Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Archaeologies of Gossip: AIDS in Contemporary Gay Fiction

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posted on 2021-11-15, 13:04 authored by Sutton, Emily

Queer criticism is now in its third decade and, as critical orthodoxy, running up against its own limitations. What, for example, is a discipline preoccupied with the unspoken, the marginal and the blurring of gender boundaries to do with Edmund White’s unambiguously gay, masculine “red unsheathed fury of the third penis of the afternoon”? The Western AIDS novel is, overwhelmingly, a product of a historically precise, explicitly gay, male experience. This thesis seeks unapologetically to engage with this writing on its own terms, eschewing the queer critical lens as insufficient, and, rather, reading for a specifically gay aesthetic. Grounded in a broader overview of both AIDS novels and existing criticism, this thesis consists of extended close readings of two exemplary AIDS novels: Edmund White’s The Farewell Symphony and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Firstly, I articulate the centrality of the gay sexual body to the representation of AIDS in The Farewell Symphony, tracing its representation of the disease through the epidemiological mapping of the virus itself, within the highly specific culture of gay New York in the 1970s. Secondly, I examine the way in which the re-imagination of a selective tradition of gay literary predecessors in The Line of Beauty, specifically Henry James and Oscar Wilde, provides an aesthetic solution to articulating AIDS.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Ferrall, Charles; McNeill, Dougal