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Transgressive Travels: Homosexuality, Class, Politics and the Lure of Germany in 1930s Writing

Rainer Emig

‘Berlin meant Boys.’1 Christopher Isherwood’s retrospective summary

of the appeal of Germany for some of the writers of the 1930s

set the tone for the rather limited critical evaluation of a very interesting

feature of 1930s writing that was to follow. Almost every

critical study of Auden, Isherwood and Spender feels obliged to make

at least cursory reference to the fact that Germany represented some

kind of libidinous homosexual nirvana. Atelling example is Valentine

Cunningham’s British Writers of the Thirties. There he writes: ‘Germany

was now the place to be: for artistic progressivism, but also

because there sunshine and cocaine and sex, especially homosex,

were up until Hitler’s intervention in 1933 so freely available. Berlin

was a mythic sodom, and a sodomites’ mythic nirvana. The British

homosexuals excitedly went there to ‘live’.’2 I would like to add to

this narrow and biased view some important and less simplistic

aspects. I will try to show that the lure of Germany also touches on

issues of class, politics and nationality. I will try to present the related

transgressions that result from this entanglement not so much as biographical

achievements or failures, but explore how they feature in

the literary production of the writers of the era.

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