Brodkey was raised in University City, Missouri outside St. Louis. After graduating from Harvard University in 1952, Brodkey began his writing career by contributing short stories to The New Yorker and other magazines. His stories have won him two first-place O. Henry Awards. In 1993 Brodkey announced in The New Yorker that he had contracted AIDS. He later wrote This Wild Darkness about his battle with the disease. At the time of his death in 1996, he was living in New York City with his wife, novelist Ellen Brodkey (née Ellen Schwamm). When marrying, Harold Brodkey practically denied his past, and with that Charile Yordy, who was his in-live lover until 1975, and who later died of AIDS as well, and Doug Gruenau, his lover until 1980 (and for a period in a menages a trois with Charlie, they were all living together in a big West Side apartment), who moved out Harold's life to find a new serious partner. Doug Gruenau, who taught biology in a private school, is also the author of a photographic book, Bison: Distant Thunder (1995) and some of his photos appear in Garden, by the Garden Society of New York City (1977) (http://www.douglasgruenauphotography.com/)
Brodkey is most famous for his long-awaited novel A Party of Animals, which was eventually published (perhaps only in part) as The Runaway Soul (1991).
He died of complication of AIDS.
Brodkey's career began promisingly with the short story collection First Love and Other Sorrows, which received widespread critical praise at the time of its 1958 publication. Soon thereafter, in 1964, Brodkey signed a book contract with Random House for his first novel, titled A Party of Animals (it was also referred to as The Animal Corner). The unfinished novel was subsequently resold to Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1970, and later to Knopf in 1979. During this period, Brodkey published a number of stories, most of them in the New Yorker, that dealt with a set of recurring characters—the evidently autobiographical Wiley Silenowicz and his adoptive family—and which were announced as fragments of the novel. His editor at Knopf, Gordon Lish, called the novel in progress "the one necessary American narrative work of this century." Literary critic Harold Bloom declared "If he's ever able to solve his publishing problems, he'll be seen as one of the great writers of his day."
In addition to publishing, Brodkey earned a living during this period by writing television pilot scripts for NBC, and teaching at Cornell University. Three long stories from A Party of Animals were collected in Women and Angels (1985), and a larger number (including those three) in 1988's Stories in an Almost Classical Mode. Evidently Brodkey had decided to omit them from the novel, for when in 1991 he published The Runaway Soul, a very long (835-page) novel dramatizing Wiley's early life, no material from Stories in an Almost Classical Mode was included. The novel seems to be either A Party of Animals under a new title or the first volume of an eventual multi-volume work. Brodkey made some comments that suggested the latter, but no further material was published in his lifetime, or has been since.
From the beginning of his career, Brodkey accrued detractors. Reviewing First Love for The Christian Science Monitor, Melvin Maddocks wrote that "a sense of vital, untampered-with conflict is missing. These stories seem too patly, too cautiously worked out. They are Japanese-garden fiction with every pebble in place.” A critic for The Atlantic Monthly similarly complained that Brodkey “appears to be the kind of artist committed to working in the minor key which The New Yorker has made fashionable.”
Kirkus Reviews called Stories in an Almost Classical Mode an "endless kvetch." In The New Criterion, Bruce Bawer found the book's tone to be "extraordinarily arrogant and self-obsessed." He further wrote, “Brodkey is so fixated upon the tragic memories of his childhood and youth that he has virtually no sense of proportion about them. In one story after another, he offers up pages of gratuitous detail, straining, it seems, to squeeze every last drop of significance out of every last inane particular.” Later, in assessing The Runaway Soul, Bawer wrote, “The plain fact is that 99 percent of the prose here is gawky, aimless, repetitive, murky, and pretentious—and there are few more unenviable literary experiences than having to read over eight hundred pages of it.” He concluded that the novel was "one of the literary fiascos of all time."
“Entering The Runaway Soul,” wrote Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in The New York Times, “is like arriving at a monthlong house party and being accosted at the door by your host, who sticks his mouth in your face and begins to talk.” Lehmann-Haupt found the book to be replete with “bogus philosophizing” and “paradoxical non-art," with prose that was "verbose, repetitive, overstuffed with adverbs, of questionable sense, tedious and just plain ugly".
Regarding The Wild Darkness, Brenda Bracker in The Baltimore Sun criticized the “long and self-indulgent stretches of the author’s much-touted mystical prose” and wrote that “watching Brodkey watch himself die by inches becomes, ultimately, tedious.”
This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death by Harold Brodkey
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (October 15, 1997)
Amazon: This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death
A noted author and novelist presents a selection of essays and journals that explore his sexuality, relationships, and the advance and effect of the AIDS virus within him from which he eventually died.
Profane Friendship by Harold Brodkey
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (July 15, 2004)
Amazon: Profane Friendship
Growing up in Venice in the 1930's, Niles O'Hara, the son of an expatriate writer, befriends a Venetian boy, Giangiacomo Gallieni. After the war, Niles and his family return, and he becomes involved in a kind of semi-affair with his childhood friend, who is now an adolescent with a wartime history of sexual trespass. Searching, comic, romantic, and ironic, Profane Friendship is a remarkable study of a strange, provocative, powerful relationship conducted in the matchlessly human-scaled, triumphantly beautiful setting of the world's most alluring city.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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