Cecil Dreeme is one of the queerest American novels of the 19th century. This edition, which includes a new introduction contextualizing the sexual history of the period and queer longings of the book, brings a rare, almost forgotten, sensational gothic novel set in New York’s West Village back to light.
Published posthumously in 1861, the novel centers on Robert Byng, a young man who moves back to New York after traveling abroad and finds himself unmarried and underemployed, adrift in the heathenish dens of lower Manhattan. When he takes up rooms in “Chrysalis College”—a thinly veiled version of the 19th-century New York University building in Washington Square—he quickly finds himself infatuated with a young painter lodging there, named Cecil Dreeme. As their friendship grows and the novel unfolds against the backdrop of the bohemian West Village, Robert confesses that he “loves Cecil with a love passing the love of women.” Yet, there are dark forces at work in the form of the sinister and magnetic Densdeth, a charismatic figure of bad intention, who seeks to ensnare Robert for his own. Full of romantic entanglements, mistaken identity, blackmail, and the dramas of temptation and submission, Cecil Dreeme is a gothic novel at its finest. Poetically written—with flashes of Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde— Cecil Dreeme is an early example of that rare bird, a queer novel from the 19th century.
“A story of treachery and tenderness, Cecil Dreeme describes the spiritual struggles of an impressionable young American returned from Europe to the all-male haunts of lower Manhattan. This timely reprint of the popular nineteenth-century novel recalls the queer, Gothic past of the U.S. nation-state. Peter Coviello’s lively introduction describes the ambiguous pleasures of ardent comradeship in a shifting erotic and political landscape.”-Heather Love,author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History
“Cecil Dreeme defies easy categorization. A mid-19th century queer/trans* novel, it mixes genres and perversities as it delights in combining Whitmanesque rhapsody with gothic dread, Wildean cosmopolitan seductions with very American scenes. This beguiling literary treasure provides us all with material for queer pleasure and pedagogy.”-Lisa Duggan,New York University
"Cecil Dreeme is remarkable, compelling, and completely unclassifiable...This prophetic and rich novel whose very existence must be seen as surprising against the backdrop of 21st century skepticism as to the possibility of 'gay' literature in pre-modern times. It deserves the widest possible readership."-The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review
"Cecil Dreeme is more than a great New York novel. It is also a key text for anybody interested in the history of gender and queerness in American thought—not just thought that has taken place on these shores, but the history of ideas precisely about this nation itself, its values, and its direction in history."-Public Books