George Eliot's Enthusiastic Bachelors: Topical Fictional Accounts of Nineteenth-Century Homoerotic Christian Masculinities and the Manhood Question

By Gouws, Dennis S. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

George Eliot's Enthusiastic Bachelors: Topical Fictional Accounts of Nineteenth-Century Homoerotic Christian Masculinities and the Manhood Question


Gouws, Dennis S., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

British bachelors have traditionally represented an oddly compelling nonconformity. Nineteenth-century English writers continued an ambivalent yet consistent interest in these "unmarried men of marriageable age" (Oxford English Dictionary) evident in Chaucer, who observed "That bacheleris have often peyne and wo" in contrast to "thilke blissful lyf/That is betwixe an housband and his wyf" (Chaucer 1978, 115). In the early modern period bachelors were criticized for their selfishness and luxury. Excusing only the single man dedicated in Christian vocation to "the glory of GOD and the Good of his soul," Mary Astell, for example, chid the bachelor "who lives single that he may indulge licentiousness and give up himself to the conduct of wild and ungovernable desires," noting that he "can never justifie his own Conduct, nor clear it from the imputation of Wickedness and Folly" (Astell 1986, 94). Samuel Johnson remarked on "the unsettled, thoughtless condition of the bachelor" (Johnson 1992, 180), and an anonymous eighteenth-century pamphleteer proposed corrective legislative and social intervention. One woman participant in this booklet's dialogue insisted that she "would have it a general compulsive Act" that "Every Bachelor, at the Age of twenty-four Years, should pay" a punitive "Tax to the Queen" (Kimmel 1988, 421), the other that "a Bachelor is a useless Thing in the State," who, "according to the laws of Nature and Reason ... is a Minor, and ought to be under the Government of the Parish in which he lives"(Kimmel 1988, 422). (1) This pamphlet attributes foppish, contemporary bachelorhood to the fact that "The Men, they, are grown full as effeminate as the women" (419). Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century publishers exploited popular indignation concerning bachelors' refusal to marry by printing a series of broadsides expressing misogynist and misandrist interpretations of this refusal. People might have imagined different reasons why he remained single, but many agreed that for the bachelor to be reintegrated into normal society he needed to be disciplined and domesticated. The early modern bachelor, then, was loosely and negatively defined; he represented various masculinities; his nineteenth-century descendant's potential selfishness, luxury (topically understood as effeminacy or licentiousness), and civic uselessness evidently concerned his society and its authors because his position vis-a-vis the manhood question was unclear. The ambiguous social value and unconventional bodily potential of a bachelor manhood enabled by an enthusiastic Christian vocation caused particular societal concern, and because their irregularity was so compelling, two of George Eliot's enthusiastic Christian bachelor characters challenge the integrity of her fiction's moral realism. (4) Seth Bede and Dino de' Bardi exemplify topical bachelor masculinities that potentially undermine heteronormative manhood.

The manhood question

Since its first sex-specific use in the fourteenth century, the word manhood has defined men's identities and conduct, articulating the changeable nature of men's social value (by evaluating their duty to society and their courage) and bodily potential (by measuring their sexual potency). (5) Manhood has been the traditional measure of a man's socially prescribed and contingent identity; manhood is conditional because a failure to attain and sustain one's manhood might result in one being unmanned, a condition associated with weakness, cowardice, and effeminacy. (6) The manhood question, which takes into account this prescription and contingency, considers how a boy or a man might grow into and sustain a meaningful, productive, and commendable type of manhood. Heteronormative manhood added having a family life with children to these indicators of successful manhood. The nineteenth-century British bachelor's limited scope for attaining this heteronormative manhood was topical because of his ambiguous social value and bodily potential. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

George Eliot's Enthusiastic Bachelors: Topical Fictional Accounts of Nineteenth-Century Homoerotic Christian Masculinities and the Manhood Question
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.