Male masochistic fantasy in Carlyle, Tennyson, Dickens, and Swinburne
Texts by Carlyle, Tennyson, Dickens, and Swinburne produce fantasies of male masochism that offer to resolve diverse historical problems plaguing Victorian manhood. These texts discipline their transgressive masochistic energies in response to specific ideological pressures, but they do not purge masculinity of masochism. Rather, they valorize as exemplary seemingly conventional models of manhood that remain underwritten by masochism tamed into culturally acceptable forms. Recent studies of Victorian masculinity have often relied on the paradigm of homo/heterosexuality, and as a consequence, they have left male masochism largely unexplored. Following the work of Eve Sedgwick, critics have examined the (de)formative functions of nineteenth century homophobia, and much attention has been given to the disruptive effects of late-century male homosexuality. However, as James Eli Adams and others have argued, the homo/hetero binary that by the 1890s constituted masculinity was not fully operable in the earlier Victorian years. In the early and mid-Victorian texts I consider, masculine sexualities are not troubled only by issues of homo/heterosexual definition. Rather, these texts elaborate masochistic fantasies that respond to a variety of other ideological concerns germane to their historical contexts: the "Condition of England" question, the religious "Crisis of Faith," mid-Victorian ideals of the gentleman, and the proscribed yet flourishing subculture of sadomasochistic pornography and prostitution. Across this wide range, and across striking differences in style and genre, I identify patterns of male masochistic fantasy that connect very disparate modes of masculine self-fashioning: Carlyle's "Hero-worship," Tennyson's poetic melancholia, Dickens' moralized version of gentlemanliness, and Swinburne's sadomasochistic perversities.
- English