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Performing Queer Modernism$
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Penny Farfan

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190679699

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190679699.001.0001

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“I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives”

“I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives”

Popular Plato, Queer Heterosexuality, Comic Form

(p.57) Chapter 4 “I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives”
Performing Queer Modernism

Penny Farfan

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on Noël Coward’s 1930 comedy Private Lives to illustrate how queer modernist performance might pass as light entertainment in the theatrical mainstream. Written shortly after Coward read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Private Lives engages with classical and early twentieth-century ideas about androgyny and in doing so subverts interlinked sexual and aesthetic norms. The play’s main characters, Amanda and Elyot, are ambiguously gendered, yet together form a heterosexual couple that recalls the separated halves of the lost androgyne or third sex of Aristophanes’s myth of love in Plato’s Symposium. This queering of heterosexuality through androgynous male and female “other halves” combines with the play’s emphasis on fleeting moments of present happiness to derail comedy’s traditional movement toward marriage, reproduction, and social continuity, anticipating more recent queer resistance to what Lee Edelman has called “reproductive futurism.” While achieving enduring popular success, Private Lives thus queered comic form and fostered queer spectatorship.

Keywords:   Noël Coward, Private Lives, Virginia Woolf, androgyny, Aristophanes, Plato, Symposium, queer heterosexuality, comic form

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