Arts and Letters by Edmund White - review by C A R Hills

C A R Hills

The Immoralist

Arts and Letters


Cleis Press 364pp £16.99

Edmund White, in this sprightly volume of essays and profiles, makes many a nod to antiquity, discourses on the author of L'Immoraliste, and shows diverse interests ranging from Oscar Wilde to Marcel Proust, Robert Mapplethorpe to Gilbert and George, Yves Saint Laurent to Elton John. He admits himself that the majority of his subjects are gay. He is happy that he has known most of them. Indeed, that is part of his project. At the very outset he says, ‘For some reason I had a burning need to explore my own gay identity in fiction.’ And, one might add, in everything he writes. The pieces here are all very self-referential, but this is often because White is writing about friends. His tributes to them can be touching. He dutifully praises Allen Ginsberg as a writer, but what sticks in our memory and his is that Ginsberg donated to him a beautiful boy, who first appeared naked in his hallway.

White writes with liberality and humour, but also has an intellectual seriousness to which few of us could aspire. He spent seven years writing his biography of Jean Genet, an experience he draws upon here in more than one essay. The research was difficult, and he made hardly any money

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