For most of modern history, queerness has had to exist in the shadows, hidden from view, all nod-nods and wink-winks – even in the famously progressive field of arts and literature. That means that openly queer characters appear very infrequently (nearly never) in classic books, but plenty of books have queer *vibes* – whether intended by the author or imagined by us, the contemporary readers. So, here are seven books with queer vibes, a silly little list for Pride.
The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Two bachelors living together, working together, sharing laughs and adventures? It’s a classic book with queer vibes before you even work in the phallic imagery of the constant pipe-smoking! The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of stories about the world’s most beloved detective, and I’m not the only one who suspects Holmes and his “friend” Watson might’ve shared more than just a desire to solve mysteries. The BBC adaptation worked in a clever nod to this, with the landlady Mrs Hudson refusing to believe that they weren’t a couple, despite Watson’s repeated protests. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.
The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Picture Of Dorian Gray has more than just a queer vibe – it’s undoubtedly, unabashedly a queer novel. Oscar Wilde is one of the most iconic LGBITQA+ writers of the 19th century. His letters to his lover from prison (after he was convicted of “gross indecency” for consensual gay sex) are heart-wrenchingly beautiful. He poured all of that MLM passion into this novel, about a beautiful man who remains ageless and flawless as a cursed portrait of him grows ever more grotesque in his attic. Subtext, anyone? Read my full review of The Picture Of Dorian Gray here.
Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Here’s one of my favourite classic books with queer vibes: Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. It’s baked right into the conceit! A man drinks a potion that allows him to transform into someone else entirely, a man who can act out his most monstrous fantasies and glory in debauchery. Respected doctor by day, Jekyll knows he could never act on his base impulses and maintain his business and position in polite society. Only now, Hyde’s gone too far, and Jekyll’s buddy is onto them – threatening to “out” them, as it were. It’s just one of many fascinating metaphors you can read into this classic of doppelgänger lit. Read my full review of Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde here.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written speculating about Virginia Woolf’s sexuality – was she secretly queer? was she polyamorous? was she asexual? – but the question seems kind of moot when you read Mrs Dalloway. This classic modernist, feminist book “disrupts heteronormative performativity” and “challenges the notion that the female sexuality is strictly monogamous and heterosexual”, say the academics. That’s a fancy way of saying that Clarissa, the titular character, is clearly queer and has huge crushes on women while simultaneously maintaining a romantic relationship with her husband. Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë was shy in the extreme, and there’s no known record of her having had any romantic relationships or interest during her life, so it’s near impossible to speculate on her authorial intent in Wuthering Heights. But it’s so dramatic, so extra, so over-the-top! Even though every canonical couple is explicitly hetero, their histrionics give off such strong queer vibes, you might get a contact high. Plus, the “ecological aesthetic” (i.e., use of the wilderness of the moors as a driving force in the story) has long been associated with queerness and queer coding in literature. So, there you have it! Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Not only does Frankenstein have strong queer vibes, it has multiple types of strong queer vibes! Mary Shelley is one of the few authors from that period who was, on record, openly bisexual and living the kind of sexually progressive life that made her contemporaries blush – but let’s look at the book itself. A medical student becomes obsessed with creating life from scratch (vibe!), and hopes for the product of his experiments to be the “perfect specimen of a man” (vibe!). When it turns into a monstrosity (vibe!), he flees, and in so doing highlights the contrast between domineering masculinity and his submissive effeminate nature (vibe!). I could go on and on, but it’s more fun if you read it for yourself and see how many nods for queerness you can find. Read my full review of Frankenstein here.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Oooft! I should probably write a whole separate post on the tradition of using vampires and vampirism to imply queerness or to stand-in as queer coding. For now, suffice to say that Dracula is a classic book with queer vibes. There’s the titular character himself, the polysexual vampire who will penetrate (with his fangs! get your mind out of the gutter) men and women indiscriminately. There’s also the cowboy vampire hunter, who shows up with his flashy outfits and his experimental treatments. And then, there’s Stoker himself, an author widely understood now to have lived his life as a closeted gay man, pining for his friends and contemporaries and pouring that suffering into his work. Queer, queer, queer! Read my full review of Dracula here.