Après plusieurs chroniques d’albums de bande dessinée empruntés à la médiathèque, je reprends le fil de mes lectures plus classiques. Et quand je parle de lecture plus classique, je vise juste dans le cas présent, avec le dernier roman que j’ai lu : The City and the Pillar de Gore Vidal, un roman que je voulais lire depuis un moment et dont la sortie récente sur Kindle m’a enfin permis de le découvrir :

Jim, a handsome, all-American athlete, has always been shy around girls. But when he and his best friend, Bob, partake in “awful kid stuff,” the experience forms Jim’s ideal of spiritual completion. Defying his parents’ expectations, Jim strikes out on his own, hoping to find Bob and rekindle their amorous friendship. Along the way he struggles with what he feels is his unique bond with Bob and with his persistent attraction to other men. Upon finally encountering Bob years later, the force of his hopes for a life together leads to a devastating climax.

The first novel of its kind to appear on the American literary landscape, The City and the Pillar remains a forthright and uncompromising portrayal of sexual relationships between men.

The City and the Pillar est un classique de la littérature américaine et de la littérature gay en l’occurence. La publication du livre en 1948 avait provoqué un scandale et avait valu l’opprobre à son auteur Gore Vidal, d’autant qu’il était alors vu comme le fils parfait de l’Amérique après la publication de son premier roman Williwaw qui dépeignait la vie de marins de la Navy pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale.

Le livre avait fait scandale car il dépeignait des relations homosexuelles de la façon la plus naturelle possible, alors que c’était encore un tabou dans la société américaine de l’époque. Gore Vidal y décrit en effet une société homosexuelle souterraine, cachée et pourtant visible aux yeux de tous ceux qui savaient regarder : des acteurs homosexuels à Hollywood qui se fréquentent voire épousent des actrices pour donner le changer, un milieu littéraire et intellectuel où homosexuels et hétérosexuels se côtoient en connaissance de cause, des bars où des hommes cherchent la compagnie d’autres hommes avant de retrouver leurs épouses au petit matin, etc.

It starts in school. You’re just a little different from the others. Sometimes you’re shy and a bit frail; or maybe too precocious, too handsome, an athlete, in love with yourself. Then you start to have erotic dreams about another boy—like yourself—and you get to know him and you try to be his friend and if he’s sufficiently ambivalent and you’re sufficiently aggressive you’ll have a wonderful time experimenting with each other. And so it begins. Then you meet another boy and another, and as you grow older, if you have a dominant nature, you become a hunter. If you’re passive, you become a wife. If you’re noticeably effeminate, you may join a group of others like yourself and accept being marked and known. There are a dozen types and many different patterns but there is almost always the same beginning, not being like the others.

Publié de nos jours, ce roman passerait sans doute inaperçu et n’aurait pas forcément beaucoup d’intérêt, tant ce qu’il raconte a été vu et revu à de multiples reprises dans la littérature contemporaine, mais il faut apprécier ce livre dans son contexte de l’époque. Écrire et publier ce roman était un acte courageux, engagé, politique. Le personnage principal, Jim Willard, est certes homosexuel mais il est décrit comme un athlète, viril, masculin, très loin de la façon dont les personnages homosexuels étaient jusque là présentés dans la littérature.

Why should any of us hide? What we do is natural, if not ‘normal,’ whatever that is. In any case, what people do together of their own free will is their business and no one else’s.” The fat man smiled. “But do you have the nerve to tell the world about yourself?” Paul sighed and looked at his hands. “No,” he said, “I don’t.” “So what can we do, if we’re all too frightened?” “Live with dignity, I suppose. And try to learn to love one another, as they say.

Le style m’a beaucoup plu, ce fut un réel plaisir de lire de roman ; alors que le récit lui-même est parfois sans grand surprise, c’est très bien écrit, parfois poétique, parfois drôle. C’est définitivement un très beau roman, à la fois très joliment écrit et important dans l’histoire de la littérature. Je ne sais pas si les autres oeuvres de Gore Vidal me plairont autant, mais je risque de me laisser tenter par une lecture ou deux parmi sa riche bibliographie pour me faire un avis.

What did happen? The idea of nothing frightened him, and death was probably nothing: no earth, no people, no light, no time, no thing. Jim looked at his hand. It was tanned and square, and covered with fine gold hairs. He imagined the hand as it would be when he was dead: limp, pale, turning to earth. He stared for a long time at the hand which was certain to be earth one day. Decay and nothing, yes, that was the future. He was chilled by a cold animal fear. There must be some way to cheat the earth, which like an inexorable magnet drew men back to it. But despite the struggle of ten thousand generations, the magnet was triumphant, and sooner or later his own particular memories would be spilled upon the ground. Of course his dust would be absorbed in other living things and to that degree at least he would exist again, though it was plain enough that the specific combination which was he would never exist again.

The hot sun warmed him. The blood moved fast in his veins. He was conscious of the fullness of life. He existed in the present. That was enough. And perhaps in the years ahead he would have a new vision, one which would help him, somehow, to circumvent the fact of nothing. 

The City and the Pillar, Gore Vidal

Note : ★★★★☆

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