Monumental Anxieties: Homoerotic Desire and Feminine Influence in 19th Century U.S. Literature

By Scott S. Derrick | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Authoring the Self
GENDER, IDENTITY, AND AUTHORIAL SELF-CONSTRUCTION IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY U.S. CULTURE

In this book, I trace the consequences of an interlaced set of conditions in a set of traditionally valued masculine texts for which those conditions are crucial. These texts include Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter; Edgar Allan Poe trio of detective stories, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Murder of Marie Roget," and "The Purloined Letter"; Henry James Roderick Hudson. The American, The Ambassadors, and The Wings of the Dove, which I read as an interrelated sequence; Upton Sinclair The Jungle; Stephen Crane The Red Badge of Courage; and by way of concluding, F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby.

In the chapters that follow, I suggest these texts are corporately marked by the crisis-driven strength of their authors' desire for the cultural authority of achieved authorship, and that this desire has a consequent priority over the overt content of the narrative the author produces. This priority creates a generally--but not always--unconscious narrative of authorial self-making that underwrites and shapes the manifest content of the narrative in which it evolves, a narrative that has particularly crucial consequences for the representation of sexuality and gender. If these dynamics seem, on one hand, self- reflexively literary in the now familiar sense that literature always in part describes the possibilities and perils of its own operations, they also are key to the representative power of each of these texts in the context of middle- class U.S. culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The narrative of authorial self-making that dominates each of these texts, I argue, enacts a literary version of the general cultural narrative of masculine development, which assumed a stable and important shape in the first half of the nineteenth

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