Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hiding Between The Pages of a Book

I am reading a novel, set in 13th century Norway, written in 1925 by Sigrid Undset. The Master of Hestviken is a four book set that takes the reader into a world long ago and far way. It's easy to connect with the characters because they experience their world intellectually and emotionally much like we do. God is present in their world in a way that we no longer experience, but then the same could be said about 'community' - which means something very different to what we now know it to be.

But what I found interesting in a book written almost 90 years ago is that Ms Undset created a main character, I won't tell you which, who was a deeply closeted gay man. I'm sure that the closet door was deep because she was writing at a time where gay characters were not written about with accuracy and compassion.. Further, she's writing about the 13th century where men and women would be slaughtered for their attractions.

I've been very moved by the existence of this man in the book. I've been even more impressed that the author created him without relying on stereotype. He is never publicly 'outed' by any other character. She lets him live, as a gay man would have then, hidden behind veils of secrecy. Even the words she chooses when describing him have letters big enough for him to hide his heart behind.

It makes me realise, deeply, what freedom means. What it is for me to live my life, openly. To write here of Joe, the failed boycott of my blog - threatening that if I continue to write about my relationship readers would stop reading - a couple of years ago, notwithstanding. To have Joe join me at work, and even help out on some committees and events that I'm involved in. To have the ability, in conversation to speak of my life - without filters. These things were hard won rights.

So as I read, I feel a sense of gratitude. That the boycott failed. That my workplace is welcoming of diversity. That my friends accept me and 'us' both.

There were times when I wanted to reach out to the man in the book and say, "Times will change." But he wouldn't believe me. In fact, the idea would frighten him, perhaps, to death.

Ms Undset writes of worlds that are experienced differently by women, by LGBT people, by disabled people ... I don't know if she did it as a warning or simply to chronicle what was. She's a author of fiction but she writes of real lives and real people.

These books are difficult reads. They take a lot of time. And there are a LOT of pages. Though it's daunting I'm glad to have met this man. Glad to have been reminded, for a moment, not to take for granted what it is I have, what it is I need.


Feminist Avatar said...

Women certainly did write books in the 1920s and 30s- they made up a higher percentage of the bestseller list than they do today!

CathyV said...

This is a lovely post but it reminds me that even today, there are many places where people must still hide in their deep closets.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks Feminist Avatar, I've changed the post to be more accurate. Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

I think your point is really important. But I'm not sure all of your assumptions are correct.

The 1920s in Europe were not a bad time for gays. (I don't know about Norway in particular.) Sexual liberation flourished across Europe in the 1920s.

And medieval Europe was not necessarily anti-gay, either. I can't vouch for the accuracy of this website, but it represents my understanding of attitudes in medieval Europe (and this is about Scandinavia in particular).

It's so easy to view history as a trajectory of progress in all areas, when in fact, some aspects of life may have been quite a bit more "progressive" few decades - or centuries - ago.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog for so many reasons: diversity; understanding; education; heart warming accounts; windows into your life - and those that touch it. Yet one aspect that constantly delights me is your writing. This phrase caught me today and I returned for seconds: "Even the words she chooses when describing him have letters big enough for him to hide his heart behind." Thank you for crafting so carefully and gifting us with your efforts.