With this book, Leila J. Rupp accomplishes what few scholars have even attempted: she combines a vast array of scholarship on supposedly discrete episodes in American history into an entertaining and entirely readable story of same-sex desire across the country and the centuries.
While most books on gay and lesbian history tend to be scholarly, at times informed by postmodern analysis that can make them challenging for the general reader, Rupp's survey of four centuries of "same-sex love in America" is, by contrast, extremely accessible. By way of introducing her material, this professor of history at Ohio State University writes very personally about her lesbian aunt, Leila; her own coming out; and her work in the lesbian and gay community, as well as a range of contemporary issues such as antigay political initiatives and gay male urban sexual cultures. The bulk of the book, however, is an engaging but cursory look at such highlights of same-sex desire in U.S. culture as Walt Whitman's life and poetry, Emily Dickinson's "romantic friendship" with her sister-in-law, gender variations among Native American berdaches, the importance of WW II in helping gay men and lesbians come out and the growth of national gay communities. While Rupp invokes the standard sources for gay and lesbian history, including the work of Allan B rube, Esther Newton, George Chauncey, Jonathan Katz and Lillian Faderman, she tends to summarize them rather than build new or larger arguments; there is little new research here. A highly regarded scholar of women's history, Rupp has produced a version of gay American history that's suitable even for young adult readers (the promotional material refers to it as "breezy"). As much as it might be needed, it's an odd offering from a university press. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.