The Struggle of Queerness in the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

P.S: This article contains spoilers, so I would encourage you to read the book before reading it.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Reid Taylor Jenkins left all of its readers awestruck from start to finish. One of the most gripping historical fiction novels I have read recently, it challenged the boundaries of morality, stardom and where queerness fit into the equation in the life of Evelyn Hugo. This article contains spoilers, so I would encourage you to read the book before reading it. Without further ado, let’s delve into the nuances of the novel and what message it had to give about queerness through the lens of Evelyn’s life.

Due to Evelyn’s authenticity and honesty, the readers are inherently sympathetic towards her, justifying her morally grey actions, because no one can get enough of Evelyn Hugo. This is the same moral dilemma that floods the readers when Evelyn has sex with other men while dating Celia, and justifies the same by the pretense of saving their reputation or creative artistic exploration. Jenkins beautifully encapsulated the heartbreak of Celia at both these instances, not only because she cannot exclusively have Evelyn but also because she does not have the permission to be angry about it. With queerness being such a taboo topic, Evelyn goes to every extent to save her and her lover’s career, but perhaps infidelity is too high a price to pay. The two are torn between their careers and love for each other due to societal expectations. Evelyn often says she has very few regrets even though she has hurt a lot of people, but one of her biggest regrets is the time she lost with Celia. The ambiguity surrounding infidelity in queer relationships is far too complicated and often excruciatingly hard to face. Evelyn’s actions, regardless of whether right or wrong, are heart-breaking for Celia.

A similar heartbreak floods the novel when Evelyn’s sexuality is invalidated by her own girlfriend because of the lack of awareness about bisexuality. Celia considers Evelyn straight when she is with other men, and gay when she is with her. This mirrors the struggle that bisexual people continue to face, often being labelled as greedy because they cannot ‘pick a gender’. This also makes Evelyn’s affairs even more convoluted because Celia cannot believe Evelyn felt nothing for these men. Both of their lack of awareness does tremendous damage and ultimately leads to the demise of their relationship.

The inner conflict of the characters is even better developed given the context of the AIDS epidemic that stole the lives of so many queer people. America’s apathy is striking, and accompanied by the characters’ helplessness, makes what’s expected from them even more outrageous. The epidemic in itself was a huge loss experienced by the queer community, but protesting at the cost of your stardom once more poses a tricky situation for the characters. If outed, the characters could lose their jobs, or worse, their lives. Not only is reducing queerness to what happens in the bedroom a very reductive and insensitive lens of looking at queer people, the violence that persists using this argument is very damaging to the queer youth who inherently feel like there is something wrong with them or that they are doomed.

Perhaps the peak of the novel is when Evelyn and Harry are married, and going on double dates with Celia and her husband, looking like a pair of heterosexuals when they are far from it. While ridiculously idealistic, it is nonetheless extremely gratifying to witness the allyship that once existed and continues to exist within the queer community. Gay people, bisexuals and lesbians are seen coming together and cultivating a safe and healthy space for one another. With a child Harry, and Evelyn’s marriage is unconventionally wholesome, and brings a smile to everyone’s face.

Evelyn is inherently and unabashedly an unreliable narrator. As Monique aims to write a biography of her life, she takes all that Evelyn has to say at face value without questioning it. But the twist at the end of the novel discloses how integral Monique’s perspective is to tie the novel together. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is one of the few books that appeal to a widely diverse audience and still effectively put across the message of queerness that is educationally imperative for our youth.

Authored By: Rachita Jain

Edited By: Aditi Kiran