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The Mourning After

Loss and Longing among Midcentury American Men

The Mourning After

Loss and Longing among Midcentury American Men

On the battlefields of World War II, with their fellow soldiers as the only shield between life and death, a generation of American men found themselves connecting with each other in new and profound ways. Back home after the war, however, these intimacies faced both scorn and vicious homophobia. The Mourning After makes sense of this cruel irony, telling the story of the unmeasured toll exacted upon generations of male friendships. John Ibson draws evidence from the contrasting views of male closeness depicted in WWII-era fiction by Gore Vidal and John Horne Burns, as well as from such wide-ranging sources as psychiatry texts, child development books, the memoirs of veterans’ children, and a slew of vernacular snapshots of happy male couples. In this sweeping reinterpretation of the postwar years, Ibson argues that a prolonged mourning for tenderness lost lay at the core of midcentury American masculinity, leaving far too many men with an unspoken ache that continued long after the fighting stopped, forever damaging their relationships with their wives, their children, and each other.

272 pages | 35 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2018 

Culture Studies

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History: American History


“Highly recommended. . . This thorough account of the development of homophobia opens with a chapter containing snapshots of men together before and after the war. . . . Ibson explains the role of midcentury psychology to pathologize homosexuality, as well as the norms of boy rearing to prevent it. Particularly accomplished are the sections on letters written by the children of veterans as well as the impact of homophobia on the Beat generation.”


“A deep thinker and a lovely writer, John Ibson is unique in the field. . . . He develops a convincing and sympathetic portrayal of the crushing cost that boys and men—gay, queer, nonqueer alike—pay for narrow constructions of masculinity. . . . Ibson's work is a treasure that should be explored by all scholars.”

Men and Masculinities

“In The Mourning After, John Ibson shows how the ghosts of these buddies haunted the postwar years and even today influence the ways in which American men relate to one another. . . . This is a heavily researched academic study, but the writing is always clear and at times moving.”

The Gay and Lesbian Review

“A valuable addition to the growing historiographical literature on mid-century men.”

The American Historical Review

“Thoughtfully imagined, meticulously researched, and beautifully written, The Mourning After is a phenomenally engaging book. Ibson recasts both the history of post-war masculinity and the history of post-war homophobia in a genuinely new light.”

Colin R. Johnson, Indiana University Bloomington

The Mourning After is a creatively researched and compellingly written exposition of American culture’s deep discomfort with affection between midcentury men. Just as important, Ibson is concerned with the consequences of this antipathy toward same-sex intimacy, for gay and straight men alike, and for their families. A profound and moving account.”

Nicholas L. Syrett, University of Kansas

“The history of male same-sex intimacy and masculinity in the Second World War and its immediate aftermath is of great importance to American culture. With its many different sources—informal photographs, writings by John Horne Burns and Gore Vidal and their critical and popular reception, best-selling memoirs, films, and other published and unpublished writings—The Mourning After is a highly original book. Ibson’s writing is clear and accessible—a pleasure to read.”

David Doyle, Southern Methodist University

Table of Contents


Preface / Sexual Identity on the Postwar Home Front: Denial’s Allure in a Repressive Era

1 Putting Space between Men: Male Relationships in Everyday Photography at Midcentury
2 War as a Cultural Timeout: The Gallery and Shifting Boundaries of Male Belonging
3 Back to Normal: Cultural Work in the Erasure of John Horne Burns
4 What It Took: Gore Vidal and the High Price of Midcentury Manliness
5 Mourning the Loss: The “Great Sullenness” and the Contours of American Manhood

Coda: Bookend for an Era


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