The 20th century saw an increase in young adult books with LGBTQ representation, with many YA novels like The Song of Achilles and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
The rise of YA books featuring LGBTQ+ characters has grown tremendously in recent years as reader demand for more diversity increases. However, throughout history, LGBTQ literature has faced challenges and objections, legal restrictions, book bans, and persecution. Despite these restrictions, LGBTQ themes in literature date back to the times of ancient Greece and Rome.
Many stories from Greek and Roman mythology also reveal relationships and liaisons between same-sex and intersex characters. Contemporary scholars interpret them as the ancient world’s understanding and expression of same-sex romance as well as their tolerance of it. A famous example of this is the relationship of Patroclus and Achilles. In Homers, the Iliad, Achilles describes Patroclus as “the man whom I loved more than all the other comrades, loved like my own life”. Their love and passion are explored in Madeline Miller’s adaptation of The Iliad, The Song of Achilles, told from the perspective of Patroclus. Miller remains faithful to the events described in The Iliad while contributing his own ideas.
LGBTQ+ interpretations of Shakespeare have also been found by scholars and students. These texts provide insight into gender and sexuality in Renaissance Europe. For example, Antonio in The Merchant of Venice can be interpreted as being in love with Bassanio although this is often overlooked even today. Additionally, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet shows his true personality through his phallic imagery and every sexual pun can be interpreted as a cry for Romeo to notice and acknowledge affection and tension.
The 19th century ushered in the next great period for LGBTQ literature, albeit less direct and more subtle. Writers like Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf have woven sly references to LGBTQ identity and relationships into many works. For example, Oscar Wilde, a gay writer, included allusions to homosexuality in works such as Dorian Gray. Moreover, Virginia Woolf, despite being married, had several affairs with women throughout her life. Her lover, Vita Sackville-West, is said to have been her inspiration for the protagonist of Orlando, which is considered a masterpiece of modernist queer fiction. These authors began to pave the way for greater LGBTQ awareness among readers.
In the 20th century, many authors like James Baldwin, Truman Capote, EM Forster, and Adrienne Rich pushed social boundaries by highlighting LGBTQ storylines. These authors often achieved critical and commercial success, marking the 20th century as a new dawn for LGBTQ literature.
At the start of the 21st century, much LGBTQ literature has reached a high level of sophistication, and many works have achieved mainstream acclaim. Not only can these stories educate and inform readers, raising awareness, but they can also give LGBTQ people understanding, representation, and comfort.