Men Beyond Desire: Manhood, Sex, and Violation in American Literature

Overview

Writing in the tradition of Leslie Fiedler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, David Greven offers a sweeping reassessment of American masculinity in the antebellum period. Greven's figure of the "inviolate male" of the period's literature - sexually and emotionally unavailable to women or other men - was a complex response to the competing, often incoherent pressures on men in the era. Lesbian desire, argues Greven, emerged through similar patterns of sexual inviolability. Carefully re-examining such important works as ...

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Overview

Writing in the tradition of Leslie Fiedler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, David Greven offers a sweeping reassessment of American masculinity in the antebellum period. Greven's figure of the "inviolate male" of the period's literature - sexually and emotionally unavailable to women or other men - was a complex response to the competing, often incoherent pressures on men in the era. Lesbian desire, argues Greven, emerged through similar patterns of sexual inviolability. Carefully re-examining such important works as Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Cooper's Leatherstocking novels, Poe's tales, Hawthorne's novels, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and later works such as Macaria, The Grandissimes, Native Son, and Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor, this spirited study offers a penetrating account of male sexuality as the chief cultural and social battleground for a volatile and uneasy nation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It delivers several provocative new arguments...Almost every chapter offers new ways of rethinking familiar texts...Many texts and historical figures pop up; Greven has an ambitious reach... Greven’s assertions often have imaginative zest...Greven has written a fine first book: sophisticated, smart, ambitious, intellectually courageous. It should provoke antebellum critics and queer theorists as well as Melvilleans to rethink utopian idealizations of male fraternity."—David Leverenz, Leviathan: A Jourbanal of Melville Studies

"A reading that makes us perceive a classic work in a genuinely new way is always rare and impressive, and Greven gives us such interpretations of 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' and The Scarlet Letter....Engaging and provocative. In this book there is much to admire, to learn from, and—dare I say it—simply to enjoy, for Greven is a talented close reader, a well-read and diligent scholar, and an amusing quipster."—Axel Nissen, Nineteenth-Century Literature

Men Beyond Desire presents a refreshing and comprehensive study of the representation of gender and gendered relationships by authors such as Irving, Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, and Stowe, among others. …. Greven persuasively separates the inviolate male…from the figure of the bachelor…and questions the critical and cinematic tendency to idealize homosocial or fraternal bonds as a way of reinforcing heterosexuality and erasing ‘queer potentiality.’"—American Studies Today

"What I am most struck by as a critic of nineteenth-century literature is the masterful re-envisioning of much studied and much-explicated American classics...A groundbreaking work of criticism that will be discussed, debated, and admired for years to come."—Michael T. Gilmore, Brandeis University, author of American Romanticism and the Marketplace
 

“Many brilliant insights…Men Beyond Desire is dense with ideas and wide-ranging in its use of sources… I am grateful to have a critic like David Greven as a guide to the very serious ideas about gender roles contained in our national literature, and the sometimes frightening implications that these ideas continue to hold for all of us.”—Gay and Lesbian Review (September/October 2006 issue)
 
"In this provocative and often penetrating examination of the American self-made man, desperate to maintain his inviolability in the face of compulsory demands for heterosexual marriage and homosocial fraternal camaraderie, David Greven explores the creation of and the resulting consequences for this male icon as embodied in such literary characters as Natty Bumppo and Ichabod Crane, Fanshawe and Billy Budd, Roderick Usher and Miles Coverdale, Arthur Dimmesdale and Uncle Tom…Greven probes, suggests, and points out multi-layered ambiguities within the texts…a lively and unsettling book that, as all good criticism does, forces us to see what we took to be familiar as, in many cases, radically unfamiliar. … You come away from this book convinced that it has plumbed the darker depths of American culture." —The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review
 
"Greven brings a great deal of erudition, spirit, and interpretive subtlety to a task that has inherent difficulties, since he is required to read behind the surface of fiercely maintained defense mechanisms to the male distresses they are meant to conceal. Men Beyond Desire is a gallant successor to G. J. Barker-Benfield’s The Horrors of the Half-Known Life [that] casts light on confused questions.” —Men and Masculinities
 
"A summary cannot do justice to Greven’s tenacious and often brilliant readings. His observations on 'fraternalist bias' within contemporary criticism and theory are particularly provocative, as is his emphasis on the violence perpetrated against non-normative figures. Although the inviolate male’s resistance has heroic aspects, his isolation is frequently disturbing; the book is far from a paean to American individualism…a valuable and engaging contribution to recent work on gender and antebellum literature."—Jourbanal of American Studies
 

"There is much to value in Greven's work. Beyond the strong readings, of Irving and Hawthorne in particular, and beyond the keen sense it shows of the collision between Jacksonian ideals of the self-made man and reformist insistences on purity and sentimental propriety, the book offers a bracing take on the dynamics of male intimacies in the nineteenth century, one that recognizes the presence of a variety of sentimental modes but insists too on the rivalry, fear, violence, and enmity that made the world of homosociality no less perilous, for the sexually nonnormative, than the world of reproductive heterosexuality."—Studies in American Fiction

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781137298089
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 12/24/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 306
  • Sales rank: 1,468,479
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

David Greven is an Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina. His other books include The Fragility of Manhood: Hawthorne, Freud, and the Politics of Gender (2012), Representations of Femininity in American Genre Cinema (2011), and Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush (2010). His essays on literature have been published in jourbanals such as Genders, New Literary History, American Quarterly, The Jourbanal of American Culture, Legacy: A Jourbanal of American Women Writers, Nineteenth Century Studies, Studies in American Fiction, Poe Studies, The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, and Modern Psychoanalysis.

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Table of Contents

Republican Machines
Troubling Our Heads About Ichabod
Fear of Fanshawe
Disturbing the Sleep of Bachelors
Madman!
Poe
Bound in Black Morocco
Afterlife...
The Angel Must Hang
Coda

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