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Historicizing Romantic Sexuality


Richard C. Sha | Jonathan Loesberg | Elizabeth Fay | Jillian Heydt-Stevenson | Susan S. Lanser | Bradford K. Mudge | Daniel O'Quinn | David M. Halperin | Andrew Elfenbein

Richard C. Sha, "The Use and Abuse of Alterity: David Halperin and Percy Shelley on Ancient Greek Sexuality"

Through a comparison of Percy Shelley's understanding of the alterity of Ancient Greek Sex with David Halperin's, Sha argues that alterity functions on the one hand to insist upon the otherness of Greek sex, and, on the other hand, to declare one's self-consciousness about that otherness. Because self-consciousness and otherness are necessarily at odds, alterity has become a post-modern form of objectivity. Once one declares one's allegiances, one is free to make the other other.

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Jonathan Loesberg, "Foucault and the Hedgerow History of Sexuality"

This article argues that what it calls hedgerow envy, a generalized sense of having a non-historical stake in the meaning of a historical narrative—which is part of its inauthenticity and its theory—is also a central part of how Foucault's history works, as well as the debates his history has incited and played a part in over the historical meaning of sexuality and homosexuality.

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Elizabeth Fay, "Framing Romantic Dress: Mary Robinson, Princess Caroline and the Sex/Text"

Two Romantic Period women who were accustomed to public appearances used the semiotic play provided by deliberate dress choices to create public interpretations of their legible bodies: Mary Robinson and Princess Caroline. While Robinson carefully crafted her public image, she also varied it with fashionable rapidity so that she was always in the public eye due to her literal mobility among public spaces and her identity mobility. This flexible form of role playing allowed Robinson to adjust her public image as necessary. When the less adept Caroline of Brunswick attempted to create similar identity play for herself, the outcome was successful or disastrous in public opinion depending on her political backers. Caroline's body was pre-read through political screens, and unlike Robinson's careful identity managing, Caroline's costuming was directed at fighting or abetting such screens.

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Jillian Heydt-Stevenson, "Pleasure is now, and ought to be, your business": Stealing Sexuality in Jane Austen's Juvenilia

Austen's Juvenilia has generally been seen as the youthful expression of a nascent talent, a gathering of short and often fragmentary pieces that are typically nonsensical or bizarre, but infused throughout with her comic genius. This essay argues that this body of work, taken as a whole, has an intellectual unity and is informed by a consistent thread of appetitive excess that functions as a powerful critique of the kinds of constraints late 18th-century society imposed on young women. The heroines of the Juvenilia, in their often shocking or even illegal pursuit of love, food, drink, and material objects, not only display the power of a range of female desire, they also expose just what Austen's society was afraid of and sought to silence. Historical sources as well as psychoanalytic and feminist theory help us understand how Austen's counter-narratives expose the pervasiveness of repression and how powerful the female resistance to that denial could be, turning the kinds of violence society intends against women back out against the world. The mature Austen continues to explore these themes, even if in a less manic and more measured way.

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Susan S. Lanser, "Put to the Blush: Romantic Irregularities and Sapphic Tropes"

Without arguing for direct influence, this essay reads a group of English poems as an implicit Romantic conversation that advances different models of sapphic sublimity in a troplogical contest about the nature and place of female affinities. The essay begins by revisiting the exclusion of "Christabel" from the Lyrical Ballads, and goes on to discuss the implicit dialogue enacted through William Wordsworth's sonnet to the "Ladies of Llangollen" and Dorothy Wordsworth's poem "Irregular Verses." The essay concludes with a look at the metrical practices of these poems and of Shelley's "Rosalind and Helen," as a way to explore the ambivalences and ambiguities in Romantic configurations of female same-sex desire.

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Bradford K. Mudge, "How to Do the History of Pornography: Romantic Sexuality and its Field of Vision"

This essay takes as its subject both the sexual body as represented in British romantic fiction and the imagination (is it "literary" or "pornographic"?) that was required to envision that body as a narrative event. Situated after the high watermark of "libertine literature" in the 1740s and 50s, but before the emergence of "pornography" proper in the 1830s and 40s, romantic fiction inherited the eighteenth century's conflicted attitudes about novelistic pleasure but was itself produced in a cultural marketplace that had not yet fixed and formulated the discursive opposition between "literature" and "pornography." The essay discusses these issues in dialogue with the historical and sexological discourse of Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality.

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Daniel O'Quinn, "The State of Things: Olaudah Equiano and the Volatile Politics of Heterocosmic Desire"

The essay explores the notion of masochist nationalism through a reading of a brief passage in Equiano's Interesting Narrative in which Equiano engages with a young Musquito man named George. Equiano's attempt to convert George is tied to a mutual reading of Fox's Book of Martyrs which posits a community of aggrieved souls who will enact vengeance on the slave holders and on those who sanction slavery. The argument pays particular attention to how Equiano figures George in a complex economy of humiliation and revenge. This revenge becomes highly sexualized when Equiano shifts his allusions from Fox's Book of Martyrs to The Book of Judges. From this point onward Equiano's text is thoroughly involved in a series of rape fantasies which have important nationalist implications. Ultimately, the essay suggests that Equiano's most radical gesture in this scene is to stage politics from the ground of the object, but it also demonstrates how such a politics is susceptible to unforeseen consequences.

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David M. Halperin, "'That Obscure Object of Historical Desire'"

In his essay, Halperin responds to the essays collected in this issue, many of which respond to his book How to Do the History of Homosexuality, touching upon the history of sexuality, homosexuality, subjectivity, and desire, especially as reflected in the sexual discourse of Michel Foucault.

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Andrew Elfenbein, "Romantic Loves: A Response to Historicizing Romantic Sexuality"

Elfenbein's essay responds to the essays in Historicizing Romantic Sexuality by considering their usefulness in response to the work of Michel Foucault. He examines how each essay continues or complicates Foucault's ideas in The History of Sexuality. He examines Bradford Mudge's essay in terms of the agency of the novel, and the essays by Susan Lanser and Daniel O'Quinn in terms of coding. He discusses female agency in the essays by Elizabeth Fay and Jillian Heydt-Stevenson. For the essays by Richard Sha and Jonathan Loesberg, he examines how they treat identity and difference in relation to sexuality. He concludes by discussing the concept of love in Romanticism.

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Published @ RC

January 2006