Recent Graduate’s Study of Weimar Era Gay Culture Nets Journal Publication

Submitted on Thursday, 4/19/2012, at 8:49 AM

By William Sweet

Samuel Clowes Huneke ’11 has written papers that are expected to appear in two esteemed German studies periodicals, in which he explores a long-overlooked chapter in the history of the gay community.

SamuelHuneke

Samuel Clowes Huneke ’11

“It’s really amazing,” said Ute T. Brandes, the Georges Lurcy Professor of German and Huneke’s senior thesis advisor. While not totally unheard of, it is quite unusual for someone to have an article published in a scholarly journal before he or she has even applied to graduate school, she said.

Huneke, currently a George A. Plimpton Fellow in Applicable Mathematics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has had a paper accepted by the Monatshefte für deutschsprachige Literatur und Kultur, published at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Founded in 1899, Monatshefte is the oldest continuing journal of German studies in the United States. A second article has been accepted by The German Quarterly, which is published by the American Association of Teachers of German.

The papers expand upon elements of Huneke’s 2011 thesis, “The Eros of an Era: Homosexuality and Modernity in the Weimar-Era Works of Klaus Mann.”

The writing of Klaus Mann (1906–1949) is often overshadowed by that of his father, author Thomas Mann, and uncle, novelist Heinrich Mann. Klaus Mann is usually remembered for his later novels, written while he was in exile from Nazi Germany, such as Mephisto (which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 1981) and Der Vulkan.

Huneke chose to focus on another life that Mann had before coming to the United States in 1936. Continuing work he started while at Heidelberg University during his junior year, Huneke returned to Germany in January 2011 to delve deeper into this now-overlooked period, the time when Mann published his first works.

Drawing from a series of magazine articles, newspaper clippings and personal letters, Huneke was able to put together a portrait of Mann and his readers during the era of the Weimar Republic, a period of cultural ferment and more liberal cultural values that preceded the Nazis’ seizure of power in Germany. During this period, Mann wrote about being gay with a passion and positive mindset far ahead of his time, Huneke says.

“No one else was really doing this at this time, and I think that still holds a lot of relevance for readers today,” Huneke said. “That attracted me to him as an undergraduate thesis topic, because I knew there would be a digestible amount of material that I’d be able to get through and fit what I was doing into a scholarly framework. … I was able to do a lot of primary research with sources that haven’t been considered before, at least in this context.”

Although a 19th-century law criminalizing sex between men would remain on the books until after the 1989 reunification of Germany, the Weimar era was witness to an unprecedented, if temporary, tolerance. Der Eigene, considered the first gay periodical in the world, was published during this period. The Weimar era also saw the creation of the Institute for Sexology, whose founder, Magnus Hirschfeld, cowrote and acted in the 1919 film Anders als die Andern (“Different from the Others”), one of the first film portrayals of homosexuality.

“[Mann] was very well known and well read in Weimar, but after the war, those works were neglected and they weren’t read a lot. It isn’t until the 1960s that they were republished,” Huneke said. “It’s because of a variety of factors. The West German government that came into being after the war was still on the conservative side. Homosexuality wasn't made legal for several decades.”

What sets Huneke’s scholarship apart, said Brandes, is that it looks at the cultural and critical milieu around Klaus Mann. Through excerpts from the gay and mainstream press, Huneke asserts that Mann was seen not only as a representative of the generation that emerged after World War I, but as a writer representing the perspective of gay men.

Huneke quotes one reviewer who had read Mann’s Der fromme Tanz (“The Pious Dance”): “This appears to me, for the first time, to describe same-sex love in a manner true-to-life and free of clichés.”

“Though later suppressed by the Nazis and forgotten in the early years of the Bundesrepublik, Klaus Mann’s Weimar-era works, and their reception in the interwar years, paved a way for Germans to see homosexual men and women as humans, not different, not outsiders, but as citizens and neighbors wishing for a place in this world,” Huneke writes in the paper for Monatshefte, “The Reception of Homosexuality in Klaus Mann’s Weimar-era Works. “

Huneke credits the help he received from Brandes, as well as his thesis readers: Catherine Epstein, associate professor of history at Amherst, and Kyle Frackman, lecturer in German and Scandinavian studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A Post-Baccalaureate Summer Research Fellowship from the Office of the Dean of the Faculty allowed Huneke the time and freedom to prepare the papers for publication.

“I was lucky in a lot of ways,” he said.

“Sam applies himself to everything he does,” Brandes said. “His pleasure in pursuing this work was really sharpened when he realized he was the first to look at these things. … He is that type of student who will really, really do well.”