12 Queer Classics to Read this Pride Month

A woman reading a LGBT book
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This June, we mark Pride Month by rediscovering classic LGBT books that were once banned, but are now considered ground-breaking landmarks that have shaped queer literature as we know it today. From heartbreaking stories of first love to scandalous tales of sexual awakening, these twelve LGBT novels may appeal to anyone seeking to explore queer art. 

Stung with Love: Poems by Sappho

Image Credit: Penguin Classics

“Praised by Plato as The Tenth muse, Sappho gives prominence to the isle of Lesbos and Sapphic love is another term for same sex love between women. Her poems in general are filled with beautiful girls, the splendor of wedding days (oral odes for weddings could be the source of her work and formed a separate part of the collected work of Sappho in the library of Alexandria), for nature and heavens full of stars and flower wreaths. Although praise for the gods and the Trojan war comes back, the feel of the work is much more human centered and personal than the poems of Homer.

Her work is short, melancholic and powerful and conjures a whole different world while also capturing universal and recognisable feelings.”-Henk

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The Satyricon by Petronius

Image Credit: Penguin Classics

The Satyricon is the most celebrated work of fiction to have survived from the ancient world. It can be described as the first realistic novel, the father of the picaresque genre, and recounts the sleazy progress of a pair of literature scholars as they wander through the cities of the southern Mediterranean. En route they encounter type-figures the author wickedly satirizes – a teacher in higher education, a libidinous priest, a vulgar freedman turned millionaire, a manic poet, a superstitious sea-captain and a femme fatale. The novel has fascinated the literary world of Europe ever since, evoking praise for its elegant and hilarious description of the underside of Roman society, but also condemnation for some of its lewder subjects. 

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Nana by Emile Zola

Image Credit: Simon&Schuster

“In the year of the fabulous Paris World’s Fair of 1867, when the glamorous city is crowded, with thrill seeking foreign and domestic visitors, Nana Coupeau, a prostitute, makes her unlikely debut on stage. Soon the new star meets Count Muffat, a honorable, married, but unhappy man, who sets her up in a huge mansion, full of luxuries.

Men are always lurking about, everywhere in the premises, slaves to strong emotions they can’t control, the helplessly infatuated Count is powerless to stop the debauchery, he is too much in love and can only hope for a short time with his mistress.

Satin an old schoolmate, and fellow traveler, in their former profession, moves in, and they begin a lesbian affair, which the very jealous Count , doesn’t mind a bit… These two tarts, the word is continuously used in the book by the author, seem to be the happiest together not caring for the rest of the world, just enjoying being in the same company. Hours pass quickly and quietly … Sex rains down like a torrent, striking everyone, drowning them in lust, corrupting and finally destroying them…”-Henry Avila

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The Immoralist by Andre Gide

Imge Credit: Dover Thrift

In The Immoralist, André Gide presents the confessional account of a man seeking the truth of his own nature. The story’s protagonist, Michel, knows nothing about love when he marries the gentle Marceline out of duty to his father. On the couple’s honeymoon to Tunisia, Michel becomes very ill, and during his recovery he meets a young Arab boy whose radiant health and beauty captivate him. An awakening for him both sexually and morally, Michel discovers a new freedom in seeking to live according to his own desires. But, as he also discovers, freedom can be a burden. A frank defense of homosexuality and a challenge to prevailing ethical concepts, The Immoralist is a literary landmark, marked by Gide’s masterful, pure, simple style.

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The Monk by Matthew Lewis

Image Credit: Modern Library Classics

“This novel is about as Gothic as it’s possible to get! The dark, shadowy cathedral with its corpse-filled crypt is wonderful. The title character, Ambrosio, is enigmatic and attractive – at least until we get to know him! Seeing himself as beyond sin, he is harsh to the point of cruelty in judging the sins of others. However, when he is tempted, he finds he is not as holy as he imagined. Aided by a sorceress, Matilda, his life descends into depravity.

It’s a tale of secrets, of thwarted love, lost innocence, guilt, hatred, jealousy, rape, incest and murder. Not for the faint-hearted.” -Karen Coles

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The Decameron by Boccaccio

Image Credit: W.W. Norton and Co

In the summer of 1348, the plague ravages Florence, and ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside, where they entertain themselves with tales of love, death and corruption, featuring a host of colourful characters, from lascivious clergymen and mad kings to devious lovers and false miracle-makers. Named after the Greek for “ten days”, Boccaccio’s book of stories draws on ancient mythology, contemporary events and everyday life, leaving an indelible mark on the works of future writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare.

J.G. Nichols’s new translation stays as faithful to the original as possible while being written in a clear and eminently modern English, capturing the timeless humour of one of the great classics of world literature.

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Tales of The City by Armistead Maupin

Image Credit: Harper Collins Publishers

“Welcome to the the adventures of the denizens of San Francisco’s 28 Barbary Lane: bright-eyed 20-something Mary Ann Singleton, newly arrived from Cleveland; jaded bohemian Mona Ramsey; Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, Mona’s gay best friend, Brian Hawkins, a notorious womanizer; and of course their eccentric landlady, Anna Madrigal, who has chosen each one of her tenants very carefully. 

The plot is brimming with sex, lies and a secret dossier on one of characters – it’s impossible to put down. Maupin has lots of fun with his characters, whether they’re looking for love and relationships (Mary Ann, Mouse) or tired of their marriage and looking elsewhere for connection (Mary Ann’s lecherous, bisexual boss; Beauchamp’s boss Edgar Halcyon, who is also having an affair with one of the main characters).

There’s some savage satire in here, especially involving well-to-do characters: a coterie of “A-list gays”; the “ladies who lunch” society women who compete with each other to bring famous artists to the city and who hold patronizing consciousness-raising rap sessions about “serious” subjects like rape.

It’s not just satire that keeps us reading; it’s the hopes and dreams of its characters and the friendships they form under the gabled roof of their unique abode; it’s the sense of fun and excitement that you get in moving to a new city and meeting cool new people – even if you’ve only moved there as a reader.”- Glenn Sumi

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A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Image Credit: Picador Modern Classics

“When A Single Man was originally published, it shocked many by its frank, sympathetic, and moving portrayal of a gay man in midlife. George, the protagonist, is adjusting to life on his own after the sudden death of his partner, determined to persist in the routines of his daily life. An Englishman and a professor living in suburban Southern California, he is an outsider in every way, and his internal reflections and interactions with others reveal a man who loves being alive despite everyday injustices and loneliness. Wry, suddenly manic, constantly funny, surprisingly sad, this novel catches the texture of life itself.”- BOOK JACKET.

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Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Image Credit: Vintage Mann

“In each heart there are unrequited desires; desires that hibernate for years only to awaken after the last days of summer have passed into the time when “To love that well which thou must leave ere long” is the only option. While on vacation aging writer Gustav von Aschenbach beholds the beauty of Tadzio, a teenage boy vacationing with his family. After this one look he is enthralled – and cursed – to follow that path which will lead to his destruction.”- Nakapalau J. 

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Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Image Credit: Wordsworth Editions

“If you have not yet read Proust, please put aside whatever else you might be reading. Better yet, get rid of it. There is hardly a point. Literature, life, art, love, yearning, the mind, brothels, dinners, celebrities, fashion, aesthetics, cookies, insomnia, the beach, France, mothers, the theater, obsession, flowers, and memory, to name just a few, are perfectly captured here. Writing before Proust is little but a long prologue; after him, side notes. Also, if you’re curious about Proust, please refrain from reading any other translation; the newer editions might be nicely packaged, but the Moncrieff-Kilmartin remains the Golden Standard and is far superior to the wobbly attempts of the more recent volumes.”-Liel

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A Marriage Below Zero by Alan Dale

Image Credit: Kindle

All is not well in the Ravener household. Arthur shows little interest in his pretty new bride. He disappears after dinner. Elsie waits up for him into the wee hours of the morning. His bedroom door is locked. Arthur prefers the company of Jack, his “bosom friend” from his college days. A Marriage Below Zero is a tragicomic account of a desperate woman’s attempts to uncover the secret at the center of her husband’s life. Her quest for the truth will take her to London, New York, and Paris, where she finally discovers what everyone else has suspected all along.

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Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Image Credit: Vintage International

“It is under the foreign sky of Paris, where identity is protected by anonymity and the most darkest secrets do not transcend the limits of a room, that David, an American young man, is forced to face the convoluted layers of the true nature of his sexual identity. Told in the first-person narrator, Giovanni’s Room bewilders the reader because of the perturbing sensitivity with which Baldwin portrays an extremely delicate predicament; that of listening to the self-deprecating inner voices that corrode the consciousness of those who deny their true selves for the sake of indoctrinated conventionalism and a false sense of security.”- Dolors

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Stella is a Marketing Consultant and has been writing content for Full Text Archive since 2015. When she is not writing, she is meticulously planning our social and e-mail campaigns. Stella holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Russian Literature, which has provided a broad foundation from which she continues to explore the written world.

She spends her free time reading, visiting old castles and discovering new coffee shops. She can be reached at stella

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