“The Damned Don’t Cry—They Just Disappear: The Life and Works of Harry Hervey” by Harlan Greene— Gay Life in the South

Greene, Harlan. “The Damned Don’t Cry—They Just Disappear: The Life and Works of Harry Hervey”, University of South Carolina Press, 2017.

Gay life in the South

Amos Lassen

Harlan Greene brings us a look at a nearly forgotten Southern writer, Harry Hervey (1900–1951) and we see that he was “master of many genres, bravely unwilling to conform to conventional values.

As Greene illustrates, Hervey’s novels, short stories, nonfiction books, and film scripts contain complex mixtures of history and thinly disguised homoerotic situations and themes.” Hervey who was able to wonderfully bring together local color, naturalism, melodrama, and psychological and sexual truths in his writings that that showed the world how he lived.

He lived openly with his male lover in Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina and his novels were set novels in these cities and often scandalized the locals and critics as well. At a time when it was not acceptable to do so, he challenged the sexual mores of his day, both subtly and brazenly in texts that told one story to gay male readers while writing for a mainstream audience. He managed to escape detection by writing in what was coded language back then but is now somewhat clear to readers.

Hervey also wrote travel books and screenplays and “Shanghai Express” that starred Marlene Dietrich was based on one of his original stories. In some of the first travel books on Indochina, Hervey described male and female prostitution and alluded to his own sexual adventures that were quite bold even by today’s standards. What is so interesting is that even with such literary output, Hervey has remained unknown until now. He has not been included in any survey of twentieth-century gay writers but Greene attempts to change that with this first book-length study of Hervey’s life and work and the first scholarly attention to him in more than fifty years. Hervey opens a window on gay life in the South and in reading about him, we also see the impact of gay artists on popular culture in the first half of the twentieth century. Greene did tremendous research to write this book and it is a welcome addition to the canon of gay literary history.

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