Charles Ford and Parker Tyler - The Young and Evil

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The Young and Not So Evil

Jan 29, 2003 (Updated Jan 30, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:One of the significant books of the 1930s

Cons:little or no punctuation and some of it is hard to read, much less follow.

The Bottom Line: An amusing look at what some consider the first gay novel.


This book came to my attention when I was doing research on Charles Henri Ford. I located it on the Epinions’ database and I decided to read The Young and Evil come Hell or high water if I could find a copy. Luckily, I got one through an inter-library loan from the UW-Madison library. A week or so ago this small paperback book arrived and I started to read.

The whole paperback has been rebound in a substantial hard cover to protect it from wear, and it’s only 4 x 6 inches and 185 pages. It has an easily readable bold typeface. We are also treated to small photos of a very young Ford and Parker. The Parker photo is by Carl Van Vechten, but we have no clue about who took the CHF photo. I sort of got the idea that these two talented young men must have pulled in all the favors that were owed them and used all the resources they could muster.

The cover has what would have been considered a very erotic black and white photo for the 1960s when this edition was published. It was taken by Herb List, who was obviously the Herb Ritts of his day. As a matter of fact, it’s just as erotic in 2003. It’s a three-quarter view of a handsome, young male, naked through his torso and barely covered by some bedding. The picture wraps around both the front and back covers and has the title is in red.

The inside flap contains the usual blurbs by prominent writers and reviewers of the day. Gertrude Stein called this book “The novel that beat the Beat Generation by a generation.” She continues saying, “The Young and Evil creates this generation as This Side of Paradise by Fitzgerald created his generation. It is a good thing, whatever the generation is, to be to first to create it in a book.”

Djuna Barnes said, “Never, to my knowledge, has a certain type of homosexual been so fixed on paper. Their utter lack of emotional values—so entire that it is frightening; their loss of all Victorian victories: manners custom, remorse, taste, dignity; their unresolved acceptance of anything happening, is both evil and ‘pure’ in the sense that it is unconscious. . . .”

Louis Kronnenberg, a reviewer from the New Republic called The Young & Evil “the first candid, gloves-off account of more or less professional young homosexuals ever written."

Parker met Ford through writing for Ford’s Blues magazine published in Mississippi during 1929-30. Tyler encouraged him to move to New York and when he did, they spent a year exploring the gay and poetry subcultures of Village life before writing this book. They lived on East Third Street under the elevated train that ran along the East Side of Greenwich Village, where most of the story takes place. Tyler and Ford remained poets, friends and collaborators until Tyler's death in 1974.

Parker Tyler became well known for his film criticism, publishing over eighteen books and countless articles. Marshall McLuhan described him as "the first American to give serious consideration to popular culture as it is expressed by Hollywood." In 1972 he published his most notable achievement in film studies, Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality and the Movies. It expressed many of the ideas that Vito Russo later voiced in his film, The Celluloid Closet in 1982.

As for the plot . . . and there is one in there, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to call this a fictionalized autobiography. The two main characters, Julian and Karel, represent Ford and Tyler. We follow them and their friends around Greenwich Village, Manhattan and Harlem. We visit everything from the gay bars to the poetry scene of Greenwich Village and the drag balls of Harlem, seventy years ago.

The characters all lead rather depraved Bohemian lives and seem to live on pennies a day. Money amounts range from a quarter to fifty cents and sometimes a dollar, and that's for an evening out for two. Everyone has an extremely loose view of sex and sexuality and we know that becomes more accepted and prominent during the 60s when the hippies and the flower children come to the fore. It certainly was a forerunner of many of the modern attitudes we see today in the gay community if not at large in the straight community.

This all may well have been shocking in the 1930s, but I got the feeling as I read about speakeasies, bathtub gin, marijuana, cocaine and communists that it was like opening a time capsule and not really so different in content from some of today’s tamer gay novels. There was absolutely NO graphic sex of any kind other than the intimations that two . . . or (Heaven forbid) even three people of various sexes slept in the same bed.

If anything, aside from using every forbidden dirty word on the Epinion’s filter list, I found this as as tame a read as the wildest stuff you can find in any book or newspaper these days; it’s really rather vanilla by comparison to even the average gay novel that anyone can read.

Some of the writing reads a lot like Gertrude Stein, or maybe it’s Ford and Parker’s surrealist poetry. I don’t think the average gay youth of today would be fascinated, much less able to understand much of this as the writing is at times so abstract that it’s hard to follow; I certainly wouldn’t be the one to make any insinuations about our currewnt youth's lack of attention to their studies!

There’s little if any punctuation and there are long run-on sentences and no quotation marks around any of the speakers’ sentences, if you can even call them that. One sentence was 156 words and contained only a few commas.

A paragraph in Chapter Ten, titled Santiago and Mrs. Dodge (Mable Dodge Luhan) has the word “love” repeated almost 200 times in various permutations. It’s like reading (or looking at) one of those NH reviews that some of the kids post on this site, but it reminds me more of the Mable chapter in one of Ronald Firbank’s novels.

Here’s a small sampling of some overheard (I think) conversations while our two heroes were at a big Drag Ball in Harlem; I’m typing it exactly as it appears in the book so you have some idea of how it reads.

NOTE: Well not exactly. It seems when I publish all the ragged margins and indents seem to line up perfectly.

” . . . I told you to stay home and
mind the babies wished for nothing better well
who could? than a man lover and a woman lover in the same
bed ladies and gentlemen I was born in Sydney
Australia twenty-two years
ago everything nowadays to invent something
right things have been wrong so
long has wanted to break away but couldn’t
find me anywhere else so he changed his
mind come on Margie come on Helen the
usher on the right side said to sit on the left side
the usher on the left side said to sit on the right
side so we’ll sit in the middle . . .”


and on and on for ten or more pages. See what I mean? There’s talk of poetry and reading in cadence so I suppose this is an example of all that.

The original 1933 printing by the Obelisk Press in Paris was banned in the United States and England. This copy from the “Traveler’s Companions Series” published by the Olympia Press in Paris (1960) is still clearly marked on the inside cover “NOT TO BE SOLD IN THE USA OR UK.” Altogether, I thought it was an amusing curiosity out of the past and if you ever find a copy in a library you may want to take a look at it.

Stephen Murray left an interesting comment that mentions several earlier gay books in the comment section of “my recent review of Charles Henri Ford’s Water From a Bucket at http://www.epinions.com/content_87419620996.

Ed Grover - 2003


Recommend this product? Yes

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