The Construction of Masculinity in Victorian Autobiography
Machann, Clinton, Nineteenth-Century Prose
Autobiographies have held a central place in Victorian prose since the revitalization of that field of study in the 1950S and 1960S; however, the application of gender studies to this "male-dominated" genre has been neglected. This essay suggests an approach to studying the "masculinites" in autobiographies by John Henry Newman, John Stuart Mill, Anthony Trollope, and John Ruskin.
Since the study of Victorian prose was revitalized in the fifties and sixties by such landmark critical studies as John Holloway's The Victorian Sage (1953) and George Levine and William Madden's edition of essays The Art of Victorian Prose (1968), autobiographies have occupied a crucial place in the canon. George P. Landow's 1979 edition of essays, Approaches To Victorian Autobiography, called attention to the centrality of "autobiography" in the field, although scholars quarreled about definitions of the term. Linda H. Peterson's Victorian Autobiography: The Tradition of Self-Interpretation (1986) treated autobiography as a prose genre (1) and reaffirmed the significance of key texts, including John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864), John Stuart Mill's Autobiography (1873), John Ruskin's Praeterita (1885-89), Charles Darwin's Autobiography (1887), and others that had already received a great deal of critical attention. Critical interest in these "classic" Victorian autobiographies continues today, as evidenced most recently in Carolyn A. Barros' Autobiography: Narrative of Transformation (1998). However, concurrent critical developments have complicated this interest. By the early 1970s, feminist scholars, by focusing on gender issues, were beginning to interrogate the ways in which Victorian literature and culture had been studied. Although feminist scholars have been associated with a variety of innovative theoretical methodologies, it is the ideology of feminism and the methodological emphasis on gender study that have been decisive in transforming Victorian studies in general and the study of autobiography in particular. Elaine Showalter, Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, Martha Vicinus, Mary Poovey, Margaret Homans, Judith Newton, and Cora Kaplan are only a few of the important writers who helped to make feminism dominant in Victorian studies by the 1990s.
Victorian autobiography clearly is a "male-dominated" genre, as Peterson acknowledged in her book, and she cited the autobiography of Harriet Martineau as the exception to the rule, a point she developed in the essay "Harriet Martineau: Masculine Discourse, Female Sage." It has become conventional to contrast the "logocentric" language of the Victorian Sage tradition (part of the larger tradition labeled by the telling phrase "men of letters") with the "democratized and feminized" language of the novel, and to redirect some of the attention from the autobiographical texts of public men like Newman and Mill to the (often unpublished) letters and journals more typical of women's life-writing. (2)
Nevertheless, we should not be too quick to assume a dichotomy between critical studies that focus on "traditional" autobiographies by men and those that introduce gender as a way of rediscovering previously overlooked works by women or of re-evaluating the traditional works as oppositional to women writers and feminine modes of writing. In this essay I want to suggest ways in which gender studies can be profitably applied to canonical Victorian autobiographies by examining the construction of masculinity in these texts. In the process I will take a brief look at the texts by Newman, Mill, and Ruskin, in addition to Anthony Trollope's An Autobiography (1883), the most prominent autobiography by a Victorian novelist.
Men's studies focusing on the issue of same-sex desire have been the first to be encouraged by feminism, because they too can be seen as transgressive of hegemonic cultural codes that reinforce the values of heterosexual males. A recent study of this kind of special interest here is Oliver S. Buckton's Secret Selves: Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography. However, it is not the case that gendered heterosexual masculine experience has been adequately explored within the traditional paradigm of "universal human experience," even if that paradigm was constructed primarily by males. Recent attempts to analyze "mainstream" masculinities include Herbert Sussman's Victorian Masculinities (1995) and James Eli Adams' Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Manhood (1995). Sussman explains the use of the plural "masculinities": it "stresses the multiple possibilities of such social formations, the variability in the gendering of the biological male, and the range of such constructions over time" (8). Adams refers to "competing constructions of normative masculinity with a single historical moment" (II). I will follow this convention of using the plural form as well. Like the others, I use the terms "masculine," "masculinity," and "masculinities" to refer to socially constructed, historically specific definitions of gender. (I am not a "pure" constructivist, however, and I assume that a prior biological reality exists and that gender differences ultimately derive from an interaction of innate qualities and cultural concepts.)3 It should be noted that Victorians themselves generally refer to masculinity as "manhood" or "manliness" and often used the term "masculinity" to refer specifically to male sexuality and power.
The recent studies of Victorian masculinities have in a general way identified three phases within the Victorian period: I) early attempts to define a masculine ideal of bourgeois respectability, including those that stressed ascetic discipline (Carlyle's monasticism, as well as Evangelical and Tractarian versions of a life devoted to higher values and usefulness); 2) more aggressive mid-Victorian models of masculinity associated with British imperialism, most significantly Charles Kingsley's "muscular Christianity," which celebrates animal spirits, sexual energy, and robust physical strength while retaining the requirement of self-discipline; 3) late Victorian eclecticism, which includes Pater's "aesthetic historicism" and, finally, a previously forbidden homoeroticism. The obvious problem with this kind of scheme is overgeneralization, but it is always assumed that even normative masculinities are, as Adams puts it, "multiple, complex, and unstable constructions" (3). Also, it is tempting but misleading, in my view, to interpret this chronological sequence as a fundamentally progressive development, leading to expanded gender roles and an increasingly enlightened attitude toward sexuality. For example, in the late Victorian period, and contemporary with "a previously forbidden homoeroticism," we see the formation of Robert Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts, young men who are in effect being groomed to fight and possibly die in war, guided by rules derived to a large measure from chivalric codes.
The majority of the Victorians who published autobiographies were middle-class males, educated in accordance with a traditionally classical curriculum. It is not surprising that those who most successfully incorporate a coherent, literary sense of "self" into their self-histories were in fact professional writers, but their identities as writers are significant not just because they learned sophisticated ways of expressing "selfhood." In the tradition of Edward Gibbon, who in Memoirs of My Life (1796) produced the first extended, secular autobiography to be printed and widely disseminated within a few years of his death (Shumaker 27), the Victorian literary autobiographer stresses the development of innate traits into mature ideas, but the author's life in effect merges with a chronology of his published works as soon as he has reached the stage of development identified with a public role as he wishes to define it. (4) The sense of a "unified self" somehow detached from family life and other personal concerns, and the concept of a sage or "man of letters" tradition with individual authors engaged in public, intellectual debates--these underlying factors associated with gendered male experience in Victorian England surely help to explain why Peterson found Harriet Martineau to be the exception to the rule about male discourse, and why Barros, in including Margaret Oliphant's autobiography in her study along with texts by Carlyle, Newman, Mill, and Darwin, found her narrative complicated by the attempt to balance the roles of wife and mother with that of a professional writer. Nevertheless, it does not follow that some monolithic model of male experience can be inferred from the best-known male autobiographies. On the contrary, one finds in each case that masculinity is problematic, fraught with conflicts and anxieties.
Buckton includes a chapter on the Apologia in his study of same-sex desire in Victorian autobiography, (5) not because of any direct allusions to this issue in Newman's text but because in the context of the Kingsley-Newman controversy it was understood that Kingsley's attack on Newman's veracity was motivated by dislike of Newman's perceived femininity and suspicions about the perversions of the Roman Catholic clergy in general. That is, in responding to Kingsley's claim that he had condoned lying, Newman was not only offering the story of his life as proof of personal integrity and explaining the motives behind his scandalous move to Catholicism, but simultaneously defending his manhood as well.
In his preface, Newman carefully defines and appeals to the English public. He assumes that he will be able to break through the barrier of prejudice that surrounds him because in the end, his fellow Englishmen will be generous and understanding. Newman's task is formidable: he is consciously speaking to an audience composed of various subgroups, among them his old Oxford associates who had remained Anglican, and his fellow English Catholics. His potential antagonists are not limited to Liberals, Evangelists, and Broad Church Anglicans who sympathize with Kingsley's point of view; they also include former friends in the English church who feel betrayed, and even fellow Catholics who have grown suspicious of him. Newman's claim that he is only giving the true history of his mind and not writing "controversially" permits him to explain the religious, philosophical, and political development of his thought and to argue for his strongly held personal beliefs while de-emphasizing or ignoring arguments with specific opponents. A crucial point is that Newman's slow and painful but dramatic change in religious position corresponds to his move from the fraternity of scholars and churchmen at Oxford to that of the priests of the Birmingham Oratory where Newman served as a superior at the time of writing. His nostalgic descriptions of Oxford with their implicit expressions of sorrow at leaving have often been cited as among the most notable passages from the Apologia.
The flux of (male) social life that surrounds him--ferment in the institutional life of university, church, nation--is for him part of a universal, historical process. In the context of this overarching narrative Newman describes with great delicacy the emotional and irrational or intuitive psychological states that necessarily accompany rational thought in matters of personal belief and commitment. His search for universal truth through ascetic discipline grows out of a larger Tractarian tradition, but Newman is extreme not only in the most obvious sense of his choice of Catholicism but in his gentle, "feminine" mode of thinking and writing. By focusing on the religious crisis that was widely held to be typical of Victorian male experience and by incorporating Romantic notions about the priority of feelings, Newman helped to legitimate a wider scope for masculine literary expression and to encourage tolerance of new masculine voices. (Clearly the Apologia was "successful": it is generally accepted that, subsequent to its publication, Newman's reputation rose while Kingsley's sank.) However, several related areas of inquiry should be explored.
One is the relationship between Newman's gentle autobiographical persona and other masculine constructions connected with Victorian religion, such as the Christ-like ideal of manhood combined with female grace that Tennyson associates with Arthur Hallam in In Memoriam, the "man-woman" in Christ, the union of tenderness and strength (H. Tennyson 1:326n). In addition, Victorian versions of "medievalism" included reformulations of both monastic asceticism and chivalry. Ascetic discipline (and religious faith), in the context of an exclusively male society, is one way of controlling a man's irrational capacity for violence. Chivalry, in contrast, is closely connected with idealized male-female relationships and the moral superiority of women: in John Ruskin's words, "It is the type of an eternal truth--that the soul's armour is never well set to the heart unless a woman's hand has braced it; and it is only when she braces it loosely that the honour of manhood fails" (18:120). As for asceticism, the personal as well as ideological appeal of Newman helps to explain Matthew Arnold's fascination with the sequestered life of the monks in "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse" (ironically, inspired by a visit to the celebrated monastery during a honeymoon journey, a visit in which he and his wife were forced to stay in separate quarters). Beyond strict considerations of religion, however, Newman's spiritual journey is one type of plot in Victorian autobiography that might be studied more fully as initiation into mature masculinity. Victorians typically thought of manhood "not as an essence but a plot, a condition whose achievement and whose maintenance forms a narrative over time" (Sussman 13). The plots of Victorian autobiographies are highly variable in terms of developing motifs and tropes--autobiographers undergo spiritual and mental crises, live out Romantic and biblical myths, follow historical and scientific paradigms and the dynamic patterns of their own ideas--and the function of masculinity in these constructions of self-identity in a "male-dominated" genre needs to be studied further.
The plot of Mill's autobiography is particularly well-defined, focusing on his mental history, or the history of his opinions. According to Mill, he passed through three definable stages of development. The first stage, "his youth and early education," under the dominating and strict influence of his father James Mill, was characterized by a simple narrative of history: the continuing progress of mankind through the application of rational thought. Although his father had introduced him to the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, Mill went on to read Bentham on his own during a second stage of "self-education," which ends with the well-known transitional period of the "mental crisis." Then, in a final stage of "mental progress," Mill's friend and later wife, Harriet (Taylor) Mill, is substituted for his father as the center of power and influence in his life, and his opinions finally merge with hers in "complete companionship" (113). In obvious ways, Mill's account is paradigmatic of the autobiography of the male intellectual. Before and after his mental crisis, Mill identifies himself primarily as a reformer whose goal is the improvement of mankind. The difference after the crisis is that he has an emotional commitment to this role. However, there is very little resembling Newman's appeal to a concrete human community--only the adulation of his wife and qualified esteem for his father. Like many other "men of ideas," Mill is alienated from the physical pursuits associated with a robust masculine life, but he maintains a fiercely competitive spirit developed in the debating society and seasoned in radical politics and controversial prose. Even as he describes his discovery of the importance of the emotions and his cultivation of his own feelings by reading the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth, the language of the logician Mill is relentlessly "logocentric."
Apparently Mill found it necessary to convert even the expression of love and sexuality into the expression of ideas. On the one hand, Newman had to assume that his Catholic priesthood was problematic in some ways to most of his readers; on the other, it automatically solved certain problems of self-presentation associated with gender. Newman is in a sense "covered" by the assumption of personal chastity. As is well known, reticence and the concealment of "private" matters, notably those related to sexuality, are conventional in Victorian literary autobiographies, but there is a persistent tension between these conventions and the impulse to "confess" matters that would seem to be essential to the "selfhood" that is supposed to be related to the narrative of the development of one's ideas and the production of one's published works. In Newman's case, readers like Kingsley might be expected to fantasize about the sexual perversions of Catholic priests, but Newman's presentation of his religiosity as the fundamental key to his selfhood at least obviates the need to consider the matter further (and the Church stands behind him). With Mill the matter is quite different. Far from ignoring the well-known, peculiar history of his special friendship with a married woman whom he later married after her husband's death, he places her at the center of his narrative. Part of the drama of his story derives from his partial rejection of--but never total rebellion from--the potentially overwhelming influence of his father, and, as James Mill's powerful presence recedes, that of Harriet Taylor Mill takes its place. Just as Mill makes inflated claims for the intellectual prowess of his father, his references to Harriet are exceedingly unrealistic and abstract: "I have often compared her ... to Shelley: but in thought and intellect, Shelley ... was but a child compared to what she ultimately became" (112); "What I owe, even intellectually, to her, is, in its detail, almost infinite" (113). One of the more curious aspects of Mill's autobiography is, of course, the heavy editing and collaboration of Harriet, which has been discussed in detail by Jack Stillinger and others.
In closely identifying his later career with Harriet, Mill's rhetorical strategy is to associate her with his later works in such a way that they "argue for" both her and him. His emphasis on the issue of women's rights toward the end of the book is closely connected with her memory, which has become a kind of "religion" to him. Stillinger's reading of the Autobiagraphy as a collaboration is consistent with Mill's statements in the text that imply that all his later works should be read as collaborations--although to read an autobiography in this way is highly problematic (6)--but I want to emphasize the complications here related to Mill's masculinity. In sharp contrast to Newman, Mill presents the image of a man who desperately needs a woman in order to define himself as a complete individual. On the surface, this seems much like the masculinity associated with the dominant or "hegemonic" ideal of bourgeois respectability, which combines the woman-worship of medieval chivalry with the concept of the moral purity of women promoted by Evangelical Protestantism, in which women are supposed to control the potentially bestial and destructive sexuality of men. (7) However, the radical, proto-feminist stance of Mill in his autobiography--in line with his ground breaking The Subjection of Women (1869), the polemical text most closely identified with Harriet--runs counter to this tradition. In passing, I want to point out the tension here between the two lines of development in Victorian feminism, one informed by Evangelical Protestantism, the other (Mill's line) by Enlightenment philosophy. Like Newman's, Mill's life story can be read as a fulfillment of his ideological commitments, and in Mill's case, the rejection of the "healthy sexuality" of bourgeois respectability is apparently extended to the rejection of sexual relations between men and women. His relationship with Harriet is asexual and yet emotionally intense. Presumably his love for her takes the form of venerating her intellect and is parallel to his treatment of his father. All personal aspects of Mill's life are subordinated to or become consistent with his positions as a philosopher and writer. But Mill's rejection of sexuality obviously is not in the radical Enlightenment tradition of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Curiously, the masculine asceticism of this Victorian atheist invites comparisons with the religious versions of some of his ideological adversaries. It would be interesting to explore ways in which Mill is unique as well as ways in which he serves as a model for other male, pro-feminist intellectuals.
The question of Mill's remarkable presentation of his relationship with his wife reminds us of Trollope's blunt statement in his autobiography that reflects an attitude more completely in line with the convention of reticence about the private sphere: "My marriage was like the marriage of other people, and of no particular interest to any one except my wife and me" (71). When we consider the revolutionary quality of J.A. Symonds's Memoirs, the Victorian autobiography that remained unpublished until 1984 because of its incredibly frank account of Symonds' bi-sexuality and homoeroticism, we should remember that it is his account of sexuality--not just same-sex desire--that sets his work apart from the others and made it unpublishable in his lifetime. Symonds insists that the vita sexualis is central to the self-identity of any man, and, although he identifies his version of the homoerotic "Greek love" tradition as central to his artistic and intellectual vision, his autobiography, except for the sexual references, is otherwise fairly conventional. (8) To a modern reader, the most disturbing parts of the book probably are not his allusions to same-sex desire but rather the pathetic descriptions of his attempts to engage in "normal," passionate heterosexual relations with women. (He became a family man.) Symonds presents a particularly sharp contrast with Trollope, who among Victorian autobiographers, most obviously seeks to conform to the ideal of "bourgeois respectability." His refusal to write about his married life (but strong implication that it was "normal") is only the beginning. He rejects the notion that any autobiographer (even the "confessional" Rousseau) has ever given a true record of his inner life (70) and, unlike Newman and Mill, does not have a history of ideas or opinions to tell the reader.
Instead, it is Trollope's developing success as a novelist that provides the main story line, although his initial career with the post office (not considered a sinecure like Mill's position with the East India Company) remains an important part of his personal identity and a source of pride. Trollope writes that his goal from the beginning of his novelistic career was "to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort" (108). In his final chapter he gives a chronological list of his nearly fifty novels and other publications, each entry complete with "total sums received," and the grand total of lifetime earnings. In addition, Trollope's matter-of-fact description of his writing system, with its precise quotas of words and pages, and his insistence on treating novel-writing as a trade, are notorious. Aside from his portrait of the artist as apparent Philistine and his extreme reticence about his private life, other qualities of the text can be readily identified with conventional manliness. Trollope's expressed delight in his favorite pastime of hunting, riding to hounds (despite his portly build), is one: "It will, I think, be accorded to me by Essex men generally that I have ridden hard. The cause of my delight in the amusement I have never been able to analyze to my own satisfaction" (72). This joy in vigorous physical exercise for its own sake fits comfortably with Trollope's ambitious and robust way of life. Even such details as his affectionate praise of John Everett Millais ("These words, should he ever see them, will tell him of my regard--as one living man never tells another" ) reflect the conventions of the Victorian gentleman. According to Adams, "It]he gentleman ... is the most pivotal and contested norm of mid-Victorian masculinity, because it served so effectively as a means of regulating social mobility and its attendant privileges" (152). Of course, Trollope's fascination with the ideal of the English gentleman in his fiction has received critical attention. (9)
Trollope's autobiography is a story about achieving the status of an English gentleman and what Sussman calls "entrepreneurial manhood with its emphasis on engagement in the male sphere of work, its valuing of strength and energy, and its criterion of commercial success measured by support of a domestic establishment" (82). The struggle to achieve these goals rather than a set of mature ideas or beliefs or aesthetic vision explains the negative reaction to Trollope's autobiography by readers who expected an attempt to analyze the creative process that would conform to the Romantic idea of the male artist (which by its very nature is antipathetic to entrepreneurial manhood). This kind of struggle for success as initiation into manhood is supposed to be intense, and, furthermore, Trollope's portrait of himself as a child and schoolboy as pitiful, misunderstood, and friendless is typical of Victorian autobiographies (Mill's and Ruskin's are memorable examples, and Dickens' fictionalized account in David Copperfield is legendary). However, Trollope's extreme statements about avoiding the personal and private in his self-history and his treatment of his "craft" of novel-writing suggest psychic conflicts in this hearty entrepreneur-novelist as significant as Mill's more obvious "abnormalities." In his second chapter, Trollope interrupts the account of his unhappy childhood to sketch the story of Frances Trollope, his remarkable mother who, in her fifties, after a life of relative idleness, rescued her financially unsuccessful, consumptive husband and sick children from abject poverty by writing, first, a book on America, and then a long series of novels. Although Trollope does not explicitly attribute his role as novelist to the influence of his mother, it is clear that his severely disciplined regimen of writing during the early morning hours is a more calculated version of his mother's heroic efforts, and, even more significantly, he inherits from her the view of novel writing as primarily a craft, a source of income. (And here one can make analogies with Margaret Oliphant's autobiographical account of her own struggles with life and the art of the novel.) Even Trollope's travel books have their precedent in his mother's famous book about the Americans. That is, Trollope's model for achieving entrepreneurial manhood through novel writing is his mother. The implications for both genres--autobiography and novel--are significant and should be studied further.
Masculinity in Ruskin's Praeterita is so complicated and unstable that one scarcely knows where to begin. As is well known, Ruskin struggled with mental illness throughout the period of its composition (it was issued irregularly in serial publication, 1885-89) and apparently he planned to continue this autobiography beyond the point he had reached when he was forced to stop. Nevertheless, Praeterita has long been considered a classic of Victorian prose, an innovative text that incorporates some of Ruskin's most memorable writing. Many of its points of interest are related to topics that I have introduced here, and because Praeterita seems to complicate and subvert some of the most fundamental conventions of the male autobiographer, it is especially appropriate as a final example.
Because Ruskin does not attempt to reconstruct a strong sense of self-development or a unified life process, Praeterita lacks a strong temporal movement. Although he generally moves forward in time from one chapter to another, he skips backward and forward so that there is little consistent forward momentum. He writes:
Whether in the biography of a nation or of a single person, it is alike impossible to trace it steadily through successive years. Some forces are falling while others strengthen, and most act irregularly, or else at uncorresponding periods of renewed enthusiasm after intervals of lassitude. (35:169)
Because both the narrative form and rhetoric of the book serve to undercut and deny development, the protagonist never grows into manhood, never--like Newman, Mill, and Trollope--becomes the author-narrator in the autobiographical narrative. Like Newman, Ruskin was a Victorian sage; like Mill, he was known for his controversial opinions; like Trollope, he was extremely prolific in his publications. However, in the text of his autobiography, Ruskin never undergoes a conversion, fundamental crisis, or decisive turning point. Even though Trollope refused to give an account of his "inner life," his narrative of life and career have clearly defined turning points, and Ruskin goes well beyond Trollope's reticence about reporting on his private life. Readers who know about Ruskin's literary career are aware of potential turning points in Ruskin's life narrative: his work in Venice--in the 1850s--when his long study of art and architecture becomes the key to his study of social and economic issues, and a kind of religious crisis in 1859. However, in his preface Ruskin informs the reader that he will write only about those things that give him pleasure to recall (35:iii). This does not mean the text must be seen primarily as the therapeutic exercise of an unstable personality. On an aesthetic level, Ruskin's autobiography is well known because it contains some of his most charming prose, especially his descriptions of the mountains, rivers, cities, and art that he has loved. On a philosophical level, we can say that it points toward late-twentieth-century concepts of the fictive self and the fragmented self." it is instructive to compare it with Roland Barthes' "anti-autobiography," Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. (Since Barthes evidently intends that his autobiography not imply a coherent narrative of development, it is not surprising that it, like Praeterita, is dominated by images of childhood.)
At this point, Ruskin's autobiography becomes especially complex when seen through the lens of gender criticism. It could be claimed that Ruskin must avoid identification with Victorian manhood in order to do his real work in the world as a writer and an artist (and his idea of the artist is heavily informed by Romantic ideology). In this connection it should be remembered that Ruskin was the only child of a wine merchant and his strongly Evangelical wife, and that he was extraordinarily close to and dependent on his parents. Furthermore, as sage he was responsible for some of the key texts defining the strongly bifurcated gender roles that we still think of as Victorian stereotypes, most importantly, the essay "Of Queens' Gardens" (18:109-144) from which I quoted above to illustrate the supposed dependency of the male on feminine purity and goodness in order to regulate his own potentially destructive energy and tendency toward depravity. Yet when disengaged from the role of angry prophet or sage that he had largely modeled on Carlyle's prose, Ruskin's persona or voice in Praeterita is gentle, even stereotypically "feminine." And Ruskin's turn away from a narrative of initiation into manhood surely is also related to the open secret of his most problematic sex life, which the convention of Victorian reticence is powerless to conceal. His contemporary readers were familiar with the story of his disastrous marriage to Effie Gray, which began in 1848 and ended six years later with an annulment on the grounds that the marriage had not been consummated. Many Victorians knew about Ruskin's testimony that he had not found his wife's person physically attractive, and that she later married the artist John Millais (who had fallen in love with her at the time he was painting her husband's portrait).
In Praeterita Ruskin does not, of course, refer to his marriage, but he makes nostalgic references to Rose La Touche. As is well known, Ruskin had fallen in love with the young Irish girl whom he first met when he was nearly forty and she was a child of nine. He had proposed marriage to her when she was eighteen, but they were divided by religious belief as well as age (she was a pious Christian who unsuccessfully urged him to return to the Evangelical faith he had abandoned) and, after suffering from mental illness, she had died at the age of twenty-five in 1875. Ruskin associates his melancholy love for "Rosie" with the "Paradisiacal" beauty of the natural world that was strongly impressed upon him in his childhood and that haunts him in his old age. Finally, it is seeing and interpreting this natural beauty that becomes the only true and valuable function of Ruskin as a familiar but now gentler and less polemical prophet addressing his reader. Ruskin's masculinity here is seemingly divorced from adult male sexuality--and distant indeed from Kingsley's robust masculinity--but perhaps it has affinities with the version of gentle Victorian manhood with its special interest in childhood and pre-pubescent girls that we associate with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's alter ego Lewis Carroll and others.
In the final analysis, adult male sexuality is highly problematized in this group of four autobiographies by Victorian public men who are also literary artists, but it is problematized somewhat differently in each text. As we have seen, this is only one of the ways that the construction of masculinity in these works is fragile, unstable, and difficult to define. It is time to discard an essentialist or monolithic view of Victorian masculinity and male writers and to emphasize the "multiplicity, the plurality of male gender formations" (Sussman 8). I believe that a masculinist approach to gender studies can make important contributions to the study of Victorian autobiography, and I haste tried to demonstrate in this brief essay some of the potential for such scholarship.
Texas A & M University
Adams, James Eli. Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Manhood. Cornell UP, 1995.
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(1) In The Genre of Autobiography I also treat Victorian autobiography as a prose genre; however, I do not follow the practice of Peterson and many other scholars in the field who routinely conflate fiction and nonfiction in order to consider Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (to name the most common example) and other works of autobiographical fiction as autobiographies. What I attempt to do is study the Victorian texts within the framework of contemporary generic assumptions in order to explore fundamental, characteristic tensions that depend on the concept of referentiality: tensions between the retrospective author-narrator and the protagonist, between present time and past time, between selfhood and environment, between the uniqueness of real life experience and symbolic or universal meanings.
(2) Peterson's essay appeared in a 1990 collection of essays entitled Victorian Sages and Cultural Discourse: Renegotiating Gender and Power, edited by Thai's Morgan. Another representative group of essays from about the same time was published under the title Gender and Discourse in Victorian Literature and Art (1992), edited by Antony Harrison and Beverly Taylor.
(3) As Joseph Carroll puts it, the view that gender differences "derive from an interaction of innate qualities and cultural concepts ... stands in clear contrast to radical theories of unipolar social causality: the idea that all gender designations are arbitrary impositions of an oppressive patriarchal social system" (270).
(4) See my article "Gibbon's Memoirs of My Life and the Genre of Autobiography in Victorian England." Of course, I do not mean to suggest that Gibbon's Memoirs is the only model for nineteenth-century British autobiographers. In her study of Victorian autobiography, Peterson emphasizes the spiritual tradition of John Bunyan's Grace Abounding (1666) and locates displaced biblical typology and narrative patterns throughout the works. For Newman, Augustine's Confessions had a special relevance, and in his narrative of spiritual development, Newman adapted both English Protestant and Augustinian models. In particular, Thomas Scott's Force of Truth (I779) was an important influence.
(5) Buckton, "An Unnatural State: Secrecy and 'Perversion' in John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vim Sua," Secret Selves, pp. 21-59.
(6) See Phillipe Lejeune's discussion of extreme cases of collaboration in autobiography: "Autobiography of Those Who Do Not Write," in On Autobiography, pp. 185-215. Lejeune argues that "whether it is concealed, half-admitted, or openly displayed, collaboration in any case rarely leads the writer to accede to the strategic place reserved for the 'author': the signature. The facts don't matter. It is the logic of the reading contract that is at issue" (195).
(7) According to Nancy E Cott, between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the "dominant Anglo-American definition of women as especially sexual" was reversed and transformed into the view that women "were less carnal and lustful than men" (227). For a representative feminist treatment of Victorian ideals about the domestic and moral virtues of womanhood, see Carol Christ's well-known essay "Victorian Masculinity and the Angel in the House."
(8) I discuss the conventional and unconventional aspects of Symonds' autobiography at length in " The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds and Victorian Autobiography." Symonds outlines distinct phases in his personal development, speculates about innate traits (including same-sex desire), devotes a chapter to the evolution of his religious opinions, and includes a great deal of bibliographical information about his published works.
(9) Several of Trollope's characters exemplify his ideal of the English gentleman, notably Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium. (It should be pointed out that although Trollope does not discuss fiction writing on a theoretical level, he is fond of discussing his own fictional characters and expresses strong opinions about his contemporary English novelists.) On Trollope and the English gentleman, see especially Shirley Robin Letwin, The Gentleman in Trollope.…
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Publication information: Article title: The Construction of Masculinity in Victorian Autobiography. Contributors: Machann, Clinton - Author. Journal title: Nineteenth-Century Prose. Volume: 26. Issue: 2 Publication date: Fall 1999. Page number: 9+. © 2001 Nineteenth-Century Prose. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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