The Burdens of Intimacy: Psychoanalysis and Victorian Masculinity

Overview

Why does passion bewilder and torment so many Victorian protagonists? And why do so many literary characters experience moments of ecstasy before their deaths? In this original study, Christopher Lane shows why Victorian fiction conveys both the pleasure and anguish of intimacy. Examining works by Bulwer-Lytton, Swinburne, Schreiner, Hardy, James, Santayana, and Forster, he argues that these writers struggled with aspects of psychology that were undermining the utilitarian ethos...
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Overview

Why does passion bewilder and torment so many Victorian protagonists? And why do so many literary characters experience moments of ecstasy before their deaths? In this original study, Christopher Lane shows why Victorian fiction conveys both the pleasure and anguish of intimacy. Examining works by Bulwer-Lytton, Swinburne, Schreiner, Hardy, James, Santayana, and Forster, he argues that these writers struggled with aspects of psychology that were undermining the utilitarian ethos of the Victorian age.

Lane discredits the conservative notion that Victorian literature expresses only a demand for repression and moral restraint. But he also refutes historicist and Foucauldian approaches, arguing that they dismiss the very idea of repression and end up denouncing psychoanalysis as complicit in various kinds of oppression. These approaches, Lane argues, reduce Victorian literature to a drama about politics, power, and the ego. Striving instead to reinvigorate discussions of fantasy and the unconscious, Lane offers a clear, often startling account of writers who grapple with the genuine complexities of love, desire, and friendship.

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Editorial Reviews

Robert L. Caserio
"Combining tough-minded polemic with intellectual flexibility, Lane revises Foucault's, Sedgwick's, and John Kucich's claims that erotic desire, homosocial love, and eroticized self-expression are products of social prohibition and collective alienation. With the help of a subtle array of critical readings, Lane recovers from eight Victorian and early-twentieth century novelists and poets a powerful theoretical model of eros and its relation to collective life. Lane's model instances sex, sexual intimacy, and especially same-sex intimacy, as a constant check on our desire to resolve the enigmas of sexual relations and social being."
Choice
Lane discredits the view that frustrated erotic desire is the result of bourgeois Victorian repression. Instead, he sees writer after writer trying to comprehend the enigma that is at the heart of all desire. In an afterword, Lane acknowledges that his book challenges standard gay and lesbian theory; he asks the reader to resist reducing the torment of unclear desires (gay or straight) in Victorian fiction to a consistent paradigm.
Times Literary Supplement
Original, striking, and well documented, Lane's readings of writers who try to express the pleasures and anguish of sexual longing will be welcomed by nineteenth-century literary scholars and psychoanalytic theorists alike. Claiming that psychoanalytic theory is more historically and interpretatively subtle than historicism, Lane puts the Victorians to new use in its defence, rejecting the idea that individuals are ultimately imprints of culture and society. . . . Ambitious in scope and critically intriguing, The Burdens of Intimacy adds an indisputably novel chapter to the story of Victorian men in love and in pain.
Virginia Quarterly Review
Lane demonstrates in this refined and impressive book that certain insights derived from Freud, Lacan, and Foucault—even as they need some retooling—still go a long way toward explaining the politics of gender and identity in Victorian literature, a literature that helped spawn psychoanalysis. Defending his use of a discipline that has come under attack, Lane writes: 'Many literary and cultural critics interpret power, desire, and even fantasy in Victorian culture without considering the psychic relevance of these elements; they try to explain this period solely through its social policies and legal mandates.' Focusing on male sexual expression, Lane thus resists the tendency to read 19th-century manhood as a coherent and unified construction. His critical eye lands not only on Hardy, James, and Forster—required reading for this sort of thing—but also on Bulwer-Lytton, Schreiner, and Swinburne. This volume represents the very best work in the field of male gender studies: a book that is broad in scope, rich in detail, and revelatory in its conclusions.
HIgher Deucatio Higher Education
The Burdens of Intimacy discusses works by Hardy, Swinburne, and other writers in a study of Victorian literary expressions of the pleasure and anguish of intimacy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226468600
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Preface
Introduction: Victorian Asymmetry: The Study of Repression and Desire 1
1 The Specter of Effeminacy in Bulwer-Lytton's Pelham 45
2 Love's Vicissitudes in Swinburne's Lesbia Brandon 73
3 "Gregory's Womanhood" in Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm 93
4 Hardy and the Claims of Friendship 119
5 The Impossibility of Seduction in James's Roderick Hudson and The Tragic Muse 143
6 Santayana and the Problem of Beauty 165
7 Betrayal and Its Consolations in Forster's Writing 197
Afterword: The Homosexual in the Text 224
Notes 247
Works Cited 287
Index 313
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