Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
Feeling Backward

Feeling Backward

Loss and the Politics of Queer History

Heather Love

ISBN 9780674032392

Publication date: 03/31/2009

Feeling Backward weighs the costs of the contemporary move to the mainstream in lesbian and gay culture. While the widening tolerance for same-sex marriage and for gay-themed media brings clear benefits, gay assimilation entails other losses--losses that have been hard to identify or mourn, since many aspects of historical gay culture are so closely associated with the pain and shame of the closet.

Feeling Backward makes an effort to value aspects of historical gay experience that now threaten to disappear, branded as embarrassing evidence of the bad old days before Stonewall. It looks at early-twentieth-century queer novels often dismissed as "too depressing" and asks how we might value and reclaim the dark feelings that they represent. Heather Love argues that instead of moving on, we need to look backward and consider how this history continues to affect us in the present.

Through elegant readings of Walter Pater, Willa Cather, Radclyffe Hall, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, and through stimulating engagement with a range of critical sources, Feeling Backward argues for a form of politics attentive to social exclusion and its effects.


  • In supple readings of difficult, sometimes disturbing, yet always fascinating texts and contexts, Heather Love demonstrates that if we are to seriously engage with the queer past we must welcome the shame, fear, loneliness, obstinacy, and indeed backwardness that we encounter there. For all that, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History, with its beautiful prose, stunning theoretical sophistication, careful attention to detail, as well as a hard-headed respect for the artists and critics whom it treats, is a stunningly hopeful book. Throughout Love links her critiques of celebratory queer criticism with a passionate concern for the opening up of progressive forms of intellectual and political life.

    —Robert F. Reid-Pharr, author of Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire and the Black American Intellectual


  • Heather Love is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

Book Details

  • 206 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press