10 May 2010

Gay Swans

John Cleland never wrote a sequel to Fanny Hill, nor did he publish a book called Memoirs of a Male Prostitute. What we have here is nothing but another shameful attempt by Toronto's Swan Publishing to mine the rich vein of controversy. Misinformation abounds, and is repeated and expanded upon by a good number of today's online booksellers. The "scarce sequel to Fanny Hill", says one; "the famous sequel to Fanny Hill", declares another, adding: "first edition". Yes, a work of 18th-century English literature that first saw print in 1965 with an obscure Canadian publisher of cheap mass market paperbacks.

Don't you believe it.

The novel that Swan offered in "the original complete uncensored edition" was first published in 1751; in it's 259 year history it has never expurgated or suppressed. The thing is no more a sequel to Fanny Hill than The Beautiful and Damned is the continuation This Side of Paradise. What's found between the covers of Memoirs of a Male Prostitute is Cleland's second novel, Memoirs of a Coxcomb. Fop, dandy, popinjay, perhaps, but "male prostitute" is hardly a synonym of "coxcomb". Consider this more false advertising.

Memoirs of a Male Prostitute was Swan's third book, and the first of a very small number to feature the address of an office located in the publishing hotspot of Wilmington, Delaware. This sudden southern presence is curious because four of the books that followed appear to have been co-published with New York's Paperback Library, meaning that Swan's new American office couldn't sell what would soon become the better part of its list. Curiouser still were the four titles involved. No great number, but they place Swan as the preeminent Canadian publisher of gay literature in the 'sixties.

The first, published in 1965, was Kenneth Marlowe's "Adult Autobiography" Mr. Madam: Confessions of a Male Madam. Oft-reprinted, the 1970 Mayflower edition set me back 25 cents. Worth every penny, if only for the cover copy: "Queen of a beehive of pretty little homosexual slaves who brought in the honey by submitting to the erotic demands of an exclusive Hollywood clientele. This is his story. Kept by a Sugar-Daddy in his teens. Called-up by the Army; used by its personnel. A female impersonator in strip shows. Hairdresser and general factotum in a New Orleans brothel. Keeper of a Call-Boy house. Hair-stylist to some of the world's most celebrated women."

In 1966, Swan published three more gay themed books, including two by James Barr. The first, Quartrefoil, an "adult novel of a love between two men that defied society's strongest taboo", was first published in 1950, but the second, An Occasional Man, was a paperback original. The cover art for both – indeed all of Swan's gay titles – appears to have been drawn from the Paperback Library editions.

Can a novel written by a woman about a gay man be considered gay literature? Was Deborah Deutsch even female? I'll leave these questions for the academics while I look forward to an entertaining read: "What happens when a twilight man marries a woman? Long before handsome, muscular Hilary Jay met Linda, he knew he was attracted to other men. Yet because he loved Linda deeply, he dared to marry her, hoping his need for her would keep him true in spirit – and body. At first Hilary found it easy to be a devoted husband and a passionate lover. But soon he felt his desire for men returning. The strange compulsive attractions of the twilight world of sex tempted until he surrendered. Torn between the demands of his flesh and the dictates of his heart, Hilary wrestled with the agonies of his abnormal passion. Until the terrible moment came when he had to decide between the one woman he loved and the many men he desired."

Hilary Jay meet Stephen Gordon. Now there's an idea for a sequel.

Coincidence?: In 1950, Toronto's Ambassador Books published Quatrefoil, likely as a co-pub with New York's Greenberg. The following year, both published Barr's short story collection Derricks.

Coincidence!: By far the best edition of Memoirs of a Coxcomb is published by Broadview Press of Peterborough, located a mere 140 kilometres from what were once Swan's offices.

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  1. Enjoying the posts about the obscure Swan. Wonder who was behind it?

    The Mr. Madam cover has to be one of the oddest I've ever seen.

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  3. A mystery. I believe the key to the solution might lie with another Toronto outfit, Mainline, which in 1963 published its own edition of Fanny Hill. Though it enjoyed at least three printings, it would seem that Mainline never published another book.

    The Mr. Madam cover reminds me of all those glam rock quickie bios that came out of England in the early 'seventies. A bit before my time, I would pick up cheap used copies as a teenager. Marc Bolan, Slade, David Bowie... it seemed everything I wanted cost a quarter back them.

  4. This looks pretty bad but I kind of love it in an awesomely sleazy way...

  5. Of all these I've dipped into only Memoirs of a Coxcomb and Mr. Madam. The former is interesting, but doesn't captivate. Kenneth Marlowe's biography is a greater disappointment. Then again, how could it possibly live up to the sales pitch?