A Milestone in the History of Gay Literature
FORD, Charles Henri [and] TYLER, Parker. The Young And Evil. Paris: Obelisk Press, 1933.
Square 8vo, (14.5 x 20cm); tan paper wrappers with printed titles in red to upper cover; lettering in red to spine, and publisher’s device in red to both spine and lower cover; later added protective glassine wrapper; all edges untrimmed; housed in a custom-made clamshell case; pp [ii], 215, [iii]; some very light toning to pages, wrappers somewhat browned with a few small nicks to edges, slightly larger to head and foot of spine, which is also a little creased; otherwise an exceptionally clean copy.
Extremely rare first trade edition after a signed limited edition of 50 copies.
The interconnected scenes in the novel paint a picture of a group of friends in New York City, who spend much of their time swapping beds, lovers and apartments, avoiding the hostile attentions of the police, and becoming uproariously drunk at parlours, salons and drag bars, where gay men of all races come together in a place where they can celebrate, rather than hide. Gay Literature was virtually non-existent in 1933, and with the added interracial connotations, also unmentionable at the time, it remained largely unread for decades due to censorship and suppression both in the UK and US.
Tyler met Ford while writing for Ford’s amateurishly produced Blues magazine, published in Ford’s parent’s house in Mississippi between 1929 and 1930. In search of new material during this time, Ford wrote to Gertrude Stein in Paris, and the two began an open and friendly correspondence. Tyler and Ford then moved to New York, where they spent a year exploring the gay subculture of Greenwich Village, which was to become their main inspiration for The Young and Evil. When Ford moved to Paris, he met Stein and took up lodging with Djuna Barnes. As means of rent, he typed up the manuscript of Barnes’ most famous novel, Nightwood.
Considered by some to be the first modern, unapologetic, thoroughly gay novel, this book also has great standalone importance as a historical document. The book was turned down by Liveright, Cape and Gollancz, and it was only the unflinching praise given to it by Barnes and Stein which allowed it to finally find a home with the Paris-based Obelisk Press, an obscure English language publishing house. The trade issue is estimated to have been between 1000 (Obelisk’s standard print run) and 2500 copies, although the fact that the book is one of the most scarce Obelisk titles to date suggests that the print run was at the smaller end of the estimates. 500 of these were seized and burned by British customs, and US customs returned to France all shipments that arrived in the US. Six months after the initial publication, only seventy-nine trade copies, and two limited editions, has been sold. The Young and Evil was never widely read by American audiences until it was published in the US for the first time in 1975.
Written 30 years before the Beats, Stein called The Young and Evil: “The novel that beat the Beat Generation by a generation”.