By Thom Robinson
On publication in 1983, The Place of Dead Roads was received as William Burroughs’ long-awaited Western, a project originally announced two decades before.1 Forming the second instalment of an emerging trilogy, the novel continued the use of genre fiction found in Cities of the Red Night (1981), with much of its action set against the backdrop of the late nineteenth-century frontier. This evocation of a lost world of outlaw societies is partly indebted to Jack Black’s You Can’t Win (1926), the autobiography of a convict that made a lasting impression on Burroughs when he first read the book as an adolescent.2 Yet the primary influence that Burroughs cited for his ‘Western’ was an author as far removed from the genre as can reasonably be imagined. As Burroughs stated in his 1985 introduction to Queer: ‘While I was writing The Place of Dead Roads, I felt in spiritual contact with the late English writer Denton Welch, and modelled the novel’s hero, Kim Carsons, directly on him’.3 The novel’s unusual dedication accordingly reads: ‘To Denton Welch, For Kim Carsons’.4
In the last two decades of his life, Burroughs repeatedly shared his respect for Welch’s work. Prior to this point, familiar literary influences had recurred throughout Burroughs’ interviews (a roster of names including Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett, Graham Greene and Jean Genet). In the 1980s, Welch suddenly took centre-stage: ‘Lots of writers have influenced me, particularly Denton Welch’;5 ‘Denton Welch […] has influenced me more than any other writer’;6 ‘When asked what writer has most directly influenced my own work I can answer without hesitation: Denton Welch’.7
As these examples show, Burroughs was unstinting in his praise for Welch’s work and unequivocal in crediting him as his greatest influence. Yet he did so without elaborating in detail on the precise nature of how this influence manifested itself. Instead, in discussing The Place of Dead Roads, Burroughs claimed Welch as both lead protagonist and co-author, as detailed in a 1981 interview with Bill Rich for the zine Talk Talk:8
Denton Welch is actually Kim Carsons in the new book. I sort of kidnapped him to be my hero. And so much of it is written in the style of Denton Welch. It’s table tapping, my dear. He’s writing beyond the grave and I should certainly dedicate the book to him.9
Despite his attention-grabbing claims of posthumous authorship, Burroughs’ relationship with Welch has continued to evade discussion. Critics have yet to examine why Burroughs embraced Welch so closely, so late in his literary career, and precisely how he believed that Welch had informed his work. I intend to shed light on Burroughs’ claims for Welch’s significance by showing that the kinship he felt with the author was due not to a shared prose style, but instead to the writers’ mutual depictions of adolescent outsiders and the means by which Welch’s biography set an example that Burroughs could apply to his own literary development. Doing so will help to explain the intimate relationship that Burroughs felt with Welch, in spite of the manifold differences between the two writers’ backgrounds, as can be established by a brief introduction to Welch’s life and work.
Whilst attracting many notable admirers in his lifetime, Welch’s small body of work, his autobiographical focus, and his exacting devotion to minutia have helped to ensure his reputation remains that of a cult figure (in the words of Jim Nawrocki, ‘a writer’s writer and, in particular, a gay writer’s writer’).10 Born in Shanghai in 1915, Welch was the youngest of three sons to an English father and American mother. After spending much of his childhood in China, he was educated in England from the age of nine. Welch’s mother, to whom her youngest son was particularly close, died shortly before Welch’s twelfth birthday. After finishing his time at Repton school (from which he briefly fled at the beginning of his final year, as recounted in his first novel, Maiden Voyage), Welch enrolled at Goldsmith School of Art. In 1935, the 20 year-old art student was hit by a car whilst cycling. The severity of his injuries (including a fractured spine) forced Welch to spend the remainder of his life as a partial invalid, devoting himself mainly to writing (rather than painting), and subject to frequent bouts of illness. He died in 1948, having published two novels dealing with his adolescence, Maiden Voyage (1943) and In Youth is Pleasure (1945). Posthumous publications include the story collection, Brave and Cruel (1949); a final novel concerned with the period following Welch’s accident, A Voice Through a Cloud (1950); a further collection of stories and poems, A Last Sheaf (1951); Welch’s Journals (1952); the novella, I Left My Grandfather’s House (1958); and the poetry collection, Dumb Instrument (1976). An expanded edition of the Journals appeared in 1984, followed by an extensive collection of Welch’s published and unpublished shorter prose, Fragments of a Life Story (1987).
The wildly contrasting cultural spheres inhabited by Burroughs and Welch make Burroughs’ claims for the author’s influence seem particularly incongruous. Welch’s Journals depict a pastoral England of bicycle trips, countryside picnics and visits to antique shops, a parochial world far removed from the bohemian subcultures associated with Burroughs. To emphasise this culture clash, it’s worth considering the comparative responses of two English literary contemporaries to the two writers’ work. Welch’s key champion was Edith Sitwell, whose enthusiastic praise helped to launch his literary career: after reading his essay ‘Sickert at St Peter’s’ in Horizon in 1942, Sitwell proclaimed Welch ‘a born writer!’ (a phrase she repeated three times in her foreword to Maiden Voyage).11 Conversely, her famously negative response to Burroughs appeared in the letters pages of the Times Literary Supplement, following the paper’s 1963 publication of John Willett’s damning appraisal, ‘UGH..’. Sitwell’s contribution to the resulting correspondence records her pleasure at Willett’s ‘very right-minded review of a novel by a Mr. Burroughs (whoever he may be)’, before archly closing, ‘I do not wish to spend the rest of my life with my nose nailed to other people’s lavatories. I prefer Chanel Number 5’.12 Similarly divergent attitudes to the two writers are provided by the novelist Barbara Pym (wry chronicler of churchgoing women in postwar England). In the mid-1950s, Pym wrote in her diaries of being ‘besotted’13 with ‘darling Denton’, leading her to make pilgrimages to his former homes in London and Kent.14 By contrast, her diaries record an equally forceful response to Burroughs: in March 1963, Pym summarises her year so far as one of ‘violence, death and blows’, typified by her typewriter being stolen, her publisher’s rejection of her latest novel, the UK publication of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and ‘reading The Naked Lunch‘.15
Despite their many differences, Burroughs came to share the marked devotion shown by these other aficionados of Welch’s writing, characterised by a feeling of kinship towards the author and his work. Another of Welch’s English admirers, Alan Bennett, captures this feeling of identification in his own description of first reading Welch’s Journals: ‘he seemed a sympathetic voice and – a characteristic of books read when young – seemed to be speaking particularly to me’.16 The closeness that Burroughs felt with Welch is shown in his own habit of familiarly referring to the author as ‘Denton’ (‘I’m sure he won’t mind my calling him by his first name’).17
Though Burroughs only began citing Welch as an influence in later life, he first read his work in the time of its original publication. In the Talk Talk interview, Burroughs remembered reading him ‘back in 1947 or 48 when he was still alive. Kerouac read him. I thought he was great’.18 Elsewhere, Burroughs dates this first reading to ‘1946 or thereabouts’,19 though Allen Ginsberg’s contemporary journal suggests that Welch circulated amongst the Beat writers earlier than Burroughs remembered: in a 1944 entry, Ginsberg includes Maiden Voyage in a list of Burroughs’ reading,20 whilst a later entry has In Youth is Pleasure as part of Ginsberg’s own ‘Reading List’ for May 1946.21 This shared reading of Welch demonstrates the Beats’ characteristic tendency to elevate the status of otherwise marginalised figures, shown by Gerald Nicosia’s report that, in the early 1950s, Kerouac inscribed a copy of Maiden Voyage to his friend, Justin Brierly, lamenting ‘that none of the 15th Street book dealers would buy it even though Welch was the literary predecessor of the much touted Capote’ (a comparison that also indicates the Beats’ sensitivity to the latent queer sexuality of Welch’s work).22
Burroughs evidently remembered these initial readings of Welch with fondness. Matthew Levi Stevens notes that he praised Welch during his years in England, ‘enthusing about him to friends in London like C.J. Bradbury Robinson in the late 1960s and Jim Pennington of Aloes Press in the early 1970s (the latter at the time that Hamish Hamilton had published new UK editions of Maiden Voyage and the Journals).23 Yet Burroughs only began making public statements on Welch after becoming fully reacquainted with his output, a rediscovery that he credited to Cabell Hardy, Burroughs’ friend and student at Naropa University: ‘In 1976 I spent the winter in Boulder, Colorado. Cabell Hardy, with whom I shared an apartment, managed to borrow Maiden Voyage, In Youth is Pleasure, A Voice Through a Cloud, The Journals, a book of short stories called Brave and Cruel, and a volume called A Last Sheaf‘.24 Over the following years, Burroughs would duly discuss Welch’s work in his Naropa lectures on Creative Reading.25
In the foreword that he wrote for E.P. Dutton’s 1985 edition of In Youth is Pleasure, Burroughs suggests that on first reading Welch in the 1940s he had been insufficiently appreciative: ‘I was not overly impressed at the time. I didn’t yet know I was a writer. It was not until I reread Denton in 1976 that I realized the full extent of his influence’.26 In particular, on revisiting Welch, Burroughs must have been struck by the similarities between Welch’s protagonists and his own Audrey Carsons, the autobiographical adolescent introduced in The Wild Boys (1971) and Port of Saints (1973), and precursor to Kim Carsons in The Place of Dead Roads. Like Welch in his first two novels (and many of his short stories), in The Wild Boys and Port of Saints Burroughs draws on his own past to depict isolated, misfit boys whom others treat with animosity and suspicion. Yet there is a slipperiness in Burroughs’ identification of this connection that obscures the autobiographical nature of his adolescent characters, specifically due to the fact that he credits both Audrey and Kim to ‘Denton Welch’. In a 1983 conversation with Nicholas Zurbrugg, this dogged insistence on his characters’ connection to Welch leads to understandable confusion for his interviewer:
WB: A writer that I said quite a lot about, a writer of whom I am more influenced that by any other is Denton Welch.
NZ: In what respect?
WB: Well, Kim Carsons, the hero of my latest novel, The Place of Dead Roads, is Denton Welch.
NZ: So it’s a sort of homage?
WB: No, not a homage, not a homage. He is Denton Welch. He’s derived from Denton Welch as revealed in the books. He’s the character of Denton Welch. Audrey and Kim Carsons, who are the same person – they literally are Denton Welch. You’ve not read Denton Welch?
WB: Well, if you really knew his work, you’d see it immediately.
NZ: So you might actually be quoting from his work?
WB: No, it isn’t quoting. It’s just like his voice, it’s his style.27
Despite his denial here, Burroughs does in fact quote Welch in The Place of Dead Roads, incorporating Welch’s descriptive passages into his own work. For example, following a covert rendezvous in London, Burroughs describes Kim walking away ‘with a vague uneasy feeling of universal damage and loss’.28 The phrase is taken from the opening pages of A Voice Through a Cloud, in which Welch recounts the morning of his life-changing accident and how he had interrupted his cycling journey to stop at a café in ‘a small eighteenth-century house […]. Looking at the sides of the windows, I saw that some of the beautiful little brass handles on the shutters were broken or missing. I was given a vague uneasy feeling of universal damage and loss’.29
Additionally, there is a scene in which Kim’s horse turns on its rider: ‘Kim swore that he would never again become involved with a horse. He hated their hysteria, their stubborn malice, and their awful yellow teeth’.30 This last description is lifted from Maiden Voyage:
I had not ridden since I was ten years old, when my horrible little black pony had at last been given away. How I had hated it! Once it had broken out of the stable and had galloped through the roses and over the lawns, showing its awful yellow teeth.31
Burroughs repeatedly turns to this passage when describing the individuality of Welch’s voice, writing in his foreword to In Youth is Pleasure: ‘After I reread [Welch’s] work, the extent of his influence became apparent to me. Also the fact that I had memorized whole passages and looked forward to them as I read like familiar landmarks’.32 Quoting the ‘awful yellow teeth’ from Maiden Voyage, Burroughs asks his reader, ‘Who but Denton could have written these lines?’.33 He quotes the same passage in his essay ‘Creative Reading’, noting that ‘Style, the manner of writing, the choice of one word rather than another, may be so distinctive that you read one sentence and you know who wrote it’.34 It is ironic, therefore, that Burroughs should utilise Welch’s ‘unique’ description of ‘awful yellow teeth’ in The Place of Dead Roads, creating a situation in which the reader may read ‘one sentence’ and yet remain unclear precisely ‘who wrote it’.
A similar appropriation of Welch’s words, this time credited, appears in Burroughs’ poem, ‘Fear and the Monkey‘ (published by the Danish magazine Pearl in 1978, and later collected in The Burroughs File (1984)). Taking its title from Welch’s poem of the same name, Burroughs’ text is accompanied by a note in which he describes the work as ‘a Oui-Ja board poem’ drawn from a number of sources (including Welch’s Dumb Instrument).35 Despite oblique borrowings from Welch’s original verse (the phrase ‘Sweeter than rose leaves in closed jars’36 echoed by Burroughs’ ‘With rose leaves in closed jars’), the result remains typically Burroughsian, serving to demonstrate that, even when he is directly appropriating Welch’s work, Burroughs’ writing does not convincingly replicate Welch’s ‘voice’ and ‘style’.37
Among Burroughs’ other claims in his interview with Zurbrugg, the assertion that ‘Audrey and Kim Carsons […] literally are Denton Welch’ heightens the confusion by eliding distinctions between four separate figures: Audrey Carsons of The Wild Boys and Port of Saints; Kim Carsons of The Place of Dead Roads; Denton Welch, the real-life author; and ‘Denton Welch’, the character in Welch’s books. Welch’s first and last novel are explicitly presented as autobiographical (with the first-person narrators of Maiden Voyage and A Voice Through a Cloud bearing the author’s name), and although In Youth is Pleasure is written in the third-person and concerns ‘Orvil Pym’, the character is recognisably the same as that found in the other two novels (as Burroughs states in the Talk Talk interview, ‘He’s only got one character and it’s always him’).38 In stating that Kim Carsons ‘is Denton Welch’, therefore, Burroughs does not distinguish between Welch the writer and Welch’s literary depictions of his younger self. There is also the irony that, though Burroughs describes Kim as ‘derived’ from Welch, he also notes that Kim is the ‘same person’ as Audrey Carsons, a character whose introduction in The Wild Boys, by his own testimony, precedes his rediscovery of Welch in the 1970s. Indeed, in the Talk Talk interview, Burroughs retroactively credits Welch as having helped to inspire the figure of Audrey, albeit without his conscious awareness: ‘I didn’t realize the extent to which he had influenced me or the extent to which the character Audrey Carsons was derived from Denton Welch until I reread him in 1976’.39 Most notably, in crediting Welch as the inspiration for his characters, Burroughs fails to acknowledge that Audrey and Kim Carsons are primarily autobiographical creations, who owe less to Welch’s work than they do to Burroughs’ own past.
Separating these points helps to cast Burroughs’ use of Welch in The Place of Dead Roads in a different light. Although Burroughs explained that ‘I sort of kidnapped him to be my hero’, the sequence of events supports a different conclusion; that Burroughs reread Welch in 1976, recognised the similarities between Welch’s self-portraits and his own autobiographical figure of Audrey in The Wild Boys and Port of Saints, and modified this character into Kim in The Place of Dead Roads with a newly conscious awareness of the connection to Welch’s work.
With this in mind, Burroughs’ more fanciful claims for The Place of Dead Roads can be discounted as hyperbole, as when stating in conversation with Ted Morgan, ‘I could pass off whole sections of that as an undiscovered manuscript by Denton Welch and everyone would say it’s true’.40 On the contrary, it’s hard to establish convincing comparisons between Burroughs and Welch’s style, beyond the fact that both write episodic books with a disregard for literary convention (as Robert Philips notes, Welch ‘eschewed scenic descriptions, plots, motivations, climaxes, and epiphanies’, all points that could be equally applied to Burroughs).41 Instead, Burroughs’ suggestion that an extract of The Place of Dead Roads could be mistaken for the lost work of Welch indicates more about his profound sense of identification with Welch’s protagonists than it does about literary style, as a closer consideration of the authors’ characters will show.
‘A slimy, morbid youth’
The defining feature of Burroughs and Welch’s adolescent characters is their isolation and pervasive sense of difference. As Aaron Kunin notes, ‘No one else in Welch’s books is like Welch’,42 and throughout The Place of Dead Roads Kim’s outsider status is similarly enforced (‘It wasn’t anything he actually did, or might do. He just did not fit‘).43 Kim’s lack of sympathy with his surroundings is in keeping with Burroughs’ earlier depiction of Audrey Carsons, introduced in The Wild Boys as ‘a thin pale boy his face scarred by festering spiritual wounds. […] He spent sleepless nights weeping into his pillow from impotent rage’.44 Showing the parallels Burroughs must have recognised on later rereading Welch, Maiden Voyage finds Welch similarly suffering from private unhappiness: ‘I lay face downwards on the bed, feeling utterly miserable, crying into the pillow until it was wet and clammy’.45
These resonances between Burroughs and Welch are evidently informed by similar experiences of childhood and adolescence. Burroughs’ account of his formative years in the prologue of Junky (1953) sets a template for the adolescent characters who proliferate in his later work, with Len Gutkin commenting on the link that leads from the prologue to Burroughs’ first novel to The Place of Dead Roads (noting that, by the latter, ‘the bullied, Wilde-reading child of Junky will have been transformed into the cowboy Kim Carsons. Kim begins not as a gunslinger but as a radically exaggerated version of the autobiographical Lee in Junky‘s preface’).46 Junky‘s description of Burroughs’ younger self demonstrates clear parallels with Welch’s own experiences of youthful otherness, as identified in James Methuen-Campbell’s biography, Denton Welch: Writer and Artist (2002). Where Burroughs recalls, ‘I was timid with the other children and afraid of physical violence’,47 Methuen-Campbell notes that Welch was ‘solitary by nature and disinclined to join in with the rough-and-tumble games of other boys’.48 Of his adolescent years, Burroughs writes, ‘I never liked competitive team games and avoided these whenever possible’;49 describing Welch’s early days at school, Methuen-Campbell reports that ‘team games really did not appeal to him in the least’.50
These foundational experiences of alienation are at the forefront of Burroughs’ and Welch’s depictions of their younger selves, producing inevitable crossover between the two. Burroughs memorably describes Kim as ‘a slimy, morbid youth of unwholesome proclivities’, and the same phrases appear in Welch’s own self-portraits.51 In the story ‘A Party’ (first collected in A Last Sheaf), Welch presents himself aged 20, noting that ‘”Morbid” was the word his aunt would have used for him. She always made the adjective sound particularly disgraceful’;52 and an incomplete story (published in Fragments of a Life Story as ‘An Afternoon with Jeanne’) has Welch write of his twelve year-old self: ‘It is wickedly easy to make a child feel degenerate. Now that my mother was dead, both at home and at school I was made to feel lazy, unnatural, vain. The word “unwholesome” rather describes the character they tried to pin on to me’.53 For both Burroughs and Welch, the labels ‘morbid’ and ‘unwholesome’ not only emphasise their characters’ sense of isolation, but also act as coded signifiers of sexual difference (reinforced by the decadent terms that Welch describes being cast in by his family: ‘lazy, unnatural, vain’).
Whilst such passages exemplify the kinship that Burroughs evidently felt with Welch, these particular similarities to The Place of Dead Roads are presumably coincidental (‘An Afternoon with Jeanne’ first appeared in print four years after Burroughs’ novel, and though Welch uses the descriptor ‘morbid’ in the earlier published ‘A Party’, Burroughs previously uses the term in relation to Audrey in The Wild Boys).54 However, at least one passage in The Place of Dead Roads shows Burroughs directly invoking a specific scene from Welch’s work, resulting in a moment of sexualised transvestism without parallel in Burroughs’ writing. In Maiden Voyage, Welch describes the illicit thrill that he experiences as, staying with family friends, he secretly dresses in clothes from their daughter’s bedroom (‘With rising excitement I opened the wardrobe to look at Vesta’s clothes’). His transformation is completed with a generous application of make-up:
I was not at all restrained. I used everything I could find. I sunk my eyes in wells of blue eye-shadow and arched thin black eyebrows above them. I covered my cheeks with brick-dust rouge and my lips with scarlet lipstick.
By the time I had finished, the profession to which I belonged was quite unmistakeable.55
The scene is incorporated into The Place of Dead Roads with a supernatural twist, as Burroughs describes Kim’s late mother and her interest in the occult (suggesting Burroughs’ own mother‘s preoccupation with ‘psychic phenomena’).56 Here, donning make-up and a dress leads to Kim’s sexual consummation with his mother’s spirit companion:
She’d been into table-tapping and crystal balls and had her spirit guides. One that Kim liked especially was an Indian boy called Little Rivers.
Once when she was out Kim put on one of her dresses and made up his face like a whore and called Little Rivers and next thing the dress was torn off him oh he did it of course but the hands weren’t his and then he was squirming and moaning while Little Rivers fucked him with his legs up and he blacked out in a flash of silver light.57
The detail of whorish make-up and the absence of similar moments of cross-dressing elsewhere in Burroughs’ work indicate that the passage is a veiled tribute to Maiden Voyage (though the differences in style between the two scenes, not least Burroughs’ explicit sexuality, emphasises the unlikelihood of The Place of Dead Roads being mistaken for a lost work by Welch).
This scene in Maiden Voyage neatly demonstrates the tendency towards transgressive behaviour that is most thoroughly documented in Welch’s second novel of adolescence, In Youth is Pleasure. The charged and oblique sexuality of this book is captured in Matthew Clarke’s description of Welch’s work showing ‘the emergence in adolescence of a relation to bodily pleasure that remains queerly undefined and unassimilable’.58 It is telling, therefore, that In Youth is Pleasure was Burroughs’ Welch book of choice when listing his ten favourite novels in 1980 (for The People’s Almanac’s Book of Lists #2).59 Turning to this novel in detail helps to further establish Burroughs’ relationship to Welch’s depictions of adolescence, illuminating how, by ‘kidnapping’ Welch for The Place of Dead Roads, he was able to retroactively enfranchise Welch’s powerless protagonists.
In Youth is Pleasure
In Youth is Pleasure draws on the summer of 1930, which Welch spent, aged fifteen, with his father and two older brothers in a country hotel in Surrey. Writing to his publisher, Herbert Read, Welch explained: ‘What I wanted to show in this small book was the secret, lonely life of an adolescent boy, quite different to his life on the surface with other people’.60 Amply fulfilling his ambition, the short, plotless novel follow the experiences of Orvil Pym, scarred by the death of his mother and presented as a singular and solitary adolescent misfit, with both a passion for antique curios and a fascination with masochistic rituals, bodily functions and various other taboos. The novel’s content caused wariness among Welch’s supporters: according to the author, Edward Sackville-West advised him ‘not to publish such a book’,61 and Read was in partial agreement, cautioning, ‘The picture of the hero you present is one which most people will find perverse and even unpleasant’.62 Welch’s partner, Eric Oliver, shared his own view that the book was ‘readable, but unwholesome’,63 and on publication In Youth is Pleasure was duly criticised by the Times Literary Supplement for its author’s ‘school-boy relish for the grotesque’.64
This tendency towards the grotesque flourishes in the startling imagery of Orvil’s invasive private fantasies. An example occurs towards the end of the novel, as the summer holidays draw to a close and Orvil forms a nightmarish image of the school he must return to:
suddenly he had a vision of the river flowing beneath the old toll-bridge. It was swollen with the filth of ten thousand cities. Sweat, excrement, blood, pus poured through the stone arches. The filth curled into marbled patterns, streaked into horrible arabesques . . .65
Here, Welch’s hyper-vivid imagery bears comparison with a characteristic scene from Naked Lunch (1959): ‘broken porticoes and smeared arabesques, iron urinals worn paper thin by the urine of a million fairies, deserted weed-grown privies with a musty smell of shit turning back to the soil’.66 Alongside the passages’ shared preoccupation with excrement, in both examples the use of ‘arabesques’ shows a debt to a Gothic tradition (hinting at Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque).67 Another of Orvil’s fantasies similarly foreshadows Burroughs’ savage imagery as, staying with his friend Constance, Orvil is intimidated by the stately figure of her father, Sir Robert: ‘the most grotesque pictures kept forming in his mind. […] He saw him with splits in the seat of his trousers, through which could be seen, not ordinary human flesh, but the terrifying blue flesh of the mandrill baboon’.68 The scene readily brings to mind Naked Lunch‘s motif of the ‘purple-assed baboon’, suggesting further reasons that Burroughs concluded he had not realised the extent to which Welch had influenced him before rereading his work in the 1970s.69
The overwrought imagery of In Youth is Pleasure has led Phillips to conclude that the work is ‘heavy-handed’ and ‘must ultimately be consigned to a place somewhat below that accorded Welch’s first and third novels’.70 Yet the novel’s queer credentials have made it a particular source of fascination for many of Welch’s enthusiasts, notably the filmmaker John Waters. The novel features in Waters’ list of ‘Good Sex Reads’ and, in his book Role Models (2010), he adeptly uncovers the novel’s latent ambiguities.71 Describing In Youth is Pleasure as ‘astonishingly erotic’, Waters asks ‘Have the secret yearnings of childhood sexuality and the wild excitement of the first stirrings of perversity ever been so eloquently described?’.72 The writer Bernard Cooper describes a similarly strong response to his first encounter with the novel’s heady and distinctive atmosphere:
A friend gave me Welch’s In Youth is Pleasure. I was completely dumbstruck. I loved the fact that so little happened, yet the whole thing seemed charged with an amazing nascent sexuality. Everything had a sexual undertone. I kept thinking: ‘On the next page, he’s going to have sex’. But it never happened.73
Though In Youth is Pleasure is weighted with sexuality, the only sexual release in the novel takes place beyond the reader’s view. As Orvil explores the grounds of his hotel, he passes ‘the ruined stucco gates of some river garden’, with an open gap for entry: ‘Orvil, who never could resist exploring derelict places, felt impelled to get through this hole into the garden behind. He also fiercely desired some very solitary place; for the frustration and excitement inside him were becoming almost unbearable’.74 Orvil’s private expression of this excitement is met with instant condemnation. Emerging from the garden, he finds a man waiting for him, who cries in fury: ‘”I saw you! You devil! You filthy little devil! You’ll go mad. Your eyes will drop out. And serve you right too. God is not mocked! God is not mocked!”‘.75
This outraged tone of moral authority is frequently invoked in Burroughs’ work. In The Place of Dead Roads, Kim’s enemies demand ‘”What the fuck are you doing in front of decent people?“‘,76 whilst Audrey is subjected to similar approbation in The Wild Boys, as he becomes the unwitting inmate of the Green Nun’s mental asylum: given plasticine to play with, Audrey produces ‘a naked Greek statue. That day sister’s ruler slashed down on his thin blue wrist and he was forced to write out i am a filthy little beast ten thousand times in many places’.77
Though Welch and Burroughs’ protagonists suffer shared humiliations, the contrast between the unhappiness and restriction endured by Orvil Pym and the violent freedom enjoyed by Kim in The Place of Dead Roads allows Burroughs’ novel to be read as a fantasy empowering of Welch. Indeed, there are specific instances in which Kim can be found fulfilling Orvil’s fantasies. For example, when desiring to escape the grounds of his hotel, Orvil hires a canoe and, paddling upstream, submits to an eroticised fantasy of masculine self-sufficiency:
His excitement was rising. He wanted to take off all his clothes, he hated the very feel of them against his skin. He longed for the sun on his back and on his legs.
‘If only,’ he thought, ‘I could live all by myself in a tent by the river! If I could hunt for my food, and get brown and fierce and hard all over!’78
Orvil’s unlikely wish to lead the life of an outdoorsman is attained by Kim, who lives a life free of societal constraints (‘Kim camped on the south slope, his tent hidden by trees. He baited his hook with a big purple worm and dropped it into one of the still, narrow streams’).79 Meanwhile, a later fantasy of escape sees Orvil taking comfort in imagining a solitary life in ‘a small London room with a gas-ring’, outside of which ‘his family and the school authorities were prowling like wild beasts’.80 In this fantasy, Orvil is able to avoid his enemies courtesy of ‘a contrivance rather like those aerial devices which waft money to the pay-desk in some old-fashioned drapery shops’:
He had only to hang on to this wire and wish, when he would find himself swishing through the air to his destination. The long-clawed, long-toothed relations and school authorities looked up and cursed as they saw him flying gloriously free a hundred feet above their heads.81
Whilst Orvil can only dream of ‘flying gloriously free’, Kim (like the characters of The Wild Boys and Port of Saints) effortlessly achieves the feat of physical flight: ‘The boy is teaching Kim to fly. He soars over the water and lands on a path. Kim stands poised, thinking he can’t, and suddenly he is in the air, sweeping in to land on the path’.82
Kim not only fulfils the wishes of Orvil Pym, but also takes revenge on those who would shun queer outsiders. Kim’s primary incentive in becoming an outlaw is the promise of self-defence as, weighing up his options following the death of his father, he rejects the possibility of going to New York (where he has been advised by an antique dealer that ‘there was a place for “people like you and me”‘):
Running away and living on sufferance in a ghetto? And always somebody to spit in his face and call him what the boys called him at school? […]
Kim decides to go west and become a shootist. If anyone doesn’t like the way Kim looks and acts and smells, he can fill his grubby peasant paw.83
Kim’s decision to become a gunfighter is directly motivated by the homophobic exclusion he has faced from his peers, allowing him to ensure his safety in a hostile world and to take merciless retribution against the kinds of slurs endured by Welch’s characters. In Maiden Voyage, Welch is taunted as he crosses through a train carriage crowded with schoolboys:
As I passed a group of three one called out to the others in a mocking voice, ‘There’s a pretty boy for you!’ I almost ran so that I should not hear any more, then I locked myself into the lavatory, and although the door was tried many times I would not come out till the end of the journey.84
A similar scene is found in In Youth is Pleasure when, escaping the stranger who condemns him as a ‘filthy little devil’, Orvil races along the river bank past a group of young men, one of whom makes ‘cat-calls and screeching whistles, calling after him in mockery, “Hullo, darling! Coo-er, look at that! What’s bitten you?”‘.85 Whilst Welch’s characters can only flee from their tormentors, Kim exacts savage vengeance on those who accuse him of effeminacy. Entering a bar to hear one man announce to another, ‘”Now I don’t like drinkin’ in the same room with a fairy – do you, Clem?”‘, Kim reaches for his gun and fires: ‘Both assholes are dead before they hit the floor. […] As Kim looks down at the two bodies crumpled there, spilling blood and brains on the floor, he feels good – safer. Two enemies will never bother him again’.86 In his study Queer Burroughs (2001), Jamie Russell identifies this scene as a defining moment that ‘marks the epitome of Burroughs’ queer project; the sad, shy, gay child is transformed into a self-fulfilled, self-reliant (and thus masculine) individual’.87 By viewing ‘Kim Carsons’ and ‘Denton Welch’ as interchangeable characters, Burroughs uses The Place of Dead Roads to afford Welch the posthumous tribute of being similarly transformed.
This reappropriation of the queer outsider as a vengeful gunslinger is the key legacy of the ‘influence’ that Burroughs cited from Welch. Burroughs’ reimagining of the author as Kim Carsons acts as a protective response to the exclusion and rejection described in Welch’s books as, by ‘kidnapping’ Welch, Burroughs allows him to share in the liberation enjoyed by his own adolescent characters. Though Welch’s influence on The Place of Dead Roads may not show Burroughs writing in a way that is ‘just like his voice, it’s his style’, in creating his shootist Burroughs imagines a fantasy of justice for dispossessed gay outsiders, like the Lee of Junky‘s preface and Welch’s Orvil Pym. If Burroughs felt he had a debt to repay to Welch here, then this sense is reinforced by the example set for him by the events of Welch’s biography, and these provide a last point for understanding the significance that Welch held for Burroughs in the final decades of his life.
‘The Appalling Conclusion’
In his 1985 introduction to Queer, Burroughs wrote for the first and only time on his fatal shooting of Joan Vollmer in Mexico City in 1951. In doing so, Burroughs identifies a parallel between this event and the key moment of rupture in Welch’s life, as he paraphrases A Voice Through a Cloud to describe ‘the fateful morning of Denton’s accident’ (turning to the passage previously referenced in The Place of Dead Roads): ‘At one point Denton had stopped to have coffee, and looking at the brass hinges on the café’s window shutters, some of them broken, he was hit by a feeling of universal desolation and loss’.88
Burroughs’ focus is on the sense of impending catastrophe implicit in Welch’s account (not acknowledging that, in writing a decade after the event, Welch may have emphasised this feeling of ‘desolation and loss’ as a deliberate foreshadowing of the accident that followed). Taking Welch’s account literally, Burroughs draws a comparison between Welch’s ‘portentous second sight’89 and his own experience in the hours before Vollmer’s death when, approaching a knife sharpener’s cart, ‘a feeling of loss and sadness that had weighed down on me all day so I could hardly breathe intensified to such an extent that I found tears streaming down my face’.90 The introduction to Queer famously ends in Burroughs drawing the ‘appalling conclusion’ that, if not for Vollmer’s death, he would never have become a writer.91
Though he does not make the connection explicit, Burroughs’ belief that Vollmer’s death had been horrifically beyond his control and had forced his commitment to writing seems heavily indebted to his understanding of Welch’s accident. In another text published in 1985, the foreword that Burroughs wrote for In Youth is Pleasure, he speculates that the catastrophe was necessary for Welch becoming a writer: ‘He did not begin writing until after the accident. One wonders if he would have turned to writing from painting without the shattering experience of his tragic accident’.92 It is a question on which Welch’s biographers are in accord. For Michael De-la-Noy, the accident led Welch ‘to turn inwards on himself and to live, in his imagination, almost entirely in the past. […] Had it not been for the accident and his subsequent confinement, often for weeks at a time, to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the sick room, it is unlikely that he would ever have written a word’.93 Methuen-Campbell draws a similar conclusion, believing ‘There can be little doubt that initially Denton Welch turned to writing as a distraction from his wretched physical and mental condition’.94
Burroughs’ claim that Vollmer’s death ‘manoeuvred me into a lifelong struggle in which I have had no choice except to write my way out’ follows the precedent set by Welch’s life, whereby a senseless and destructive accident may be retrospectively identified as supplying the impetus for artistic creation.95 In his introduction to Queer, Burroughs draws on Welch’s experience to recast personal tragedy as the creation story of his own emergence as a writer, although this requires overlooking the glaring difference between the two examples: namely that, in referencing Welch (as Morgan notes), Burroughs was ‘identifying with the victim of the accident, as if he had been, as its instigator and survivor, the true victim of Joan’s death’.96
Lastly, the means by which Welch’s accident provided an example for Burroughs is further suggested by a journal entry made less than a year before Burroughs’ death. In notes recorded in December 1996, Burroughs describes writing as ‘not an escape from reality, but an attempt to change reality’, and turns to Welch in support of this: ‘Brion Gysin hated Denton Welch. Didn’t see that it is just the petulant queerness in which he is straitjacketed – “Little Punky” – that makes his works such a great escape act’.97 Citing the childhood nickname used by Welch’s family in Maiden Voyage (and which led Burroughs to fancifully describe Welch in 1978 as ‘sort of the original punk’), Burroughs addresses what may seem the paradox of his admiration for the author.98 That is, despite Burroughs’ avowed antipathy towards male effeminacy and his fantasies in The Place of Dead Roads of physically assured and violent gay youth, in Welch he fervently championed an author whose protagonists are characterised by their fragile sensitivity and emotional immaturity (all details that could inform Burroughs’ charge of ‘petulant queerness’ and which, presumably, failed to earn Gysin’s approval). This journal entry provides a clue to Burroughs’ acceptance of Welch, as he frames the author’s work as an escape from the ‘straitjacket’ of his apparent limitations, an interpretation that may have been guided by De-la-Noy’s 1984 biography, Denton Welch: The Making of a Writer (a copy of which Burroughs had in his library).99 Here, De-la-Noy emphasises ‘the physical courage and iron self-discipline’ that enabled Welch to produce his prodigious literary output in spite of the profound disadvantages of his short life and physical suffering:
While one may indulge in the luxury of laughing at many of Denton Welch’s personal absurdities, […] one cannot at the same time remain unmoved by the realization that through all the frippery and pettiness there struggled a man with a mission – a burning need to fulfil himself as an artist.100
By viewing Welch’s ‘petulant queerness’ as a straitjacket that he escaped through his work, Burroughs valorises Welch’s sexual identity as one that is implicitly masculine. Evidently, therefore, Burroughs did not view Welch and Kim Carsons as antithetical, and his foreword to In Youth is Pleasure affirms his faith in Welch’s capacity for transformation. Explaining that he has ‘drafted young Denton to play the hero of my new novel, The Place of Dead Roads‘, Burroughs asks: ‘would Denton have felt at ease in the role of a Western gunfighter? A shootist? I think he could be prevailed upon’.101
The elder Burroughs’ repeated citing of Welch as his ‘greatest influence’ shows his admiration for the author’s distinctive prose, whilst obscuring other important features underlying his respect for Welch. In suggesting ‘Kim Carsons’ and ‘Denton Welch’ to be one and the same, Burroughs avoids explicitly acknowledging the direct parallels between the authors’ shared depictions of maligned adolescents, and the extent to which Audrey and Kim Carsons are rooted in Burroughs’ own experiences. He also does not draw direct attention to his personal investment in the promise of transformation that is embodied in Welch’s determined response to his cycling accident, and which underpins his reimagining of Welch as a Wild West shootist. Yet by championing Welch’s work in interviews, essays and lectures, Burroughs returned a debt of gratitude to the author for the strength of his example. For Burroughs, seeking to overcome unhappy memories of an isolated boyhood and the trauma of his killing of Joan, Welch gave promise that such ‘straitjackets’ can be escaped through literary creation.
Anon., ‘Novels of the Week: In Youth is Pleasure‘, Times Literary Supplement, March 31 1945, p. 5.
Bennett, Alan, ‘Foreword’ to James Methuen-Campbell, Denton Welch: Writer and Artist (London: Tauris Parke, 2004), pp. v-viii.
Bockris, Victor, With William Burroughs: Private Conversations with a Modern Genius (London: Fourth Estate. 1997)
Burroughs, The Adding Machine: Selected Essays (New York: Grove Press, 2013)
—-, The Burroughs File (San Francisco: City Lights, 1984)
—-, The Cat Inside (New York: Penguin, 2002)
—-, Cities of the Red Night (London: Picador, 1982)
—-, ‘Foreword’ to Denton Welch, In Youth is Pleasure (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 1994), pp. ix-xi.
—-, Junky: The Definitive Text of ‘Junk’, ed. by Oliver Harris (New York: Penguin, 2003)
—-, Last Words: The Final Journals of William Burroughs, ed. by James Grauerholz (London: Flamingo, 2000)
—-, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text, ed. by James Grauerholz and Barry Miles (London: Harper Perennial, 2005)
—-, The Place of Dead Roads (London: Flamingo, 1994)
—-, Queer: 25th-Anniversary Edition, ed. by Oliver Harris (New York: Penguin, 2010)
—-, The Western Lands (London: Picador, 1988)
—-, The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead (New York: Grove Press, 1992)
Canning, Richard, Hear Us Out: Conversations with Gay Novelists (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003)
Clarke, Matthew, ‘Beyond Gay: Denton Welch’s In Youth is Pleasure‘, Textual Practice, 34(12), 2020, pp. 2021-2036.
De-la-Noy, Michael, Denton Welch: The Making of a Writer (London: Penguin, 1986)
Ginsberg, Allen, The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems, 1937-1952, ed. by Juanita Lieberman-Plimpton and Bill Morgan (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006)
Gutkin, Len, ‘Modernist Genre Decadence: From H. G. Wells to William S. Burroughs’, Affirmations: of the modern, 5(1), 2017, pp. 29-54 <https://affirmationsmodern.com/articles/2>
Hemmer, Kurt, ‘Queer Outlaws Losing: The Betrayal of the Outlaw Underground in The Place of Dead Roads‘, in William S. Burroughs: Cutting Up the Century, ed. by Joan Hawkins and Alex Wermer-Colan (Indiana University Press: 2019), pp. 262-273.
Hibbard, Allen, ed., Conversations with William S. Burroughs (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1999)
Kunin, Aaron, Character as Form (London: Bloomsbury, 2019)
Lotringer, Sylvère, ed., Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs 1960-1997 (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2001)
Methuen-Campbell, James, Denton Welch: Writer and Artist (London: Tauris Parke, 2004)
Miles, Barry, William S. Burroughs: A Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2014)
Morgan, Ted, Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2012)
Nawrocki, Jim, ‘You’ve Never Heard of Denton Welch?’, The Gay & Lesbian Review, March-April 2017 <https://glreview.org/article/youve-never-heard-of-denton-welch>
Nicosia, Gerald, Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac (London: Penguin, 1986)
Phillips, Robert, Denton Welch (New York: Twayne, 1974)
Pym, Barbara, No Fond Return of Love (London: Virago, 2013)
—-, A Very Private Eye: The Diaries, Letters and Notebooks of Barbara Pym, ed. by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym (London: Macmillan, 1984)
Russell, Jamie, Queer Burroughs (New York: Palgrave, 2001)
Sitwell, Edith, and others, ‘Responses to “UGH…”‘, in William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989, ed. by Jennie Skerl and Robin Lydenberg (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), pp. 45-51.
Stevens, Matthew Levi, The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs (Oxford: Mandrake, 2014)
Stevens, Michael, The Road to Interzone: Reading William S. Burroughs Reading (Archer City, TX: Suicide Press, 2009) <https://realitystudio.org/publications/road-to-interzone>
Taylor, Steven, ed., Don’t Hide the Madness: William S. Burroughs in Conversation with Allen Ginsberg (New York: Three Rooms Press, 2018)
Waters, John, Role Models (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010)
—-, and Bruce Hainley, Art: A Sex Book (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003)
Welch, Dumb Instrument (London: Enitharmon Press, 1976)
—-, Fragments of a Life Story: The Collected Short Writings of Denton Welch, ed. by Michael De-la-Noy (London: Penguin, 1987)
—-, In Youth is Pleasure (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 1994)
—-, Maiden Voyage (London: Faber and Faber, 2011)
—-, A Voice Through a Cloud (London: Enitharmon Press, 2004)
1 Interviewed by Conrad Knickerbocker for the Paris Review in 1965, Burroughs confirms Knickerbocker’s understanding that his next book ‘will be about the American West and a gunfighter’: ‘Yes, I’ve thought about this for years and I have hundreds of pages of notes on the whole concept of the gunfighter’; see Sylvère Lotringer, ed., Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs 1960-1997 (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2001), p. 73.
2 For more on The Place of Dead Roads and You Can’t Win, see Kurt Hemmer, ‘Queer Outlaws Losing: The Betrayal of the Outlaw Underground in The Place of Dead Roads‘, in William S. Burroughs: Cutting Up the Century, ed. by Joan Hawkins and Alex Wermer-Colan (Indiana University Press: 2019), pp. 262-273.
3 William S. Burroughs, Queer: 25th-Anniversary Edition, ed. by Oliver Harris (New York: Penguin, 2010), p. 131.
4 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads (London: Flamingo, 1994), p. 5.
5 Burroughs, The Cat Inside (New York: Penguin, 2002), p. 67.
6 Allen Hibbard, ed., Conversations with William S. Burroughs (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), p. 168.
7 Burroughs, ‘Foreword’ to Denton Welch, In Youth is Pleasure (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 1994), pp. ix-xi (p. ix).
8 The full Talk Talk interview can be read online: <http://www.inter-zone.org/billrich.html>
9 Lotringer, p. 497. Burroughs makes similar remarks in his 1985 introduction to Queer: ‘Whole sections came to me as if dictated, like table tapping’; see Burroughs, Queer, p. 131.
10 Jim Nawrocki, ‘You’ve Never Heard of Denton Welch?’, Gay & Lesbian Review, March-April 2017 <https://glreview.org/article/youve-never-heard-of-denton-welch>
11 James Methuen-Campbell, Denton Welch: Writer and Artist (London: Tauris Parke, 2004), p. 117. In the 1990s, Burroughs applied the same ‘born writer’ description to Dennis Cooper for use as a blurb on the covers of Cooper’s books; see Michael Stevens, The Road to Interzone: Reading William S. Burroughs Reading (Archer City, TX: Suicide Press, 2009), p. 190. Available online at RealityStudio: <https://realitystudio.org/publications/road-to-interzone>
12 Edith Sitwell and others, ‘Responses to “UGH…”‘, in William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989, ed. by Jennie Skerl and Robin Lydenberg (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), pp. 45-51 (p. 49).
13 Barbara Pym, A Very Private Eye: The Diaries, Letters and Notebooks of Barbara Pym, ed. by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym (London: Macmillan, 1984), p. 192.
14 Ibid., p. 196. Burroughs and Pym both introduce Welch into the landscape of their novels: in Pym’s No Fond Return of Love (1961), Viola Dace notes A Voice Through a Cloud whilst browsing her friend’s bookshelves; see Barbara Pym, No Fond Return of Love (London: Virago, 2013), p. 75. In Cities of the Red Night, Burroughs’ narrator stops to make purchases at a bookstall: ‘From an old Frenchman smoking a Gitane I buy An Outcast of the Islands by Conrad, Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch and Brac [sic] the Barbarian by John Jakes’; see Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night (London: Picador, 1982), p. 206.
15 Pym, A Very Private Eye, p. 215.
16 Alan Bennett, ‘Foreword’ to James Methuen-Campbell, Denton Welch: Writer and Artist (London: Tauris Parke, 2004), pp. v-viii (p. vi).
17 Burroughs, ‘Foreword’, p. ix.
18 Lotringer, p. 498.
19 Burroughs, ‘Foreword’, p. ix.
20 Allen Ginsberg, The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems, 1937-1952, ed. by Juanita Lieberman-Plimpton and Bill Morgan (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006), p. 78.
21 Ibid., p. 132. In 1947, Ginsberg lists Welch as part of an extensive sampling of the Western canon that he believes Neal Cassady ‘will have to read’ before he can write the ‘American picaresque novel’ that Ginsberg thinks he is capable of (Ibid., p. 220). In conversation with Burroughs nearly fifty years later, Ginsberg remembered In Youth is Pleasure as the only Welch book he had read: ‘Yeah, I’ve only read one, In Youth is Pleasure. Remembered that from the forties’; see Steven Taylor, ed., Don’t Hide the Madness: William S. Burroughs in Conversation with Allen Ginsberg (New York: Three Rooms Press, 2018), p. 158.
22 Gerald Nicosia, Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac (London: Penguin, 1986), p. 322.
23 Matthew Levi Stevens, The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs (Oxford: Mandrake, 2014), p. 181. Thanks to Jim Pennington for confirming this date.
24 Burroughs, ‘Foreword’, p. ix.
25 The Naropa University Audio Archive includes an example of Burroughs discussing Welch in a Creative Reading lecture from August 1979: <http://archives.naropa.edu/digital/collection/p16621coll1/id/341>
26 Burroughs, ‘Foreword’, p. ix.
27 Lotringer, pp. 580-581.
28 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, pp. 170-171.
29 Denton Welch, A Voice Through a Cloud (London: Enitharmon Press, 2004), pp. 10-11.
30 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, p. 20. The description is also used when Kim enters a bar and is approached by two men, one of whom ‘smiles, showing his awful yellow teeth’ (Ibid., p. 71). Elsewhere, Kim’s horse ‘lays its ears back and shows its horrible yellow teeth’ (Ibid., p. 75), whilst in The Western Lands (1987) Burroughs describes ponies’ ‘horrid yellow teeth’; see Burroughs, The Western Lands (London: Picador, 1988), p. 12.
31 Welch, Maiden Voyage (London: Faber and Faber, 2011), p. 210.
32 Burroughs, ‘Foreword’, p. ix.
34 Burroughs, The Adding Machine: Selected Essays (New York: Grove Press, 2013), p. 47.
35 Burroughs, The Burroughs File (San Francisco: City Lights, 1984), p. 110
36 Welch, Dumb Instrument (London: Enitharmon Press, 1976), p. 36.
37 Burroughs, The Burroughs File, p. 110.
38 Lotringer, p. 497.
39 Ibid., p. 498.
40 Barry Miles, William S. Burroughs: A Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2014), p. 556.
41 Robert Phillips, Denton Welch (New York: Twayne, 1974), p. 159.
42 Aaron Kunin, Character as Form (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), p. 207.
43 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, p. 97.
44 Burroughs, The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead (New York: Grove Press, 1992), p. 32.
45 Welch, Maiden Voyage, p. 85. Elsewhere in the novel, Welch sheds tears after escaping from a party where another boy has held him underwater in the swimming pool: ‘I locked the door and fell on my bed. In a few moments the pillow was quite wet from my hair and my tears’ (Ibid., p. 217).
46 Len Gutkin, ‘Modernist Genre Decadence: From H. G. Wells to William S. Burroughs’, Affirmations: of the modern, 5(1), 2017, pp. 29-54. Available online: <https://affirmationsmodern.com/articles/2>
47 Burroughs, Junky: The Definitive Text of ‘Junk’, ed. by Oliver Harris (New York: Penguin, 2003), p. xxxv.
48 Methuen-Campbell, p. 3.
49 Burroughs, Junky, p. xxxvi.
50 Methuen-Campbell, p. 14.
51 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, p. 23.
52 Welch, Fragments of a Life Story: The Collected Short Writings of Denton Welch, ed. by Michael De-la-Noy (London: Penguin, 1987), p. 292.
53 Ibid., p. 163.
54 Burroughs describes Audrey’s stories being ‘coldly rejected’ by his school magazine: ‘”Morbid” the editor told him. “We want stories that make you go to bed feeling good”‘; see Burroughs, The Wild Boys, p. 33. The scene recurs in The Place of Dead Roads, as Kim imagines suffering the fate of ‘living in some cold-water flat, peddling his short stories from editor to editor. . . . “Too morbid,” they tell him’; see Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, p. 158.
55 Welch, Maiden Voyage, p. 208.
56 Miles, p. 22.
57 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, p. 79. Earlier in the novel, Kim is described picking blackberries and deliberately smearing ‘the red purple juice around his mouth, “like a whore’s makeup”‘ (Ibid., p. 60).
58 Matthew Clarke, ‘Beyond Gay: Denton Welch’s In Youth is Pleasure‘, Textual Practice, 34(12), 2020, pp. 2021-2036 (p. 2024).
59 Stevens, p. 171.
60 Methuen-Campbell, p. 147. In another letter to Read, Welch identified the reason why, unlike his other novels, In Youth is Pleasure is written in the third-person: ‘I should like this book, since it is written in the third person, to be regarded as a fiction; chiefly because of my family. It would never do for my eldest brother to identify himself completely with the brother in the book’ (Ibid., p. 233).
61 Ibid., p. 146.
63 Ibid., p. 152.
64 Anon., ‘Novels of the Week: In Youth is Pleasure‘, Times Literary Supplement, March 31 1945, p. 5.
65 Welch, In Youth is Pleasure (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 1994), p. 147.
66 Burroughs, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text, ed. by James Grauerholz and Barry Miles (London: Harper Perennial, 2005), p. 42.
67 Poe is invoked in Maiden Voyage, as Welch takes to his bath with a copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination; see Welch, Maiden Voyage, p. 230.
68 Welch, In Youth is Pleasure, p. 114.
69 Burroughs, Naked Lunch, p. 129.
70 Phillips, p. 85.
71 John Waters and Bruce Hainley, Art: A Sex Book (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003), p. 200.
72 Waters, Role Models (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), p. 165.
73 Richard Canning, Hear Us Out: Conversations with Gay Novelists (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), p. 46.
74 Welch, In Youth is Pleasure, p. 37.
75 Ibid., p. 38.
76 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, p. 36.
77 Burroughs, The Wild Boys, p. 28.
78 Welch, In Youth is Pleasure, p. 32. Orvil’s fantasy is strikingly similar to a passage in Queer, where Lee feels ‘a killing hate for the stupid, ordinary, disapproving people who kept him from doing what he wanted to do’, leading him to imagine a life of isolated self-sufficiency: ‘Lee’s plan involved a river. He lived on the river and ran things to please himself. He grew his own weed and poppies and cocaine, and he had a young native boy for an all-purpose servant’; see Burroughs, Queer, pp. 86-87.
79 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, p. 22.
80 Welch, In Youth is Pleasure, pp. 128-129.
81 Ibid., p. 129.
82 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, p. 62.
83 Ibid., pp. 47-48.
84 Welch, Maiden Voyage, p. 12.
85 Welch, In Youth is Pleasure, p. 38.
86 Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, pp. 71-72. Another scene in the novel sees Kim nonchalantly shoot a man who addresses him as ‘”You fucking fairy!”‘ (Ibid., p. 78).
87 Jamie Russell, Queer Burroughs (New York: Palgrave, 2001), p. 109.
88 Burroughs, Queer, pp. 131-132.
89 Ibid., p. 132.
90 Ibid., p. 134.
92 Burroughs, ‘Foreword’, p. x.
93 Michael De-la-Noy, Denton Welch: The Making of a Writer (London: Penguin, 1986), p. 11.
94 Methuen-Campbell, p. xi.
95 Burroughs, Queer, p. 135.
96 Ted Morgan, Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2012), p. 214.
97 Burroughs, Last Words: The Final Journals of William Burroughs, ed. James Grauerholz (London: Flamingo, 2000), p. 16.
98 Victor Bockris, With William Burroughs: Private Conversations with a Modern Genius (London: Fourth Estate. 1997), p. 12.
99 Stevens, pp. 246-247.
100 De-la-Noy, p. 15.
101 Burroughs, ‘Foreword’, pp. ix-x.