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Best Queer Characters in Fiction

4th Nov 2014

Best Queer Characters in Fiction
Thirty years ago, a list of favourite queer characters in classic or contemporary fiction would have been depressingly short. While the list of outwardly gay writers, poets and playwrights brings some hope looking back, identifiable LGBT characters themselves remained scarce...

Last month LGBTQ writer Robin Talley wrote for us about the importance of LGBT Historical Fiction and LGBT characters in YA literature (and we couldn’t agree more!).

We’re passionate about championing LGBTQ writers, but thought we should also give some love to our favourite queer characters too.

If you think we’re missing a great character off our list then leave us a comment and let us know your favourite queer characters! For now here are just some of our favourites…

Stephen Gordon

The first time I read The Well of Loneliness I thought it was just the sort of novel an early-twenty-something lesbian didn’t need. But that’s to look at it from the wrong angle, and fail to notice what is a tremendous story – of courage, and deep passion – that the boyish, “sexually inverted” (read gay) Stephen Gordon weaves.

Radclyffe Hall, an entirely different though no less interesting character than Stephen herself, was wrapped up in obscenity charges against the book in 1928, and criticised because an obscene, though well-written book was deemed to be just as, if not more dangerous than an obscene badly-written one.

Molly Bolt

The American writer Rita Mae Brown finished Rubyfruit Jungle, a perhaps less well-known novel, in 1973, and though it’s aged badly, the massive sense of fun and hilarious narrator still make it a classic.

“I didn’t even want a husband or any man for that matter,” says Molly Bolt, “I wanted to go my own way, and maybe find some love here and there. Love, but not the now and forever kind with chains round your vagina and a short circuit in your brain.”

Richard Papen & Others.

Richard Papen, the aloof, oddly charismatic narrator of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, suspects most if not all of his male counterparts to be gay, at one time or another in the novel.

Some of these ideas prove to be true (we won’t reveal any spoilers for those who haven’t read this fantastic book yet), but there’s a definite fascination with the subject on his part, and a thinly-disguised reverence for more than one of his male friends and for varying reasons.

Although his primary obsession takes the form of Camilla, Richard’s relationships with all of the main characters explores vulnerability and the interlocking friendships and relationships of the group in a nuanced and poetic way.

Nan Astley

Sarah Waters, the high mistress of lesbian fiction, creates a feisty, blissfully secure alternative to so much of what’s written for and about lesbians in the form of Nan Astley.

Swashbuckling, never defeated, cross-dressing and rude, Tipping the Velvet’s Nan smashes down more barriers through the course of the book than she ever realises. “When I see her, it’s like – I don’t know what it’s like. It’s like I never saw anything at all before. It’s like I am filling up, like a wine-glass when it’s filled with wine.”

Patrick Hazlewood

More recently, Bethan Roberts‘ My Policeman takes the atmosphere of 1950s Brighton, and the witch hunts of gay people at that time, and transforms this into a personal and moving tragedy.

Patrick Hazlewood’s story, his infatuation and later love for Tom, who becomes “his” policeman, is beautiful and well worth a read.

Albus Dumbledore

It was only after publication of the seven books that JK Rowling finally pulled Dumbledore out of the closet, and although there are no direct references to his sexuality in Harry Potter, it’s intimated more than once, if you’re looking for it.

His youthful fascination with Grindelwald, their boyish friendship which seemed to teeter into more, is the obvious example of this. But look a little deeper, and it’s Dumbledore who gets virtually all the stellar lines within the series, and who acts as the key advocate of acceptance, tolerance and unity – “we must choose between what is easy and what is right,” he says. Word.

Jeanette

Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are Not the Only Fruit isn’t, she’s since maintained, an overtly lesbian novel. The darkly comic, self-aware protagonist’s horror at discovering Jane Eyre didn’t marry St.John Rivers after all is just one of many tipping points in her journey to discovery.

Precocious and unapologetic, she’s sharp, tongue-in-cheek and the kind of person you feel you could sit in the pub with for hours. Internal debates frame the narrative: when the narrator asks herself what her life will be like if she chooses the path that’s most true to her, she’s told, “You’ll have a difficult, different time”. But is it worth it? she asks. That’s up to you, comes the reply.

[Image credit: Guillaume Paumie on Flickr]

Comments

  • `Bryony Holland says:

    This is great! A rainbow of queer literature. And Dumbledore? Blimey. I had never ever considered that angle. Interesting! Coming from Brighton, I am so happy that we’ve come so far in terms of tolerance and acceptance over the last thirty years. It’s so wonderful to see such openness in art. Thanks!