The Annotated Joseph and His Friend: The Story of America’s First Gay Novel contains the original novel by Bayard Taylor, with annotations and commentary by L.A. Fields. Joseph and His Friend is the story of a young Pennsylvania farmer, Joseph Asten, and his marriage to Julia Blessing around the same time as a more powerful friendship arises in his life. Joseph’s chance meeting with Philip Held casts doubts on the motivations of his bride-to-be, and as her duplicity is revealed during their marriage, Joseph’s love for Philip becomes more and more vital to his survival.
The notes accompanying each chapter of this book move from the private life of the man who inspired the story (Fitz-Greene Halleck), through the secrets of its author (Bayard Taylor), noting especially his private love for and public rivalry with Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass). The notes then expand on Whitman’s unique position in gay and American history: the nascent coming-out letters Whitman called “avowals” from the likes of Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde; Whitman’s witnessing of the Civil War, the Lincoln presidency, and his lover’s chance attendance at Ford’s Theater the night of Lincoln’s assassination; as well as Whitman’s own understanding and defense for writing honestly about the love of men.
The structure of the project combines Taylor’s original 1870 novel with brief strings of American history, contemporary anecdote, and curiosities from a more secret history. A new topic is positioned behind every chapter, providing the background that reveals just how important this novel was at the time, how rare it is now, and how daring it’s always been to tell the truth.