and Liberace.  And if some of those names don’t register with you, it shows how the concept has morphed over time.  

File:Dame Edna (7105780145).jpg
Dame Edna in 2012.
Dame Edna

File:Liberace Colour Allan Warren.jpg
Liberace in 1974.
Allan warren
          “Camp” is ambiguous, elusive.  One may well ask if it is frivolous or serious, or a combination of both.  Is it a gay term or has it lost that connotation?  Is it trendy or hopelessly dated?  Ask a dozen historians, and you’ll get a dozen answers.  So I’ll leave it to younger generations to use the term as they wish, or to bury it in oblivion.  But let’s face it, “camp” has always been fun.


                           BROWDERBOOKS

For my other books, go here.


Coming soon:  No idea, but something will happen.


©   Clifford Browder   2019



Friday, February 8, 2019

BROWDERBOOKS





                                      BROWDERBOOKS


All my books, nonfiction and historical fiction, relate to the wild, crazy, maddening, and hugely creative city of New York. I love this place, warts and all.  It's the most exciting city in the world.  My books are about its people and its happenings, past and present.  All are available online as indicated, or from the author.  And for more on New York, see the other posts in my blog.


1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you. An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018, and at the Brooklyn Book Festival 2018.




Reviews

"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

"To read No Place for Normal: New York is to enter into Cliff Browder’s rich and engaging sixty years of adult life in New York. Yes, he delves back before his time – from the city’s origins to the 19th Century that Ms. Trollope and Mr. Dickens encounter to robber barons and slums that marked highs and lows of the earlier Twentieth Century. But Browder has lived such an engaged and curious life that he can’t help but cross paths with every layer and period of society. There is something Whitmanesque in his outlook."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Michael P. Hartnett.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.






Reviews

"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 


New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  What price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?

Reviews

"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, but women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)





Reviews

"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


5.  Fascinating New Yorkers: Power Freaks, Mobsters, liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies (Black Rose Writing, 2018).  A collection of posts from my blog.  Short biographical sketches of people, some remembered and some forgotten, who lived or died in New York.  A cardinal archbishop known in certain circles as "Franny"; a serial killer who terrorized the city; a pioneer in female erotica who had two husbands and kept a "lie box" to keep her two lives straight; and many more.  New York is a mecca for hustlers of every kind, some endearing and some scary, but they are never boring.



Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg


Reviews

"Fascinating New Yorkers by Clifford Browder was like sitting down with a dear friend and catching up on the latest gossip and stories. Written with a flair to keep the reader turning the pages, I couldn't stop reading it and thinking about the subjects of each New Yorker. I love NYC and this book just added to the list of reasons why, a must read for those who love NYC and the people who have lived there." Five-star NetGalley review by Patty Ramirez, librarian.

"Unputdownable."  Five-star review by Dipali Sen, retired librarian.

"I felt like I was gossiping with a friend when reading this, as the author wrote about New Yorkers who are unique in one way or another. I am hoping for another book featuring more New Yorkers, as I couldn't put this down and read it in one sitting!"  Five-star NetGalley review by Cristie Underwood.
g New Yorkers” is a pleasure to read and I look forward to reading more works by this author.
"Fascinating New Yorkers is a pleasure to read and I look forward to reading more works by this author." Five-star Reader Views review by Paige Lovitt.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


©   2019   Clifford Browder