Study Guide

Querelle by Jean Genet in Queer Theory

Querelle by Jean Genet

If you're going to be bad, you might as well be really bad. Like, if you're going to have a conversation about something that is so taboo, no one would dare talk about it, you might as well come out swinging… Right?

Well, queer rights weren't on anybody's radar in 1940s France. So authors like Jean Genet thought they had nothing to lose, and boy, did they come out swinging.

Querelle is a shocker from 1947. This book's title character is a sailor, a drifter, a hustler, and a murderer. He lives on the margins of society. He does what he must to stay alive.

Dun dun dun. Early queer novels that dealt with gay men, like Querelle, are often set in rough environments. These environments that the dark and hidden nature of "deviant" sexual expression.

What about the way the author writes in this book? Well, we think that the writing style of Querelle is somewhat similar to that of Ernest Hemingway. (Don't tell Ernie that; he fancies himself to be a real man's man.)

Genet writes about all the macho, overblown masculinity that many authors of his day wrote about, he just adds sex to the mix. So suddenly, the content becomes "seedy" or "revolting." (Why? You ask. Because the Victorians said so. And they were never wrong.)

This book is a commentary on why we are so fascinated by men killing, stealing, fighting, and double-crossing each other, but we feel positively disgusted by sex. We seem to accept and even embrace the awful violence and deceit that are part of the masculine identity.

But sex—especially sex between two men… gasp—that's another matter. Why? The power of Genet's writing forces the reader to examine why we tell so many stories about murder and war, but get so freaked out by sex.