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Bertram Cope's Year

By: Henry Blake Fuller

This novel was perhaps the most daring and affirmative LGBT literature of the first two decades of the 20th century in America. In this story, Bertram Cope is a young college instructor, about twenty-four years old ("certainly not a day over twenty-five"), who is pursued by men and women, both younger and older than himself. In writing this novel, Fuller had to carefully craft his plot schemes so as not to offend the sensibilities of publishers. As a result, today's reader is left somewhat, but not entirely, confused about the precise feelings that characters develop for one another by the end of the book. Nevertheless, no publishing house would touch it, which ultimately required that Fuller go the self-publishing route.

Bertram Cope's Year is a 1919 novel by Henry Blake Fuller, sometimes called the first American homosexual novel.


Fuller completed work on the novel in May 1918. After failing to interest several New York publishing houses, Fuller placed the novel with his friend Ralph Fletcher Seymour who ran a small publishing house in Chicago, Alderbrink Press, that usually published art books. It appeared in October 1919. The novel is sometimes described as "self-published."


The novel received little attention from literary periodicals when it first appeared and was poorly understood; sales were slight. New Outlook printed a short notice that concluded: "The study of this weak but agreeable man is subtle but far from exciting." The American Library Association's Booklist described it as "A story of superficial social university life in a suburb of Chicago, with live enough people and a sense of humor hovering near the surface."


H.L. Mencken, writing in the Smart Set described Cope as beset with three female suitors and "somewhat heavily patronized" by Randolph. Cope fails to benefit from the efforts of Mrs. Phillips and Randolph and "even forgets to be grateful....It is simply beyond him to imagine that he needs help.A very fair piece of writing as novels go. A bit sly and pizzicato; even a bit distinguished. If you know the later novels of E.F. Benson, you know the tone of it." Mencken noted how different the novel was from some of Fuller's earlier work, novels that "launched realism in America." In the author of Bertram Cope's Year he found "a pleasant style, an adept technique, the manner of a gentleman." It concluded: "It is surely something to be an American novelist, and yet write like a gentleman."


London's The Bookman included the novel in a section of short reviews under the heading "Good Novels of Several Kinds." After summarizing the plot as the tale of a young academic who is the object of the "pathetically burning interest" of an older woman and an older man, the latter "the sort of wistful elderly parasite to be found in any college community," the review recommended it for certain readers: "The kind of novel which must be enjoyed not for its matter so mush as for its quality, its richness of texture and subtlety of atmosphere. It has distinction, is as finely wrought in its way as a Howells novel or a Cable. It would be extremely irritating to the customer looking for a rattling good tale."


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Henry Blake Fuller

United States

Henry Blake Full was a United States novelist and short story writer. He was born and worked in Chicago, Illinois. He is perhaps, the earliest novelist from Chicago to gain a national reputation. His...

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