Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning and British Caricature, 1750-1900

University of Chicago Press
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“I do not say you are it, but you look it, and you pose at it, which is just as bad,” Lord Queensbury challenged Oscar Wilde in the courtroom—which erupted in laughter—accusing Wilde of posing as a sodomite. What was so terrible about posing as a sodomite, and why was Queensbury’s horror greeted with such amusement? In Oscar Wilde Prefigured, Dominic Janes suggests that what divided the two sides in this case was not so much the question of whether Wilde was or was not a sodomite, but whether or not it mattered that people could appear to be sodomites. For many, intimations of sodomy were simply a part of the amusing spectacle of sophisticated life.

Oscar Wilde Prefigured is a study of the prehistory of this “queer moment” in 1895. Janes explores the complex ways in which men who desired sex with men in Britain had expressed such interests through clothing, style, and deportment since the mid-eighteenth century. He supplements the well-established narrative of the inscription of sodomitical acts into a homosexual label and identity at the end of the nineteenth century by teasing out the means by which same-sex desires could be signaled through visual display in Georgian and Victorian Britain. Wilde, it turns out, is not the starting point for public queer figuration. He is the pivot by which Georgian figures and twentieth-century camp stereotypes meet. Drawing on the mutually reinforcing phenomena of dandyism and caricature of alleged effeminates, Janes examines a wide range of images drawn from theater, fashion, and the popular press to reveal new dimensions of identity politics, gender performance, and queer culture.
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About the author

Dominic Janes is professor of modern history at Keele University, United Kingdom. He is the author of several books, including most recently Visions of Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Nov 10, 2016
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9780226396552
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Great Britain / General
History / General
Literary Criticism / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Social Science / LGBT Studies / Gay Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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With all the heated debates around religion and homosexuality today, it might be hard to see the two as anything but antagonistic. But in this book, Dominic Janes reveals the opposite: Catholic forms of Christianity, he explains, played a key role in the evolution of the culture and visual expression of homosexuality and male same-sex desire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He explores this relationship through the idea of queer martyrdom—closeted queer servitude to Christ—a concept that allowed a certain degree of latitude for the development of same-sex desire.
Janes finds the beginnings of queer martyrdom in the nineteenth-century Church of England and the controversies over Cardinal John Henry Newman’s sexuality. He then considers how liturgical expression of queer desire in the Victorian Eucharist provided inspiration for artists looking to communicate their own feelings of sexual deviance. After looking at Victorian monasteries as queer families, he analyzes how the Biblical story of David and Jonathan could be used to create forms of same-sex partnerships. Finally, he delves into how artists and writers employed ecclesiastical material culture to further queer self-expression, concluding with studies of Oscar Wilde and Derek Jarman that illustrate both the limitations and ongoing significance of Christianity as an inspiration for expressions of homoerotic desire.
Providing historical context to help us reevaluate the current furor over homosexuality in the Church, this fascinating book brings to light the myriad ways that modern churches and openly gay men and women can learn from the wealth of each other’s cultural and spiritual experience.
What can the past tell us about the future(s) of the body? The origins of this collection of papers lie in the work of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities which has been involved in presenting a series of international workshops and conferences on the theme of the cultural life of the body. The rationale for these events was that, in concepts as diverse as the cyborg, the questioning of mind/body dualism, the contemporary image of the suicide bomber and the patenting of human genes, we can identify ways in which the future of the human body is at stake. This volume represents an attempt, not so much to speculate about what might happen, but to develop strategies for bodily empowerment so as to get “back to the future of the body”. The body, it is contended, is not to be thought of as an “object” or a “sign” but as an active participant in the shaping of cultural formations. And this is emphatically not an exercise in digging corpses out of the historical archive. The question is, rather, what can past lived and thought experiences of the body tell us about what the body can be(come)?

“The continuing vitality of debate around the body was proven by the range and depth of the papers presented at the workshop on which this volume is based, ‘does the body have a future?’ Our overall theme required contributors to think through embodiment in the past. This they did with considerable interdisciplinary vigour, rigorousness and imagination.”

Prof. Donna Dickenson, Director, Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities

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