The Image of Manhood in Early Modern Literature: Viewing the Male

The Image of Manhood in Early Modern Literature: Viewing the Male

The Image of Manhood in Early Modern Literature: Viewing the Male

The Image of Manhood in Early Modern Literature: Viewing the Male

Synopsis

The unique social history of the early modern period in England marked a crucial moment in the cultural conception and representation of masculinity. This volume explores the various strategies used by 17th- and 18th-century writers to portray the masculine identity. Included are chapters on such authors as Thomas Carew, Andrew Marvell, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, John Dryden, Daniel Defoe, and Samuel Richardson. Together, the expert contributors offer a broad perspective on the social and political dynamics of early modern masculinity. Though incorporating a variety of critical approaches, the contributors all examine the inherent anxiety and problems associated with masculinity and its representation. The chapters demonstrate how significant literary texts of the period worked to provide not only idealized images of the masculine but also contesting ones. Thus the volume shows that the literary representation of masculinity in the early modern period was a dynamic and evolving process.

Excerpt

This volume, The Image of Manhood in Early Modern Literature: Viewing the Male, grew as an extension of a panel I chaired at the 1997 American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel, "Images of Manhood and the Masculine Ideal," discussed the ways literary representations of masculinity both validated and challenged cultural assumptions concerning the composition of the "ideal Male" in early modern English literature. While the panel presenters mainly explored various social barometers for measuring the worth of the "ideal Male" in the early modern period, one critical commonality seemed to emerge when the discussion moved from representations of early modern manhood to issues of manhood in general: Any discussion of what it means to be a man is a significantly difficult undertaking because masculinity is not a neutral site of critical discourse. The history of masculinity is inherently bound to the history of gender inequity, patriarchy, and the exploitation of both men and women. As a critical subject, masculinity cannot, and should not, be excused from the misogyny and violence that have historically accompanied individual and cultural expressions of manhood and what it meant to be a man. However, the problematics of "masculine" discourse run deeper than the broad social effects that accompany displays of manliness; the term "masculinity" itself presupposes a single, fixed standard of referential criteria for the identification of the masculine-self. Invariably, as the panel seemed to suggest, this standard represents a narrow categorization of "appropriate" gender behaviors that ultimately promote and reinscribe the patriarchal privileges of a certain class: Primarily, white, heterosexual men of wealth. It is obvious that any discussion of masculinity cannot be divorced from its connection to the power inequities that have generally defined Western gender relationships; however, it must also be noted that not all forms of masculine selfhood are defined by the limited, heterocentric parameters of Western gender politics. Though convenient, the term "masculinity" is inapplicable as a blanket descriptor of the many, and often . . .

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