Historicizing Romantic Sexuality
"Put to the Blush": Romantic Irregularities and Sapphic Tropes
Susan S. Lanser, Brandeis
"Befriending the Body: Female Intimacies as Class Acts,"
Eighteenth-Century Studies 32 (Winter 1998-99),
179-98, and "The Political Economy of Same-Sex Desire," in
Attending to Early Modern Women V.
2 In the later
eighteenth century, public opinion seems to have been
especially susceptible to three particular axes of
perception: the "femininity" or "masculinity" of the women
in question; the extent to which they adhered to
proprieties of class and gender; and their social rank.
Long-term, female attachments that conformed externally to
social codes, and were lived out by women of what I call
the gentle classes, had the greatest chance of passing for
3 See Andrew
Elfenbein, Romantic Genius: The Prehistory of a
Homosexual Role, 203, 14, and passim.
4 I take this
definition from the Oxford English
5 At another
level of figuration, one could argue that Geraldine and
Christabel are themselves metonyms of their fathers: just
as the spell upon Christabel becomes "Lord of [her]
utterance," so Geraldine's seduction of daughter and father
alike can be read as the revenge of her own father, Lord
Roland de Vaux. But Geraldine is also arguably taking her
revenge against patriarchy itself; seized forcibly at the
outset by "five warriors," left "scarce alive" beneath the
maternal "broad-breasted" oak, Geraldine wreaks vengeance
on the Father by violating first the daughter and then
perhaps the family line.
Coleridge not excised the description of Geraldine as "old
and lean and foul of hue," or "Hideous, deformed, and pale
of hue," it might have been more difficult to read
sublimity into the poem. Susan Eilenberg reports the former
deleted line in Strange Power of Speech: Wordsworth,
Coleridge, and Literary Possession, 104; Arthur
Nethercot reports the latter in The Road to Tryermaine:
A Study of the History, Background, and Purposes of
Coleridge's "Christabel", 32.
Alfred Watts, Alaric Watts: A Narrative of His
Life, I, 239. I owe my knowledge of this reference to
Elfenbein's Romantic Genius, but Elfenbein does
not explain that Wordsworth's comment postdates by half a
century his decision about the Lyrical
8 I thank Neil
Fraistat for suggesting this contrast between "Christabel"
and the sonnet.
9 "To the Lady
E. B. and the Hon. Miss P." was first published in
Miscellaneous Sonnets (1827) as part of the
five-volume edition of Wordsworth's Poems. I have taken
this version from The Poetical Works of
Wordsworth, ed. Thomas Hutchinson, 216.
Wordsworth's extant poems have been gathered and edited by
Susan M. Levin, Dorothy Wordsworth and
11 See, for
example, Brennan O'Donnell, "The 'Invention' of a Meter:
'Christabel' Meter as Fact and Fiction," JEGP 100,
4 (October 2001): 511-36; and Margaret Russett, "Meter,
Identity, Voice: Untranslating Christabel,"
SEL 43, 4 (Autumn 2003): 773-97.
12 It's also
worth noting that each of these poems also yokes female
affiliations to charged family ties, supporting Foucault's
hypothesis that at the turn of the nineteenth century
kinship and sexuality have converged in ways that give
domestic relations a new burden of affectivity. Sapphism
and incest both stand at the crossroads between kinship
demands and elective desires: if incest undoes kinship by
overloading it from within, sapphism undoes it by
displacing it from without.
Lanser, "Befriending the Body."