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Miscellaneous Titles of Gay Interest
Founded in 2009, Arbery Books is the UK's leading online dealer in rare and secondhand gay books and ephemera. We also specialise in publications of lesbian and transgender interest, other aspects of sexuality and antiquarian (pre-1900) curiosities, erotica, picaresque and sexual behaviour.


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Der Unschuldige Die Geschichte einer Wandlung
by
John Henry Mackay
Publisher: Mackay-Gesellschaft
Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany

Year


1931 1st edition       
limited edition: no 117 of 1,000
Cover / size: h 17.4 cm * w 12.6 cm 97pp

Dustjacket?   n/a

ISBN: n/a

Arbery Ref:   001302

Condition Good

Cover: small stains on front; larger stain on back; bottom corners bumped and rubbed through; top corners very slight damage; labelled title on spine rubbed / torn away. Binding tight, with very slight lean forward. Endpapers and pages yellowing very slightly but clean.

Price £175.00
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Mackay: Der Unschuldige: Post to









Plot / Content:

The title translates as "The Innocent One: the story of a transformation"

At the grave of Heinz von Solden, a Great Poet tells the narrator the story of the dead man's life. When a young and handsome student, Solden witnessed a murder where the victim was known to frequent “certain circles” of young men. Solden fled the scene in blood-covered clothes; his landlady, taking him to be the murderer, blackmailed him into a sexual relationship with her. The murderer is caught after several weeks, but Solden's life has been ruined. He leaves Berlin for twenty years and when he returns for the last ten years of his life, the Great Poet is his only friend.


There is no explicit sex between men in the story, but there is much implicit homoeroticism. The murder victim, Garding, was the victim of a blackmail attempt that has gone wrong. And despite having a fiancée, Solden appears torn between homo- and heterosexuality. Meanwhile, the Great Poet, who may have been modeled on Thomas Mann, comes down firmly on the side of men who love men.


The frame of the novella is a conversation between the narrator and Poet, with the Poet frequently retelling Solden's story in the younger man's words. The plot is therefore less a thriller than a meditation on the Love That Is Not Named. As Hubert Kennedy points out (see below), the story spans periods in German history (Wilhelmine, Weimar) where attitudes towards homosexuality shifted from persecution to relative tolerance and then, with the ascension of the Nazis, began moving back towards repression. Kennedy argues that Der Unschuldige reflects these changes in viewpoint; others might claim that, in comparison with Mackay's earlier novel, Der Puppenjunge (admittedly published under a pseudonym), this novella is more old-fashioned and closeted in its approach to love between men.



Background / Biography:

John Henry Mackay was one of the first German writers to write about homosexuality (mostly, but not exclusively, from the perspective of ephebophilia). The son of a Scottish marine insurance broker and a German mother, Mackay was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1864. His father died before the boy's second birthday and his mother took him to Germany, where he grew up.

Mackay was a forthright anarchist who wrote his first fiction, non-fiction and poetry under his own name. Among them, the semi-fictional Die Anarchisten (The Anarchists) brought him considerable fame in Germany.

In Mackay's worldview, the principle of anarchy included the right to determine what to do with one's own body, which naturally included the
right to acknowledge homosexual desire. While continuing to write under his own name, in 1906 Mackay began publishing, under the name of Sagitta, poems and works of fiction about love between adult men and teenage boys. Although this led to a 1909 trial where Mackay's works were condemned, other works by Sagitta appeared in later years, including the novel Der Puppenjunge (1926), later translated as The Hustler.

Der Unschuldige was the first of Mackay's works dealing with homoeroticism to be published under his own name. He died on 16 May 1933, a few months after Hitler's rise to power and less than a week after the famed book-burning where Nazi students incinerated upwards of 25,000 volumes of "un-German" books, including many relating to homosexuality.


Accurate and comprehensive information about Mackay is difficult to find. There appears to be no complete bibliography, and sources provide conflicting "facts".

This is most noticeable on Wikipedia. The English version says relatively little, while conflating homosexuality with paederasty; Mackay's birthdate is given as 6 February. The German / deutsch version is considerably more complete, but gives the author's birthdate as 6 November. The French version describes Mackay as a British writer, while both the German the Italian version give the publication date of Der Unschuldige as 1936, and so on . . .

The longest and most detailed study of Mackay's works in English appears to be Hubert Kennedy's Reading John Henry Mackay. The seven essays in the collection, which include Twilight of the Gods on Der Unschuldige, primarily cover homoeroticism in Mackay's works. They provide considerable background information, some of which has been included above, but significant gaps remain in the author's biography and bibliography.




Reviews:




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"Auch das iſt nun ſchon wieder eine ganze Reihe von Jahren her, und doch ſteht der Tag noch ſo deutlich vor mir, als ſei er gestern geweſen, der Tag, in deſſen Nachmittagſtunden er (der jetzt auch nicht mehr iſt) mir die Geſchichte ſeines Freundes erzählte, nachdem uns der Zufall an dem friſchen Grabe zuſammengeführt.
Denn es war ein reiner Zufall. Es war nicht meine Abſicht geweſen der Beſtattung beizuwohnen. Dazu hatten wir uns, der Verſtorbene und ich, in den langen Jahren zu wenig mehr geſehen, und bei dieſen ſeltenen Gelegenheiten war mir nur allzu deutlich gezeigt worden, daß eine Fortſetzung unſerer früheren Bekanntſchaft aus der Studentenzeit nicht gewünſcht wurde."


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