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Dylan Rowen

Joint Degree Fellow from the University of Melbourne

Dissertation Project

The Queer Modernist Novel: Experimentations in Bodily Desire and Textual Aesthetics

My PhD research analyses modernism’s encountering moments with queer identities and non-heterosexual subjects within experimental fiction, primarily from a select few novels produced in the interwar period. Queerness in modernist texts is often masked and hidden by both formal—and informal—experimentation that accompanies the unconscious (de)representation of sexuality that such texts produce. My thesis will examine transgressive modernist textual practices in response to fictional representations of queer sites of nonnormative, or “slippery” desire within city/urban spaces such as bars, nightclubs, and alleyways. More specifically, it examines the queer fictional worlds represented during the 1930s, a period often referred to as the “Pansy Craze.” My research is primarily interested in how queer modernism, according to Benjamin Kahan, “delineates the sexually transgressive and gender deviant energies that help fuel modernism’s desire to thwart normative aesthetics, knowledges, geographies, and temporalities” (348).

Modernist techniques such as stream-of-consciousness allow us glimpses into how queer erotic entanglements and fragmented desires are performed in modernity. Queer-coded argot and illegibility within modernist experimental writing can provide, I argue, fruitful avenues and laneways where deviant sexualities are performed, tolerated, and even celebrated. The rise of modernism as a literary and aesthetic practice also coincided with the emergence of sexual identities and sites where these identities could manifest and engender active agencies. My project examines how LGBT bodies are (de)represented (or indeed, unrepresentable) in early twentieth century ‘queer’ novels to locate a structure within the disjointed trajectory of the ‘homosexual’ tradition. Through a sustained examination of transgender, queer, and nonbinary subjectivity in modernist fiction, I hope to disrupt any teleological assumptions about queer literary history. Queer narrative desire is, by its very nature, non-linear, experimental, and unable to be easily deciphered.

At present, the novels examined will include Strange Brother (1931) by Blair Niles, Twilight Men (1931) by André Tellier, A Scarlet Pansy (1932) by Robert Scully, and The Young and Evil (1933) co-written by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler. These texts all present—to some extent and to varying success—an unstable, complicated construction of gender and sexuality due to the presence of the de-gendered “pansy” in these narratives. The figure of the “pansy” occupies a queer space in the regulation and construction of the homosexual/heterosexual divide, and its very nature complicates any linear understanding of modernity’s binary thrust towards linear progression. These queer writers engage with, and write about, moments of cruising, cross-dressing, drag, the legacies of sexology, the intersections of race and class with sexuality, transgender subjectivity, transnationalism and movements of culture, prostitution, sites of urban “slumming,” queer enclaves, political dissidents, able-bodied and disabled persons, all within—subconsciously or not—late modernism. These inversions and queer moments in time will be examined alongside new methodologies in modernist and queer studies, tied together with close-reading practices which will prioritise an innovative approach to reading queerness within modernity and inside the archive.


In March of 2020, I started my Cultural Studies PhD candidature in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne, under the Research Training Group joint collaboration Minor Cosmopolitanisms with the University of Potsdam, Germany.

In 2019, I was awarded a Graduate Diploma in Art History after completing my Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in English at the University of Adelaide. I examined literary modernism, queerness, gendered spatial topographies, and LGBT identity in early twentieth-century cultural artefacts and fiction. I plan on extending my work in this field further through my studies at the University of Melbourne and the University of Potsdam.

I have presented some of my research on queer textual embodiment and sexuality at a handful of conferences such as “Queer Legacies, New Solidarities” and the “Gender, Sex, and Sexualities Postgraduate + ECR Conference.” I have been a featured writer and panellist, and workshopped my writing with emerging poets and writers at Writers SA. I have been a subeditor at The University of Adelaide’s student magazine On Dit and was the co-founder and president of The Adelaide University Literature Club, through which I organised literary events and lectures since its formation in 2016.

I was born and raised on Kaurna Land, and I now write and reside on the traditional lands of the Kulin Nation.

Research Interests

  • Modernism/Modernity
  • The Avant-Garde/Surrealism
  • LGBT Identity in Fiction
  • Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Literary Theory
  • Experimental Literature

Publications and Activities


  • “‘I Am No Longer a Fiction but a Real Human Being’: The Modernist Queer Body in Patrick White’s The Twyborn Affair (1979).” Hecate, vol. 44, no. 1–2, p. 59, 2018.
  • “Encountering, Positioning and Orientating my Queer “Self””, Writing From Below, vol.4 no.3, 2019.
  • “Suffrage 125: Working Women in the Nineteenth Century.” The Centre of Democracy,  Accessed 7 June 2020:, 2019. (Co-authored with Craig Middleton.)

Conference Papers and Public Lectures

  • “Cruising and Encountering Queer Modernism: Reading Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler’s The Young and Evil (1933)” for The Department of English and Creative Writing Postgraduate Conference 2019. 20 June-21 June, The University of Adelaide.
  • “Writing from the Body and on the Skin: Encountering, Positioning, and Orientating My Queer Self” for the session 4 panel titled “Body and Flesh” at the Gender, Sex, & Sexualities Postgraduate + ECR Conference in September 2018, titled “Space + Place.” Napier Building, The University of Adelaide.
  • “The Legacies of the Modernist Queer Body in Patrick White’s The Twyborn Affair (1979)” for Queer Legacies, New Solidarities 2018 hosted by Deakin Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association & the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in November 2018. Deakin Downtown and the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.
  • Chaired two panels titled “Literary Landscapes of Australia and New Zealand” and “Creative Reading Session II” at The Department of English and Creative Writing Postgraduate Conference 2019. 20 June-21 June, The University of Adelaide.
  • Workshop and featured writer at the showcase event and literary panel for Tracks: Adelaide, 2017.
  • Featured poet at the monthly poetry reading event NO WAVE, August 2019.