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Shared Secrets

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The Queer World of Newbery Medalist Charles J. Finger
Elizabeth Findley Shores
February 2021
978-1-68226-155-2 (cloth)
978-1-61075-736-2 (ebook)

 

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For nearly a century, British expatriate Charles Joseph Finger (1867–1941) was best known as an award-winning author of children’s literature. In Shared Secrets, Elizabeth Findley Shores relates Finger’s untold story, exploring the secrets that connected the author to an international community of twentieth-century queer literati.

As a young man, Finger reveled in the easy homosociality of his London polytechnical school, where he launched a student literary society in the mold of the city’s private men’s clubs. Throughout his life, as he wandered from England to Patagonia to the United States, he tried to recreate similarly open spaces—such as Gayeta, his would-be art colony in Arkansas. But it was through his idiosyncratic magazine All’s Well that he constructed his most successful social network, writing articles filled with coded signals and winking asides for an inner circle of understanding readers.

Capitalizing on the publishing opportunities of the day, Finger used every means available to express his twin loves—literature and men. He produced an enormous body of work, and his short, semiautobiographical fiction won some critical acclaim. Ultimately, the children’s book that won Finger a Newbery Medal ushered him into the public eye, ending his development as an author of serious queer literature.

Shared Secrets is both the story of Finger’s remarkable, adventurous life and a rare look at a community of gay writers and artists who helped shaped twentieth-century American culture, even as they artfully concealed their own identities.

Elizabeth Findley Shores, an independent scholar living in Little Rock, Arkansas, is the author of On Harper’s Trail: Roland McMillan Harper, Pioneering Botanist of the Southern Coastal Plain and Earline’s Pink Party: The Social Rituals and Domestic Relics of a Southern Woman.

“For those who may recognize Charles J. Finger only as a name from a list of early Newbery Medal winners, this scrupulously researched biography by Elizabeth Findley Shores will be a revelation. Shared Secrets places the peripatetic author of Tales from Silver Lands—who described himself as ‘one of the odd type, blood brother to other literary wanderers’—in the company of Jack London and other writers whose lives (and parallel lives) loomed as large as their works. Shores illuminates the complexities and coding of the late-Victorian and early twentieth-century queer world, presenting her subject as fully, triumphantly human.”
—William B. Jones, author of Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History

“An engaging, well-written, and important biography of a figure largely neglected in literary studies, despite his stature, influence, and enormous collection of works.”
—Michael P. Bibler, author of Cotton’s Queer Relations: Same-Sex Intimacy and the Literature of the Southern Plantation, 1936–1968

Acknowledgments
Introduction

1 Hark, Away!
2 A High and Splendid Secret
3 Jack Random
4 Finger’s Library
5 Daring Discourse
6 All’s Well
7 Camerados!
8 Perfect Bonhomie
9 Shared Secrets
10 Betrayal
11 An Autobiographical Romance
12 Golden Days
13 His Gayetan Dream
14 The End of the Tale

Afterword
Notes
Works Cited
Index

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