By Claire Jarvis
How did realist novelists within the 19th and early 20th centuries trace at intercourse whereas retaining a secure distance from pornography? Metaphors helped: waves, oceans, blooms, and illuminations have been all deployed in good realist novels to allude to the sexual act, permitting writers to painting companionate marriage whereas keeping off photo description. yet in beautiful Masochism, Claire Jarvis argues that a few Victorian novelists went even extra, pushing formal limitations via slyly constructing scenes of displaced erotic wish to recommend impropriety, perversion, and danger.
Through shut readings of canonical works by means of Emily Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, and a modernist outlier, D. H. Lawrence, Jarvis unearths how writers’ assorted use of particular personality types—the dominant girl and the submissive man—in conjunction with decadent, descriptive scenes of sexual refusal creates a powerful counter-narrative hinting at relationships past patriarchal and companionate marriage constructions. by way of concentrating on the exquisitely masochistic excitement led to through freezing, or postponing, the sexual cost, and through depicting quasi-contractual states at the outer edge of marriage, together with engagement, adultery, and widowhood, novelists disrupted the wedding plot’s insistence that erotic drives stay unfulfilled and that sexual connection can be chuffed in simple terms by way of genital act.
Complicating our knowing of Victorian marriage ideology’s extra well-trodden specialise in a effective, nation-building perfect, beautiful Masochism bargains interesting perception into our personal culture’s debates round illicit sexuality, marriage, copy, and feminism.
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Additional resources for Exquisite Masochism: Marriage, Sex, and the Novel Form
But, instead of parsing the significance of each emblem individually, I want instead to emphasize the structural relationship these images privilege. Hanging, like grasping or holding, as I’ll claim, is a suspended action. Once begun, these actions might last indefinitely; and their everlasting aspect suggests, among other things, the possibility of endless continuation within the world of the novel. These gestures also signal the development of erotic tableaux, specifically scenes of domination between Catherine the Elder and Heathcliff.
Trollope’s novels, quite differently, do not imagine the social world as totally disruptive to masochism, though the social webs his characters inhabit require masochism’s sexual character be dampened in order for its productive anticipatory potential to be realized. And, finally, in Lawrence’s sexualized social worlds, a sexual act makes a character neither a social pariah nor a revolutionary. Instead, we see sexuality as problematic only when connected to a character’s philosophy: overthinking destroys sexual life for Lawrence.
One Hareton Earnshaw built Wuthering Heights in 1500; another Hareton Earnshaw will reclaim the Heights upon his marriage in 1803. Marriage hinders the core relationship of the novel; at its end, marriage appears to be a recuperative salve. 3 Wuthering Heights begins, in many ways, as it ends; but this doesn’t, somehow, dampen the strange energy of the novel. Brontë’s novel is one of anticipation. In the pages that follow, I suggest that the energetic machine moving Wuthering Heights forward is not plot, as might be expected in a midcentury British novel, but an anticipatory model that mimics, in many ways, the exquisite masochism I set out in my introduction.