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David Plante & Nikos Stangos

The novels of David Plante (born March 4, 1940) examine a variety of homosexualities, their male characters ranging from openly gay to sexually ambiguous. His most recent book is a memoir of Nikos Stangos, his partner of forty years, The Pure Lover (2009). The papers of his former partner, Nikos Stangos (1936-2004), are in The Princeton University Library, the Program in Hellenic Studies. Plante lives in London, Lucca Italy, and Athens Greece. He has dual citizenship, American and British.

David Robert Plante was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on March 4, 1940, of French-Canadian and Indian descent. After several early, short-lived jobs, Plante went to London on what was to be a short visit, only to spend much of his life to date there. 

Since the publication of his first novel, The Ghost of Henry James in 1970, Plante has proved to be one of the most prolific and experimental of contemporary writers, with eleven other novels, as well as many reviews, essays, and a nonfiction book, Difficult Women (1983), to his credit. Plante's work is as wide-ranging in subject, style, and content as it is voluminous; he is one of today's most exciting writers.

Gay male characters and men who seem sexually ambiguous feature in a variety of ways in such early Plante novels as The Ghost of Henry James, Slides (1971), Relatives (1972), and The Darkness of the Body (1974). Although these novels show gay characters in differing degrees of specificity, even more overtly homosexual men can be found in Figures in Bright Air (1976), The Foreigner (1984), and The Catholic (1986).  


Nikos Stangos and David Plante, 1968
The novels of David Plante (born March 4, 1940) examine a variety of homosexualities, their male characters ranging from openly gay to sexually ambiguous. His most recent book is a memoir of Nikos Stangos, his partner of forty years, The Pure Lover (2009). The papers of his former partner, Nikos Stangos (1936-2004), are in The Princeton University Library, the Program in Hellenic Studies. Plante lives in London, Lucca Italy, and Athens Greece. He has dual citizenship, American and British.


Snaps Nikos Stangos and David Plante in 1966

Plante is most noted for The Family (1978), The Country (1981), and The Woods (1982), his highly acclaimed Francoeur "trilogy." (The Foreigner and The Catholic have rather specific links to the trilogy but are set "away" from the family of the novels.) While these novels vary in their presentation of overtly gay characters or sex scenes, they do suggest other coming-of-age works by gay writers such as Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, and Truman Capote. However, Plante's novels lack the gothic extravagances often associated with those other writers.

Plante's low-key approach allows the other family members and characters to emerge as clearly as his narrator, Daniel, who seems sexually ambiguous in the trilogy. Such ambiguity as found in life is a hallmark of Plante's writing, sexuality included.

Plante's approach to homosexuality ranges from the explicit and emotionally violent, as in The Catholic, to the quietly transcending, as in his earlier novels. In the novels of the trilogy, as well as The Foreigner and The Accident (1991), Plante's leading male characters suggest sexualities unacknowledged. 

Plante focuses not only on the varieties of love and sexuality but on the different expressions love and sexuality may take. For example, some characters engage enthusiastically in a variety of sexual practices, some seem to be bisexual or inclined that way, and some appear to be determining their sexuality or sexualities. Thus, his novels--as well as his nonfiction account of his encounters with three Difficult Women--may be said to examine a variety of homosexualities as well as heterosexual ones.

Plante refuses clearly to be locked in as a writer, and this refusal makes his gay characters, and his work generally, complex and remarkable, as does his often experimental style. Plante's conviction that he himself has many identities and different sexualities shows in his writing. 

Those who call for a more integrated approach to homosexuality in literature, and in life for that matter, would do well to read Plante's novels. Perhaps most important, his experimentation with prose style is bound up in the different ways he presents homosexuality in his novels and stories. 

Plante sometimes challenges the use of linear narrative and our expectations of what narrative should be. For example, in one novel he uses short chapters to represent photographic slides, and in others he dispenses with the background information and certain identification of time and place we often expect from narrative. 

Similarly, he explores sexuality of all kinds as being equally undefined, unsure, and changing. As a result, Plante's work demands much from the reader, and gives much in return.

Citation Information 
Author: Dukes, Thomas 
Entry Title: Plante, David 
General Editor: Claude J. Summers 
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture 
Publication Date: 2002 
Date Last Updated November 16, 2002 
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/plante_d.html 
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607 
Today's Date March 4, 2014 
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc. 
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates 

Nikos Stangos was one of the outstanding figures of art publishing in the English-speaking world, while in his native Greece he was a nationally renowned poet. Three decades of Thames & Hudson's World of Art books are his most familiar monument, with the Penguin Modern Poets series of the 1960s and 1970s further testimony to his inspired commissioning. He was also midwife to the book that has challenged generations of readers into thinking about art, John Berger's Ways Of Seeing (1972).

Commissioning and nurturing projects such as these, Stangos was a major force for the popularisation of high culture. Yet nothing whatever about his work smacked of dumbing down or of sops offered to tempt a supposedly thought-wary public. In his work as an editor, as in his whole demeanour, his impulse was to introduce others to clearer, stronger, more discriminating forms of thought and making.

Stangos was born in Athens. His parents, both from old Greek families based in the Ottoman lands, had been driven there by the ethnic expulsions of the 1920s. His father was an established architect by the time of the German invasion and, in 1944, sent his son to study at the American College, a building of his own design: that year, his heart failed, on the very day the Germans left the city. At the college, Stangos added passions for contemporary politics and poetry to his parental hinterland of classical and Byzantine culture.

As a teenager he chanced aerial leaflet-dropping for the outlawed Communist party - from the obscurity of a cinema balcony. But by 1956, when he took up an offer to study in the US, loyalty to the party had yielded to loyalty to his politically insubordinate poetry.

During the next few years he rose through a succession of American campuses, eventually to study philosophy at Harvard. The abilities of such a graduate were soon put to use, after his return home, by the Greek diplomatic service. He was hired for their London press office in 1965. Two years later, the colonels seized power in Greece. Crossing the embassy threshold, the attaché joined the demonstrations outside and applied for permanent residence in the UK.

In the interval, Stangos had started to establish the distinctive terms of reference that would serve him through a succession of London offices and homes. An introduction to Stephen Spender brought him into contact with that literary linchpin's wide circle: he worked with Spender and David Hockney on an English edition of the poetry of CP Cavafy. At the same time he met the man who would become his abiding partner, the writer David Plante, who survives him.

An intuition that his metier lay in publishing was confirmed when he was taken on at Penguin after an interview with its founder, Allen Lane - despite his hitherto complete innocence of the field, and his enduring faintly elliptical take on the English language.

Stangos published little apart from verse translations under his own name in English, while his own poetry remains reserved for a Greek readership. The innumerable Post-Its of fine, spidery script and quizzical short missives that record his attempts to coax sense out of my own work for Thames & Hudson were all governed by a singular syntax, not quite secured to any specific tongue.

Yet his nose for what was confused, concessionary or secondhand in the manuscripts he pored over was unerring; his instinct for the excellent was sure; somehow, by indirections and almost by gestures, he would nudge writers into discovering it for themselves. To work with him was to experience an educator of genius, and, indeed, someone who knew where to look for geniuses.

His time at Penguin brought not only the groundbreaking Berger tract and British introductions for the poetry of Ashbery, Tsvetayeva and Pessoa, but also classics of persuasive exposition such as Linda Nochlin's Realism.

He took along friends like her when he moved to Thames & Hudson in 1974, and made innumerable others during 29 years as the house's art history editor and as one of its directors. His capacity to work closely with writers as diverse as David Sylvester, Rosalind Krauss, John Golding and Robert Rosenblum shows the breadth of his intellectual listening. His editing was instinctively self-effacing - alert to original thought from all directions, anxious only for it to achieve lucid form. Yet, at the same time, he commanded his collaborators' respect for the force of his own tastes and convictions, which had largely taken shape in the high modernism of the 1960s.

Stangos was a quiet-spoken but always charismatic sighting at decades of London openings and soirees - lean, black linen-suited, almost balletic in the articulation of his limbs, a promise of elegance and serenity about his head's clean-carved planes. Anxieties (an ill-conceived chapter, an ill-disposed zeitgeist) might punctuate his small talk, and his retirement would turn out to be cruelly brief, but the essential optimism of his trust in the individual reader or writer survives on countless bookshelves.

Source: www.theguardian.com/news/2004/apr/30/guardianobituaries.booksobituaries1 (Julian Bell, The Guardian, Friday 30 April 2004 10.28 BST)

Further Readings:

The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief by David Plante
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Beacon Press (October 26, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0807006203
ISBN-13: 978-0807006207
Amazon: The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief

The Pure Lover is David Plante’s elegy to his beloved Nikos Stangos, their forty-year life together, and its tragic end. Written in vivid fragments that, like the pieces of a mosaic, come together into a glimmering whole, it shows us both the wild nature of grief and the intimate conversation that is love.

More Real Life Romances at my website:
www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance


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