Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

Synopsis

The contributors to this volume interpret various facets of masculinity, including many forms of sexuality and eroticism, institutional structures such as boys' public schools, and class formations and divisions. The authors demonstrate how the various constructions of same-sex desire in nineteenth-century Britain function with ambivalence and antagonism. Illustrated.

Excerpt

Several critics- among them Michael Foucault, Louis Crompton, Jonathan Dollimore, Elaine Showalter, Herbert Sussman, and Jeffrey Weeks—have argued that the nineteenth century was a decisive period in the history of male sexuality. In his controversial study The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (1978), Foucault argues that instead of repressing sexuality nineteenth-century culture became so focused on sexuality that it assumed the basis for identity. To respond to this privileging of sexuality, which threatened the public domain, discourses bent on normalizing society sought to police sexual desire. As a result, the conception of homosexuality altered dramatically in the nineteenth century, thereby affecting English society as a whole. On homosexuality, Foucault memorably asserts:

We must not forget that the psychological, psychiatric, medical category
of homosexuality was constituted from the moment it was character
ized—Westphaľs famous article of 1870 on “contrary sexual sensa
tions” can stand as its date of birth—less by a type of sexual relations
than by a certain quality of sexual sensibility, a certain way of inverting
the masculine and the feminine in oneself. Homosexuality appeared as
one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice
of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the
soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual
was now a species.

According to Robert Corber, “Whereas before then, the love that dared not speak its name constituted either a sin or a crime, it became a distinct form of personhood during the course of that century.” We cite Foucaulťs theory and its subsequent significance for studies in masculinity because the contributors to this collection make two antithetical claims. Some of the contributors—André DeCuir, Christopher Lane, and Kathleen McDougall—argue that there is a long history within nineteenth-century writing of resistance to the restrictions on same-sex desire that gradually emerge and later . . .

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