In classic gothic fiction (between 1764 and 1820) a Mediterranean setting invites the expansion of Roman Catholic motifs, and indeed Catholicism itself becomes a standard and flexible trope in gothic fiction. The monastery, the convent, religious life, confessions and confessionals, nuns, monks, and friars are familiar features in gothic novels. “The Horrors of Catholicism” discusses the ways in which gothic writers use these materials to motivate their tales and what doing so means in the context of anti-Catholic eighteenth-century England. I explain how Catholic motifs can be understood in relation to other central gothic obsessions, such as sexual transgression and dysfunctional family life, and I demonstrate how these features aid novelists in exploring what would later be understood as personal sexual identity. In that way, these writers contribute to what we understand as the history of sexuality.
The few eighteenth-century and Romantic labouring-class poems that have been recuperated within recent efforts at canon revision appear to have attracted critical attention primarily because they represent the authentic hardships of the working poor, thereby suggesting a nascent effort toward solidarity. However, while these direct expressions of a more familiarly class-based politics are important, they are also relatively rare within the broader tradition of labouring-class poetry, a tradition made up of countless poems written by over 1300 poets who published in Great Britain and Ireland between 1700 and 1900. This essay proposes that a queer reading might productively undermine the usual critical practices for evaluating and valorizing labouring-class writing. It begins by questioning the current logic for determining whether to include a labouring-class poet within mainstream literary history, a logic which proceeds from the assumption that, as John Guillory describes, “the noncanonical author’s experience as a marginalized social identity necessarily reasserts the transparency of the text to the experience it represents” (Cultural Capital 10). A queer reading complicates such representational reductionism. Furthermore, it may also contribute to a broader queer history of eighteenth-century and Romantic literature, which although it has certainly been sensitive to the class issues, has heretofore focused predominantly on tensions between bourgeois and aristocratic subjects. The essay focuses in particular on conventional pastoral poetry as a paradoxically felicitous site from which to launch a queer reading of labouring-class poetry. Through Moe Meyer’s concept of queer camp, the essay explores what happens when labouring-class pastoral is read as queer camp expression. Through a close reading of poems by John Clare, Janet Little and Samuel Thomson, the essay also considers to what extent these poems question representations of what is “natural” for a particular rank of society and, more broadly, opens up the discussion of what is “natural” in other categories of identity, including sexuality.
Dr. John Polidori’s appropriative rewriting of Lord Byron’s unfinished “Fragment” as The Vampyre has long been of interest to the field of Gothic studies for its representation of the first coherent vampire in English Literature. In recent years, the inscription of sexual rhetoric in both texts has attracted further critical attention. Featuring men who traverse the explosively tense line between compulsory homosocial relations and the culturally prohibited horrors of homoerotic desire, these texts can certainly be read in the light of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s identification of the homophobic “paranoid gothic.” However, considered together, The Vampyre and the “Fragment” reveal more than anxieties about male bonding. In this essay, I explore the nexus of concerns raised by The Vampyre, its relation to the “Fragment,” and the perceived relationship between Polidori and Byron with the aim of working towards a repositioning of these marginal Gothic works as indeed both disquieting and deeply queer. The “Fragment” represents Byron’s contribution to the now mythical “ghost story competition” at Villa Diodati in 1816 which also inspired the writing of Frankenstein. The man Mary Shelley dubbed “Poor Polidori” stands on the margins of this famous gathering, but he and his story remain a haunting presence in more than one respect. Focussing upon the way in which modern sexual discourse has helped make the author into an object of sexual interest, I propose that the production of Polidori as a strange, sexually suspect figure strikingly illustrates how the Gothic rhetoric of the sexual “unspeakable” can reverberate out from the text and into our thinking about the author.
When contemporary critics like McGann and Christensen link the figure of the dandy with the category of “the thing,” they participate in a rich and enduring cultural pattern that dates back at least to the Restoration. “Reification and the Dandy” elaborates this cultural history through an examination of eighteenth-century British rhetorics of foppishness and their reliance on the category of the thing in order to situate its contemporary iterations in their historical context. Recalling this history also underscores the extent to which Byron’s poetics in Beppo are disarmingly queer in their performance of a refusal to feel the degradation of foppishness, thinghood, and impotent triviality. Beppo neither resolves nor exorcises the double binds and blinds of poetic composition in a reified culture, but it performs those binds for us in a slight work, next of kin to a nonentity. In Beppo Byron offers foppery as poetics itself, making the slight, the trivial, the barely there, turn his career. The ottava rima may have been inspired by Frere and Pulce, but the foppish poem, itself a dandiacal confrontation with Wordsworthian poetics, was Byron’s own.
“Was Percy Bysshe Shelley Gay?” This essay first explores the quality and effects of the question, recently posed both in an internet gay magazine, Gay Today, and to the academic discussion list associated with the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, NASSR-L. The power of this question to interrupt discussion among critics in the field, despite ongoing work in queer Romanticism, suggests that identity politics still shapes many of the necessary debates in both Romanticism and critical sexuality studies. The essay further generates a model of queer analysis as it traces Shelley’s conversion of the historical Count Cenci’s acts of sodomy into what Shelley regards as “a very poetical circumstance,” incest. Shelley imagines a complex alibi with which he shapes his own intense curiosity about intimacy between men into a set of effects found in his writing during his earliest time in Italy, while he was translating Plato’s Symposium (“for Mary”), composing a supplemental essay on Greek Love, and writing The Cenci.
As simultaneously “queer” and “unoriginal,” the Gothic is an ideal site for investigating alternatives to the still potent Romantic construction of the author as masculine, heterosexual, and autonomous. One of the best examples of this Gothic alternative is the original queer Gothic plagiarist, Matthew Lewis. Drawing on Judith Butler’s insight that drag—and by implication gender—is a form of imitation that calls into question the “originality” of any normatively delineated gender identity, this essay examines the authorship of The Monk by way of a usually overlooked episode in which Lewis situates himself in a classical, imitative, and homoerotic literary tradition and echoes his famous avowal of the romance’s “plagiarisms.” Like the crafty cross-dresser Rosario/Matilda, Lewis’s authorship lacks stable ground. More important, by circumventing the primacy of origins, he claims a legacy that queers the history of the sexuality of authorship.
This article explores William Godwin’s work in his novels to expose ways in which traditional conceptions of masculinity foster aggression and rivalry between men. For Godwin, the destructiveness of such interactions profoundly threatened the potential he saw for the perfectibility of human nature and social relationships. From his early novel Imogen to the deeply psychological Caleb Williams, Fleetwood, and Mandeville, Godwin frequently illustrates the injurious potential of homosocial and homoerotic desire. In many of these instances, such desire is depicted through the use of subtle allusions to classical conceptions of friendship. In the case of Cloudesley, Godwin carries this project further, developing a persona in the hero Julian, whose gentle, feminized personality works to soften the more traditionally masculine and destructive men around him. As a new conception of the male personality, Julian exemplifies Godwin’s argument that “disinterested affection” is the only means towards a more perfect global society. In Godwin’s career as a novelist, therefore, we see an early suggestion that social progress demands a redefinition of traditional conceptions of gender.
By the early 1820s Walter Scott had been sharply criticized for conjuring up conspicuously passive heroes for his tales, but that criticism did not prevent him from presenting his reading public with his most singularly submissive character, Darsie Latimer, in 1824’s Redgauntlet. In fact, Scott devotes considerable energy in the novel to the delineation of a particular breed of unmanliness, linking Darsie’s inertia with his unusually strong emotional attachment to a schoolmate, his peculiar fascination with strong men, and his marked awkwardness around eligible women his own age. I argue that the coalescing of such features in one character warrants consideration of Darsie as a type of homosexual—that is, a character marked not only by an orientation of desire toward one’s own sex but also by a litany of character traits (among them, in this case, self-doubt, self-consciousness, and irresolution) which were typically associated with this non-normative desire. After considering evidence from this novel as well as from diary entries that reveal Scott’s views on sodomy and on wayward passions, I re-examine the Foucaultian contention that the homosexual was a late-nineteenth-century invention which transformed the sodomite into a species. Scott’s Redgauntlet gives us reason to believe that the conception of such a species was in place by the late Romantic period and that it was possible to consider this character type as distinct from the sodomite insofar as the former designated a disposition rather than the implication of sexual indulgence.
This essay explores romantic responses to Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, known as the Ladies of Llangollen, arguing that Anna Seward and Anne Lister celebrated the Ladies’ relationship in order to melancholically enact the same-sex ties they were themselves unable to maintain. Hailed as both pioneering lesbians and chaste romantic friends, Butler and Ponsonby may appear unlikely candidates for queer recuperation. Their place within romantic literary history is equally contentious, their status as a female couple challenging notions of singular and masculine romantic subjectivity, and their creative production diverging from canonical textual forms. This essay nonetheless claims Butler and Ponsonby as queer romantics, arguing that the indeterminacy of their bond constitutes a commensurately queer resistance to definition. Their romanticism is similarly disclosed by that of their romantic acolytes, who lauded the Ladies’ home as an ideal of lasting affective community. Drawing on Judith Butler’s account of gender melancholia, this essay claims that Seward and Lister identified Butler and Ponsonby as embodying the hopes of queer community foreclosed in their own lives. Accordingly, they protected and promulgated the Ladies’ relationship in order to melancholically enact the same-sex attachments they were unable to establish enduringly or mourn publicly. In celebrating a model of flourishing female desire, Seward and Lister thus melancholically preserved their own lost love-objects, and affirmed the future instantiation of enduring queer communities.
Despite John Keats’s widely acknowledged literary and cultural impact on writers of the Victorian period, little work has been done to explore the biographical methods by which this impact came about. By closely examining the publications and private correspondence of the Keats Circle during the 1820s and 1830s, one can see various patterns to the biographical development of Keats, particularly in relation to their subject’s masculinity. From the widespread eulogies immediately following the poet’s death, to Hunt’s 1828 biographical sketch in Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries, to Brown’s 1836 biography manuscript, threads are spun simultaneously of Keats as icon of middle-class masculinity, perpetually youthful Aesthetic ideal, and object of queered desire. Through the complexities of this process, the Keats Circle itself becomes a model of queered male companionship, centred around Keats as a shared object of homosocial affection. The Circle, along with the Cambridge Apostles who would assume control of the biographical project in the 1840s, thereby provide an earlier exemplum of late-Victorian Hellenism than has been previously noted, and establish a crucial conduit for the biographical basis of Keats’s Victorian fame.
The nineteenth-century German homosexual rights movement adopted the rhetoric of the “emancipation of the flesh,” which had its roots in Romanticism. Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde (1799) promoted the emancipation of the flesh by calling for a strong female sexuality that would help overcome the tyranny of the conventional bourgeois family. Karl Gutzkow’s controversial novel Wally (1835) harked back to Schlegel as it championed the emancipation of Jews as well as women. Heinrich Hössli, author of Eros, the two-volume apology for male-male love that appeared in 1836 and 1838, clearly read the journals in which the controversies about Wally played out. He and subsequent activists in the homosexual rights movement, particularly Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, drew on these radical Romantic calls for sexual emancipation.