Hotel de Dream – Edmund White

HDDWe chose this book because of the author and because of a review by Neill Bartlett. It’s a classic abuse turns prostitute story. The title is the actual name of a Jacksonville bordello run by Cora Crane.

Stephen Crane is the son of a Methodist minister. He never wanted to live beyond thirty and he was advised that the book he was writing would ruin his career. Now facing death from TB (which he treats by horse riding in the cold air), he dictates a reconstruction of his novel to his mistress. It is on a teenage male prostitute with whom he had been acquainted but never “used” and whom he brushes off for clinging to him like a woman

Cora, his mistress, is concerned that Stephen’s death would conflict with the Boer war in the news and she thinks that Henry James is ‘as queer as a football bat.’

 In the novel, “The Painted Boy” Theodore Koch, a respectably married New York banker, who is smitten with Elliott, a 16-year-old “flame fairy”, syphilitic and marble-skinned, available yet unknowable. His infatuation ends up destroying his previously secure life.

Elliott says that his ‘Daddy and brothers starting using me like I was a girl.’ He has ‘No reason for book learning.’ His repetitive prayer is ‘I must not tell’. He appeals to Stephen because he is unreachable and is seeking a father-figure.

Joseph Conrad, who visits Crane when he is dying, when asked if he knew any inverts said he’d heard of such ‘abominations’ as a sailor. He has never heard the word ‘cad’ and believes that pain should not lead to vice.

Koch thought of giving Elliott an allowance but did not want to rob him of ambition. He is paranoid that a private detective’s secretary kept a carbon copy or used a new spool and he desires to shield his wife from the truth as she was the ‘angel of the hearth’ so he awoke each morning to a sinking feeling of doom and he thanks God even though he doesn’t believe in God.

Niedermayer, the bank manager regards the homosexuality as a crime rather than the theft which occurs and says that ‘you never know the heart of another man’

 The attitudes of the time are reflected in that many would defend Oscar Wilde and that doctors’ disdain venereal disease and use mercury in at attempt to cure it.

The novel’s style is somewhat lacking. Where are the adverbs? ‘We breathed deep’. Why the wooden dialogue ‘Her:…She:…’ ‘When she rose from doing her “beaute”…’ the slums ‘door was just the thinnest membrane possible holding back a boiling larval mess soon to explode and metamorphose into more and more sticky life.. ‘He felt as if he were a metal sign, half-rusted, creaking as it swung back and forth in the wind.’ However, some have called the style ‘cumbersome affected, convoluted, stilted, verbose, stylized, pretentious, condescending, and almost Jamesian’ because maybe the author wanted to mimic the writing style of the late-19th Century. He likes detail: Horses’ hooves as “big as dinner plates.” Antimacassars as “dainty as ocean foam.”

Is the vocabulary pretentions or is it just that I am ignorant?: ephitic = bad smell; crepuscular = dim; indistinct, appearing or active in the twilight, as certain bats and insects. glabrous =  having a surface devoid of hair or pubescence, smooth, hairless

Polari, gay slang similar to other secret languages spoken by minority groups is represented: Nancy boys, Mary Anns, brownie queen, The colour of his eyes = size; Lily law (police), Betty bracelets (handcuffs) Low neck and short sleeves = circumcised, Blow the skin flute (fellatio), Bronco – to ride, be penetrated.

Some things are unlikely: He gave the bank clerk a signed memorandum but later tore it up; a woman running out of burning house was unable to scream as her throat already burnt away.

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