Deviance versus Distinction
(1) The emergence of a suburban role for men during the first half of the nineteenth century in Great Britain gave homophobia a new and potent role as part of middle-class masculinity. The century as a whole witnessed a marked increase in the systematic surveillance and persecution of men who had sex with other men. As Louis Crompton notes, "During the period 1805-1835, when the annual number of executions for all crimes dropped from about seventy to thirty, sodomy was the only crime for which the number of hangings remained more or less constant."1 By 1885, while sodomy was no longer a capital crime, the Labouchère amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act increased the courts' ability to punish sex between men by making acts of "gross indecency" illegal when they occurred not only in public, as had been the case previously, but also in private.2 This essay will describe how the rise of suburbia provided a background for this dramatic growth in institutionalized homophobia.3 Life in the suburbs had as a precondition the ability to distinguish sharply between the respectable character of the suburban man and the deviant character of the homosexual.
(2) While few critics have described the historical relation between homophobia and the suburbs, several have noted how the rise of industrial capitalism, the precondition for suburbia's growth, affected nineteenth-century sexual roles. Such critics as Barry D. Adam, Guy Hocquenghem, David Fernbach, and John D'Emilio argue that privileging the nuclear family as the kinship structure best suited for the reproduction of an industrial workforce led to a vigorous condemnation of homosexuality: "Homosexuality . . . was cast, by the terms of the capitalist discourse, as a violation and failure, a betrayal of masculine virtues necessary for success. Any male temptation toward sexual polymorphism would be contained by the monogamous family."4 While condemnations of homosexuality were hardly new to the nineteenth century, turning the nuclear family into a norm, according to these critics, made homosexuality appear more deviant than ever.
(3) While I agree that industrial capitalism profoundly altered sexual roles, the arguments of these critics do not fully explain the existing evidence of British homophobia in the nineteenth century. If the nuclear family was an ideal supposedly endangered by homosexuality, we would expect to find writers condemning sex between men because it had no place in the normative roles of husband and father. Yet medical writers from this period were far more worried about masturbation than homosexuality as a danger to masculinity.5Despite the sacred aura with which nineteenth-century writers surrounded the family, they did not express concern that homosexuality might threaten its stability until the Wilde trials near the century's close. For the most part, individual male writers rarely justified their homophobic attitudes through appeals to the family. Nor did they invoke any of the other medical, religious, or legal associations that they might have used to stigmatize homosexuality.
(4) Instead, the rhetoric of their reactions is far more immediate and personal. Nineteenth-century condemnations of sex between men are striking because writers seem so deeply affected by the topic. Their comments combine disgust and anxiety in a vocabulary of queasy nervousness. While the "unspeakability" of homosexuality was originally part of a religious formula ("crimen inter Christanos non nominandum"), by the nineteenth century, it was more of a social embarrassment. For example, when Percy Jocelyn, the Bishop of Clogher, fled the country after he was found having sex with a soldier, a writer for theTimes noted that "[m]ingled feelings of sorrow, humiliation, and disgust" had almost prevented him from writing at all.6 Contemplating the pedophilia of classical Greece, Percy Shelley thought that "the laws of modern composition scarcely permit a modest writer to investigate the subject with philosophical accuracy."7 Reacting to Byron's separation from his wife, widely rumored to have been caused by his homosexuality, Macaulay noted in 1816, "You have heard of course of the abominable, unmanly, conduct of the Peer-poet to whom we once paid such admiration"; in 1835, William Macready noted that when dinner conversation turned to the topic of Byron's separation, "some observations were made which occasioned me disagreeable sensations; being evidently perceived, it made me quite embarrassed."8 W. H. Thompson in 1868 thought that "[i]t seems impossible that Plato can seriously have entertained the paradox that the paid¢n _rwV [love of boys] was a necessary step toward moral perfection."9 David Lester Richardson read Shakespeare's sonnets "accompanied by [a] disagreeable feeling, bordering on disgust," and Henry Hallam noted that "it is impossible not to wish that Shakespeare had never written them."10 In all cases, these men did not turn to abstract discourses to justify their distaste. Instead, they assumed that readers would recognize personal embarrassment as the only appropriate reaction to love between men.
(5) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's theory of homosexual panic best explains the convention of acute discomfort that characterizes nineteenth-century comments about homosexual behavior or homoerotic emotion. Where other critics have assumed that nineteenth-century men feared homosexuality because it differed from respectable norms, Sedgwick's theory suggests that homophobia arose from fears not of difference, but of similarity. Male homosocial bonds that followed from splitting off the public from the private sphere in the eighteenth century allowed homophobia to regulate all male behavior: "Because the paths of male entitlement, especially in the nineteenth century, required certain intense male bonds that were not readily distinguishable from the most reprobated bonds, an endemic and ineradicable state of what I am calling male homosexual panic became the normal condition of male heterosexual entitlement." Although men had to form bonds with other men to succeed in public life, the ambiguity of those bonds led what Sedgwick calls homosexual panic, a combination of "acute manipulability" arising from fear of potential homosexuality and "a reservoir of potential for violence" to enforce a distinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality blurred by the homosocial spectrum.11 Homosexual panic accounts for the personal discomfort of nineteenth-century homophobic rhetoric in a way that the other theories do not. It describes why men stigmatized homosexuality not from allegiance to abstract causes but from urgent personal need.
(6) Yet Sedgwick's theory also has a weakness. It does not explain how social structures could have implanted in men the fear of their own potential deviance in the first place. Her treatment assumes that the prevalence of homosocial bonds would be enough to lead men to fear and to react against their own potential for homosexuality. Yet, given the normative nature of homosocial bonds, men could be in them without ever noticing what she takes to be obvious, that the lines between these bonds and homoerotic affections are ambiguous. In the nineteenth century, conventional patterns of socialization in schools, the military, and in the workplace worked to make the ambiguity of homosocial desire invisible.12
(7) For the panic she describes to have occurred, as I believe it did, other social practices must have existed that encouraged middle-class men to understand themselves as at least potentially "different." Only then could they worry that they might appear to resemble other "different" men, and react against that possible perception. The work of Pierre Bourdieu, a sociologist not usually associated with theories of gender or sexuality, is useful in explaining such practices.13 Bourdieu is best known to Anglo-American readers for Distinction, his sociology of taste in twentieth-century France. In it, he explains how the struggle for "symbolic capital," defined as "the acquisition of a reputation for competence and an image of respectability and honourability," structures social hierarchy. According to Bourdieu, members of the bourgeoisie display symbolic capital by demonstrating their superiority to whatever they perceive to be merely commonplace. A range of intellectual and educational institutions encourage
the cult and culture of the "person," that set of personal properties, exclusive, unique, and original, which includes "personal ideas," "personal style" and, above all, "personal opinion." It could be shown that the opposition between the rare, the distinguished, the chosen, the unique, the exclusive, the different, the irreplaceable, the original, and the common, the vulgar, the banal, the indifferent, the ordinary, the average, the usual, the trivial . . . is one of the fundamental oppositions . . . in the language of bourgeois ethics and aesthetics.14
For Bourdieu, the cult of the person involves more than is usually understood by the word "individualism." The point is not merely that individuals recognize that they have private interests distinguished from those of their state or community. Rather, the cult of the person imposes on the bourgeoisie a form of compulsory difference. Members of society wanting social status must privilege their ability to distance themselves from their construction of what other people say and do. While Richard Sennett notes as "a fundamental truth of modern culture" that "the pursuit of personal awareness and feeling is a defense against the experience of social relations," Bourdieu reveals that "personal awareness and feeling" themselves structure "social relations" by taking their place in hierarchies of cultural competence.15
(8) Bourdieu associates the cult of the person with the bourgeoisie in twentieth-century France, but it also existed as a slowly developing ideal of the members of England's newly enfranchised middle classes in the nineteenth century. Whereas an older aristocratic hierarchy had distinguished itself from the common people through a mystique of blood, a middle-class man distinguished himself from commonness through the capacity to assert his personal judgment on matters of taste. In the early nineteenth century, the writings of William Hazlitt most vividly foreshadowed the mode of distinction described by Bourdieu. Hazlitt poured scorn on commonplace people as those "who have no opinion of their own and do not pretend to have any." An individual gained an identity through the ability to distinguish himself: "Good nature and common sense are required from all people: but one proud distinction is enough for any one individual to possess or to aspire to!" The goal of life was to be able to claim at least one such "proud distinction."16
(9) In the first half of the nineteenth century, valorizing individual difference came to seem a national trait of the English, owing in part to Protestantism's traditional emphasis on private judgment as opposed to received authority. Two case studies in the development of cultural competence, James Buzard's discussion of tourism and my work on Byron's reception, document how members of the middle classes sought to "lay claim to an aristocracy of inner feeling, the projection of an ideology of originality and difference" in their responses to mass cultural phenomena.17 Nineteenth-century writers often described the desire for distinction in terms of the supposedly English ability to "think for oneself." Edward Lytton Bulwer, for example, claimed in 1833 that "men now think for themselves. That blind submission to teachers, which belongs to the youth of Opinion, is substituted for bold examination in its maturity."18 By 1859, Samuel Smiles found that "one of the most marked characteristics of the Englishman" was "his strong individuality and distinctive personal energy."19 In the same year, John Stuart Mill elevated the desire to be distinguished from the commonplace into a moral imperative: "It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation."20
(10) Critics examining gender in the nineteenth century have largely ignored how the atomizing need for distinction tempered the construction of normative gender roles. For men in particular, distinction may have conflicted with the pressure on them to conform to the recognized roles of husbands and fathers struggling valiantly to provide for their families. As Mill's qualifying phrase "within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others" suggests, men had to be different enough to validate their cultural competence, but not different enough to estrange themselves from bourgeois norms of masculine behavior and family structure. The cult of the person had within it a lurking danger that masculine distinctiveness might be carried too far and cross the invisible yet critical line between acceptable difference and unacceptable deviance. In this context, even the most hallowed language for describing individual distinction, such as the Protestant convention whereby each man identified himself as the worst of sinners, might seem dangerous. John Bowdler, editor of The Family Shakespeare, worried that Christians who dwelt too explicitly on the "deep depravity of their hearts" and spoke of themselves as "the vilest of sinners" were indulging a practice "liable to considerable perversion" that might "lead to some serious dangers."21
(11) Nineteenth-century suburbia embodied the paradoxical but fundamental demand that the middle-class man be distinctive without being too distinctive. According to Olsen, in the nineteenth century, "the ordinary suburb assumed, if it did not impose, at least outward conformity of behavior; but in planning and in the symbolism it tried to see to it that such conformity took place by individuals and families cut off from the obtrusive society or inspection of their fellows."22 While suburban houses resembled one another outwardly, they were private enough that what occurred inside could remain hidden. Bulwer thought that Englishmen had become so attached to privacy that they had become recluses. Domesticity had given them the habit "of viewing with indifference all the sphere beyond, which proverbially distinguishes the recluse, or the member of a confined coterie."23
(12) This reclusive privacy encouraged men to lead a double life split between the world inside and outside of the home. At home, men could cultivate what Mill calls "all that is individual in themselves" as a compensation for the supposed conformity demanded by the public world of labor. In his classic treatment of the suburb of Camberwell, H. J. Dyos argues that the suburbs offered "a world of fantasy in which dreams of self-importance and fulfillment could become tangible in the management of some doll's house estate and in the occupation of a unique social niche."24Dickens's Great Expectations (1860-61) provides the best-known representation of this fantasy in the figure of John Wemmick, a man of virtually no personality in public who has a richly eccentric and hidden life at his home, a modest cottage decorated as a castle. When asked if his employers know about his home life, Wemmick says, "No; the office is one thing, and private life is another. When I go into the office, I leave the Castle behind me, and when I come into the Castle, I leave the office behind me."25 In this essay, I use the phrase "suburban man" to indicate a Wemmick-like model of masculine selfhood that encouraged men to cultivate in their homes a "true," distinctive inner self that was separate from the public identity supposedly forced on them by their occupations.
(13) Yet in the nineteenth century, men in the suburbs were not the only ones leading double lives. Although Ed Cohen has described the double life as the master trope in late nineteenth-century narratives by and about homosexuals, the anonymous Don Leon(c.1830) suggests that it was associated with men who had sex with other men far earlier.26 When Don Leon's author wanted a rhetoric in which to deplore the harsh treatment of sodomy, he defended sodomites by claiming that at least they kept their practices secret; their "secret haunts were hid from every soul." Only the legal system insisted on dragging them into the public light, since their "one propensity . . . always hides / Its sport obscene, and into darkness glides, / Which none so brazen'd e'er presumed to own, / Which left unheeded, would remain unknown."27 Don Leon makes evident the potential analogies between the nineteenth-century's suburban man, cultivating his distinctiveness in private, and the nineteenth-century sodomite, indulging his passions in darkness. Both led lives divided between a public exterior of conformity and a secret, hidden life that flourished with little regard for the world's opinion.
(14) This analogy suggests that Sedgwick's theory of homosexual panic might be revised as a theory of suburban panic. Like Sedgwick, I agree that the homophobia of nineteenth-century middle-class men has a paranoid element based on the fear of potential similarities between "normal" men and "deviant" homosexuals. Yet I would locate the source of this paranoia not in the homosocial spectrum, as Sedgwick does, but in the special, distinctive existence to which suburban ideals encouraged all middle-class men to aspire. Homosexuality would be more likely to provoke embarrassed reactions not if it were something entirely alien to middle-class experience but if the possibility of a secret life hit uncomfortably close to home. Every man's castle might turn out to be some men's closet.
(15) Although I locate this development in nineteenth-century Britain, I hesitate to specify too sharply a date for the emergence of suburban panic and of the kind of homosexual behavior with which it was associated. In his History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault suggests that 1870 "can stand" for the "date of birth" of the homosexual defined "less by a type of sexual relations than by a certain quality of sexual sensibility."28 While he takes his argument about this definition seriously, his casualness about the date gently mocks a naive historical positivism, as does Sedgwick when she questions the usefulness of fighting over a "Great Paradigm Shift" in the history of homosexuality.29 Although much of this essay will concentrate on events between 1800 and 1870, I would not treat this period as a distinct "phase." Just as British suburbia gradually spread throughout the nineteenth century, so its effects on masculine behavior and homophobia should be understood as a slow but pervasive dissemination of norms of masculine respectability associated with a new living environment. Even the Wilde trials in the 1890s, which Alan Sinfield describes as a decisive turning point in the history of homosexuality, seems to me a more visible enactment of paranoid trends that had characterized the entire century.30
(16) The evidence of this paranoia appears throughout nineteenth-century representations of masculinity and of homosexuals. As Cohen suggests, "If one of the ways that the stability and dominance of normative masculinity has been shored up over the last century is by (re)producing it in opposition to its antithetical 'other(s),' then the (violent) repudiation of those who are categorically defined as antagonistic to it can be imagined by those interpellated as 'manly men' to fix the vicissitudes of their own subjectivity."31 In particular, writers loudly insisted that individual distinction was a manly characteristic. "Unmanly" men who had sex with other men were represented, in contrast, as faceless members of a cult. Given the association of homosexuals with cult-like groups, it was particularly important for men wanting to appear manly to underscore their personal discomfort with homosexuals. In the middle-class imagination, if homosexuality was a mark of succumbing to a group mentality, homophobia was a mark of individual character. Consequently, nineteenth-century men made sure that their homophobia looked like the spontaneous expression of personal embarrassment rather than behavior mandated by an array of social, medical, legal, and religious practices and institutions. By repudiating men who had sex with other men, the suburban man could draw a line between being different and being deviant.
William Cowper and the Suburban Man
(17) To develop the history of the suburban man and his anxieties, I turn to the work of William Cowper (1731-1800), especially to his most famous poem, The Task (1785). Cowper may seem a strange choice for a discussion of nineteenth-century masculinity since he is an eighteenth-century writer whose poetry has traditionally been read in the context of eighteenth-century literary developments. I base my choice on the work of Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall in Family Fortunes. According to them, Cowper and Hannah More were the most influential writers on members of the nineteenth-century middle class. While More concentrated on female behavior, Cowper, especially as he presented himself in his most famous poem,The Task, became the most widely loved role model for middle-class men. By citing a variety of archival sources, Davidoff and Hall create an impressive portrait of the range of Cowper's appeal. He was accessible as an ideological paragon to virtually all who could read or who could have others read to them.32
(18) My purpose is not to offer a literary analysis of The Task. Rather, I want to draw on Raymond Williams's characterization of the dynamic interrelations of a cultural system in terms of dominant, residual, and emergent elements to examine aspects of Cowper's work most important for nineteenth-century middle-class masculinity.33 Since the study of Cowper generally has fallen to scholars of the eighteenth century, they have treated his work in terms of its dominant elements, such as its Evangelicalism or sensibility, or its residual elements, such as its indebtedness to Augustan satire.34 Yet, except for Davidoff and Hall, scholars of the nineteenth century have overlooked the emergent elements of Cowper's work at the cost of ignoring a formative writer for nineteenth-century manhood.
(19) Nineteenth-century reactions to Cowper repeatedly emphasized that he provided the perfect image of domestic life. In 1800, The Monthly Magazine noted that The Task's most memorable passages were those "in which the charms of rural life, and the endearments of domestic retirement are described." The poem's reputation was "established by universal consent."35 For Francis Jeffrey in 1803, Cowper was popular because of "the minute and correct painting of those home-scenes and private feelings with which every one is internally familiar."36 In 1816, the Quarterly Review rose to a small rhapsody: "We share his walks, or his fire-side, and hear him comment on the newspaper or the last new book of travels; converse with him as a kind familiar friend, or hearken to the counsels of an affectionate monitor. We attend him among the beauties and repose of nature, or the mild dignity of private life.37An encyclopedia entry of 1838 explained that "[b]y inspiring a feeling of intimacy, a kind of domestic confidence in his readers, he made his works 'household words.'"38 While it was unlikely that every one in England had the income to sustain the happy home described by Cowper, his work was so popular and so widely read that it became a touchstone.
(20) Cowper's home in The Task was not in the suburbs but in the rural village of Olney. Yet as Robert Fishman demonstrates, Cowper's domestic ideal inspired the Evangelical founders of Clapham, the "prototypical suburban community" and model for later British suburbs. They organized a living environment that balanced closeness to the city with what Cowper had represented as the desirable solitude of the country.39 Cowper also inspired J. C. Loudon, the nineteenth-century writer with the most influence on the layout and appearance of British villas, gardens, and suburban homes. Loudon loved Cowper's poetry and frequently quoted his work, especially The Task. In works like his Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion, Loudon adapted a Cowperian vision to Britain's middle classes by explaining how men living near the city could retain the healing refuge of domesticity and nature. So important were Loudon's works that Melanie Simo maintains "there is scarcely a nineteenth-century town or village in the English speaking world that shows no trace of Loudon's . . . influence."40 Loudon guaranteed the truth of Thomas Shaw's claim that Cowper was "the painter of domestic life" whose views had been "deeply incorporated" into nineteenth-century "household existence."41
(21) In discussing Cowper, Davidoff and Hall overlook an important and unexpected aspect of his writing: he was a bachelor. Work on domesticity has so emphasized the role of middle-class women that it comes as a surprise to note that neither wife nor children appear in The Task. Although some analyses of bachelors assume that they threatened gendered norms of domesticity, The Task's representation of a bachelor's life, surprisingly, became the model for the English home.42 The Task does occasionally mention Cowper's female companions, but for the most part he remains alone. Although Mary Unwin appears as his friend in Books I and IV, he never names her, never gives her voice, and barely sketches her. Lady Austen inspires the poem by suggesting that he write about the sofa, but she, too, vanishes from the poem after his opening invocation. He treats his female friends in such a cursory way that he increases rather than decreases the impression of his solitude.
(22) In representing himself as a solitary, Cowper was not being radical: he drew on the long Horatian tradition recounting a single man's pleasure in rural retirement.43 Nevertheless, it might seem that other eighteenth-century works would have provided more suitable models for nineteenth-century middle-class men, especially books emphasizing the importance of husbands and fathers to the domestic unit. Yet the overwhelming evidence of Cowper's popularity suggests that the roles of husband and father were not the only ones available to men for their home lives. While Davidoff and Hall suggest that "[t]he real reward for the private man would, of course, be in the world to come," The Task showed instead that men might find internal, spiritual rewards in home that belonged to this world.44 Cowper's self-portrayal was an emergent representation of the suburban home's supposed ability to nurture a man's sense of privileged distinction from the outside world.
(23) In accordance with the Horatian tradition, Cowper locates his home on a moral map that associates the city with luxuriousness and effeminacy and the country with health and truth. London has some virtues, but for the most part is a sink of iniquity, the seat of "[a]mbition, av'rice, penury incurr'd / By endless riot, vanity, the lust / Of pleasure and variety" (3.810-12).45 In the country, "virtue thrives as in her proper soil" (1.600). Its purest essence appears in Cowper's home, where "[d]omestic happiness" is the "only bliss / Of Paradise that has surviv'd the fall!" (3.41-42). It contrasts in every way with London's corruptions and violence.
(24) Cowper describes how he learned to value the blessings of home in what became the poem's most famous passage. Rather than being a joyful account of domestic pleasure, his story is one of personal trauma and partial recovery:
I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infixt
My panting side was charg'd, when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by one who had himself
Been hurt by th'archers. In his side he bore,
And in his hands and feet, the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
He drew them forth, and heal'd and bade me live.
Since then, with few associates, in remote
And silent woods I wander, far from those,
My former partners of the peopled scene;
With few associates, and not wishing more
Here much I ruminate, and much I may,
With other views of men and manners now
Than once, and others of a life to come.
(25) Part of the Cowper's mystery derives from his use of the stricken deer emblem itself, which implies that he could narrate a more detailed history than the one he shares with the reader. In masking the specifics of his situation, he seems to be holding back details that might explain the full truth of the situation. Why did he have to leave "the herd"? What were the "arrows" that wounded him? Why has he not returned to society? Why, if he has been saved, does he still refer to himself as if he suffered from depression? If Cowper is a domestic everyman, then the history of the domestic everyman is markedly secretive. Not everything about the passage is mysterious: the deer is obviously Cowper and the "one" who rescues him is obviously Christ. Yet Cowper does not reveal how or why he was wounded and what the historical reference for the allegorical darts might have been.Cowper draws on the familiar story of Christian conversion, a shortened version of the exodus narrative that dominates English spiritual biography.46 Yet if he conforms to the conventional role of the Christian man, what is most striking about the passage is how subdued his promised land is. The joy and comfort in Christ and incorporation into the church that the redeemed man should conventionally find in his salvation are eerily absent. Christ is at the center of the episode, yet as the passage describes it, he functions less as the center of Cowper's spiritual life than as a liminal figure carrying Cowper into a new understanding of his isolation. Though Cowper proudly reconceives of himself as a man whose solitude authorizes his "other views of men and manners" and "others of a life to come," an undercurrent of mysterious loneliness persists. His haunting repetition of the phrase "with few associates" (a Miltonic effect put to utterly unMiltonic uses) emphasizes "few" so as to make the associates figures of absence, not presence.
(26) The Task intensifies the secrecy of the stricken deer passage by suggesting that Cowper has not fully recovered from his experience. For example, he praises writing poetry for its ability to "steal away the thoughts / With such address from themes of sad import" (2.299-300) without explaining what the themes are. In the middle of a description of England's climate, he notes that its gloom "disposes much / All hearts to sadness, and none more than mine" (6.463-64) without explaining why. When faced with "fierce temptation," he claims that "[t]o combat may be glorious, and success / Perhaps may crown us; but to fly is safe" (3.684, 87-88). These lines set up the expectation that he will describe the true Christian's ability to resist temptation, but he startlingly concludes by recommending flight. For unknown reasons, naked fear blanks out more exalted theological considerations. While such scattered references to Cowper's distress appear as diversions from topics at hand, they have the cumulative effect of heightening the sense that he is withholding key aspects of his personality.47
(27) Throughout The Task, Cowper lets his audience know enough about himself to suggest that he is harboring secrets. At a general level, Cowper's secrecy effect anticipates a "deep" selfhood never fully available to language that would become a nineteenth-century commonplace, typifying the romantic representation of subjectivity from Wordsworth and Byron to Freud. Michel Foucault's work has provided the most influential account of the construction of this subjectivity. In The Order of Things, he traces a shift from eighteenth-century "order" to nineteenth-century "history," which involved the construction of "a depth in which what matters is no longer identities . . . but great hidden forces developed on the basis of their primitive and inaccessible nucleus, origin, causality, and history."48 In The History of Sexuality, Foucault argues that the discourse of confession gave such depth to subjectivity itself. Confession created a literature about "the infinite task of extracting from the depths of oneself, in between the words, a truth which the very form of the confession holds out like a shimmering mirage." For Foucault, the chief signifier of the depths of subjectivity was sex: "It is in the confession that truth and sex are joined."49 Extrapolating from Foucault, Sedgwick suggests that the nineteenth century witnessed a process whereby "knowledge means in the first place sexual knowledge; ignorance, sexual ignorance; and epistemological pressure of any sort seems a force increasingly saturated with sexual impulsion."50
(28) While I agree with Foucault and Sedgwick about the rise of a "deep" model of subjectivity, I question the assertion that the truth of this subjectivity arose through a discourse about sex. At least before Freud, sexual desire was not assumed to provide an incontestably adequate index to the full depths of the inner self. Instead, it served only as an always inadequate means to gauge a depth that lay beyond language. While sex, as Foucault suggests, may have been a privileged theme of confession, it was never the only theme and never the one that necessarily carried with it the full revelation of truth. I would posit a more tentative relation between sexuality and subjectivity in the nineteenth century: a discourse of sexual desire existed as a possible but never absolutely certain means of knowing mental depths that were potentially immune to any explanation. If, as Sedgwick suggests, knowledge was in the first place sexual knowledge, it was also true that knowledge of sexuality did not necessarily exhaust knowledge of subjectivity.
(29) I note the possible distinction between knowledge and sexuality to avoid the too hasty reduction of Cowper's secrecy effect in The Task to sexual secrecy. Instead, it is useful to explore its significance quite apart from its potential sexual associations, although I will turn to these later in the essay. In itself, the association between confession, secrecy, and inner depths was not new to the late eighteenth century. Yet it had new effects in Cowper's work because his poem was so overtly autobiographical. While many eighteenth-century poets wrote about themselves and their feelings, they did so within the conventional lyric decorum of a generalized "I." Cowper, unlike such writers as Gray or Collins, exchanges the lyric "I" for an autobiographical narrator who describes his daily activities, his opinions on the world, and even, as in the stricken deer passage, his past. Personal self-revelation led Cowper to be loved for what were perceived to be his personal qualities even more than for his verse.51
(30) As Cowper presents himself in the stricken deer passage, what he has gained from his mysteriously traumatic conversion experience is a sense of being different. In Bourdieu's terms, he has achieved distinction. Cowper is privileged because he can believe that he is better than the larger community from which he has set himself apart. In the Horatian tradition, the mere fact of being in the country gave the solitary man a sense of privileged superiority. But since Cowper eventually finds that even the country is imperfect because "the town has ting'd the country" (4.553), he internalizes the privileged vision of the rural solitary.52 For him, his distinction arises from the internal changes he underwent after the experience described in the stricken deer passage, not from his location in Olney. His secrecy effect is a continual reminder of the mysterious process whereby a man who was once a member of a herd has developed in solitude "other views of men and manners now / Than once, and others of a life to come." However painful his experience was and still is, it allows him to claim a sense of distinction because he knows that his perspective is different from and superior to that held by merely ordinary men.
(31) Cowper's sense of his own specialness permeates all his activities, down to the most mundane. For example, when he reads the newspaper, he feels how fully his "other views" separate him from the public world that it represents:
'Tis pleasant through the loop-holes of retreat
To peep at such a world . . .
Thus sitting, and surveying thus at ease
The globe and its concerns, I seem advanc'd
To some secure and more than mortal height,
That lib'rates and exempts me from them all.
It turns submitted to my view, turns round
With all its generations; I behold
The tumult, and am still. The sound of war
Has lost its terrors ere it reaches me;
Grieves, but alarms me not. I mourn the pride
And av'rice that make man a wolf to man;
Hear the faint echo of those brazen throats
By which he speaks the language of his heart
And sigh, but never tremble at the sound.
(32) Cowper in The Task is a specifically masculine model. When he reads the newspaper, the action belongs to him and not to his female companions; he is "[f]ast bound in chains of silence, which the fair / Though eloquent themselves, yet fear to break" (4.53-54). He implies that reading the paper is a peculiarly male form of self-discipline and concentration, a chaining in silence, that women are forbidden to interrupt. The passage is typical of how throughout The Task, Cowper offers a model whereby the home allows men to cultivate an internal life that seems to transcend history itself. Although in his home he may not have achieved "immortal fame" (6.933), he insists that he obtains "fresh triumphs o'er himself / And never with'ring wreaths, compar'd with which / The laurels that a Caesar reaps are weeds" (6.937-39). The self-discipline that he exercises genders the inner life of the home as a masculine mode of conquest superior to military victory.54The newspaper, by translating the public world into a network of textual signs, allows him to imagine it as something from which he is cut off but which provides him with material for reflection. Cowper resembles the reader that Jon Klancher describes as being fashioned by early nineteenth-century periodicals: "The individual reader must be defined as a textual presence in a discourse where he constitutes himself as a 'reader' by becoming aware of his distinction from all social, collective formations that he learns to 'read' as a social text."53 Not only is Cowper separate from the social text of the newspaper; he is also superior to it, "advanc'd / To some secure and more than mortal height." He revalues his social marginality as a position that earns him privileged interpretive power. Because he is not involved in the morass of politics, he can see the true littleness of contemporary leaders in ways that commonplace men who lack his depth of mysterious experience cannot.
(33) Although when Cowper wrote in the 1780s, suburbs had not yet appeared in England, for his later audiences, the suburban home provided the ideal space in which to develop and refine distinction like Cowper's, since it valued privacy above all else: "[T]he most satisfactory suburb was that which gave him the maximum of privacy and the minimum of outside distraction."55Whereas previously men had sought distinction by proving themselves in the public world, Cowper suggested that a man gained his true distinction only at home. Since few men had the financial resources to take Cowper literally and abandon public life altogether, the location of the suburban home allowed them both to earn the money necessary to maintain a suburban home and to live far enough away from the city that the home could be perceived as a refuge. There they might follow his example, which suggested that the home could soothe the secret wounds produced by the public world's demands for conformity. Whether or not men actually thought that their public lives hurt them as Cowper says his life did,The Task taught them that the private sphere had value as a space of compensation.
(34) It may seem misleading for me to suggest that the compensation Cowper finds in the home was that of internal distinction since many of his readers would have recognized his opinions as commonplaces of Evangelical Christianity. Nevertheless, Cowper presented himself carefully so as to avoid seeming to be merely the spokesman for a religious movement, although his Christianity played an important role in his canonization as a model domestic poet. Cowper's self-representation falls between residual and emergent categories, an older stress on private judgment and nonconformity derived from traditional Protestant doctrine and a newer suggestion of the suburban quest for personal distinction.56 Nowhere in the poem does he ever admit that an Evangelical revival has occurred or that he is part of a larger Evangelical community. Although relations with other Evangelicals mattered greatly to him, they play no part in The Task. Instead, he takes his Protestant stance to such an extreme that he presents his opinions as if they belonged to him alone, although he always insists that they have divine sanction. His opinions look like the inspired meditations of a reflective Christian rather than the platform of an aggressive and well-organized religious, social, intellectual, and political movement.57 By 1834, a non-Evangelical writer like Sir Egerton Brydges could note that "Cowper, from a singleness of thought, sentiment, and expression, which comes home to every one's business and bosom, will always keep possession of the public interest."58 While Brydges acknowledges Cowper's attractive "singleness," he does not connect it to Protestant nonconformity. Instead, he understands that Cowper became a shared ideal not because of his religion but, paradoxically, because of his particularity.
(35) Yet the desirability of "singleness" like Cowper's was not unambiguous. While I earlier suggested that his secrecy did not necessarily have to be interpreted in sexual terms, I want now to turn to the aspects of the poem that encouraged such an interpretation in the nineteenth century. If Cowper's secrecy anticipated romantic subjectivity, it also anticipated the homosexual closet in ways that had important effects for the suburban man's relation to homoeroticism. In a complex definition, Sedgwick notes that "'closetedness' itself is a performance initiated as such by the speech act of a silence–not a particular silence, but a silence that accrues particularity by fits and starts, in relation to the discourse that surrounds and differentially constitutes it."59 Cowper's secrets in The Task surrounded him with many silences, not solely ones about his sexuality. Yet certain aspects of his self-representation provided clues for later readers about his possible sexual deviance.
(36) As critics have long recognized, Cowper's self-presentation in the stricken deer passage has much in common with the eighteenth-century man of feeling, such as his "virtually helpless, passive, 'feminine'" characteristics.60 In the eighteenth century, the man of feeling's putative femininity did little to challenge heteronormative sexual roles, as Claudia Johnson and Judith Frank have argued.61Cowper, however, differed from standard men of feeling like Laurence Sterne's Yorick and Henry Mackenzie's Harley by avoiding displays of heteroerotic attachment. The Task begins with his taking up his friend Lady Austen's challenge to write about the sofa, a piece of furniture associated in eighteenth-century literature with illicit or violent sex. Cowper's mock-epic history drains the sofa of its sexual associations, an act characteristic of his desire for "a world in principle as chaste / As this is gross and selfish" (6.836-37). He is a bachelor markedly uninterested in the possibilities of women as objects of erotic sympathy.
(37) No eighteenth-century writers that I have discovered found any scandal in Cowper's self-representation as a bachelor, probably because the reflective, solitary man was such a literary commonplace after the success of such works as John Milton's "Il Penseroso" (1645), Edward Young's The Complaint, or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742-46), and Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751). Yet Cowper differed from these writers in one respect: by placing his solitary in a setting so closely associated with women, marriage, and the family, he drew attention to his anomalous celibacy. While this anomalousness did not affect his eighteenth-century reception, perceptions about Cowper changed dramatically in the nineteenth century. In the next section, I will trace how reactions to him point to a crisis in the formation of the suburban man's identity. Cowper's link between secrecy and distinction could be read as a one between secrecy and sexual deviance in ways that made the violent repudiation of homosexuality necessary for the suburban man to maintain his masculine authority.
The Stricken Deer and the Hermaphrodite
(38) In the years following The Task's publication, Cowper's readership spread as he was taken up by the Evangelicals and their periodicals, reprinted in numerous editions, acquired by lending libraries, excerpted in schooltexts, copied in commonplace books, and generally treated as an unexceptionable author for the respectable home. From the start, readers wanted to know the answers to the mysteries with which he surrounded himself. TheGentleman's Magazine's comment in 1785 held true for readers at least until the end of the nineteenth century: "[A]ll who read [Cowper] must be curious to know him and his communication, and grieve that such a writer, such a man, ever had an 'arrow' in his side."62 The solution to the identity of the mysterious "arrow" that received most attention from early biographers was not Cowper's sexuality but his insanity. Almost immediately after his death, accounts of his madness began to appear, which provoked a stormy controversy between Evangelical and anti-Evangelical readers about whether Evangelicalism had created or cured it.63 Hoping to calm the argument, William Hayley, Cowper's first official biographer, printed hundreds of Cowper's letters for the first time. He commented that they "must render all who read them intimately acquainted with the Writer, and the result of such intimacy must be . . . an increase of public affection for his enchanting character."64While Hayley did not ignore Cowper's madness, he described it through a vague rhetoric of depression and highlighted instead letters representing Cowper's domestic life.
(39) To a degree, Hayley's project worked. Cowper's letters became extraordinarily popular because, likeThe Task itself, they made readers familiar with the everyday life of an exemplary domestic man. As one reviewer wrote, "What imagination can be so dull, after having read these letters, as not to . . . behold him in the act of writing and in that of reading aloud to the ladies, or in the humbler employments of feeding his birds and his tame hares, winding thread, working in the garden, and even mending kitchen windows?"65 In some ways, the letters even increased Cowper's readership because they were less heavily infused with Evangelical doctrine than his poems were. If in The Task, Cowper located the authority of his personal opinions in his exemplary Christianity, the exemplarity of the letters arose because they were supposed to be the genuine productions of a model man.
(40) Yet the "intimate acquaintance" that Cowper's letters gave readers with him, rather than satisfying their curiosity, as Hayley had hoped, only stimulated it. Cowper's letters, rather than explaining his madness, only made it more secretive than ever:
My depression has a cause, and if that cause were to cease, I should be as cheerful thenceforth, and perhaps for ever, as any man need be. But as I have often said, Mrs. Unwin shall be my expositor. Do not suppose, or suspect, that I treat you with reserve, there is nothing in which I am concerned that you shall not be made acquainted with. But the tale is too long for a letter.66
These passages are characteristic of Cowper's secrecy effect in his letters. He hints at and then postpones revelations about his life. For readers looking to explain his madness, they guaranteed that the essence of his personality would always seem to be just out of reach.
(41) The danger always lurked that if Cowper's audience found out too much, they would not like what they found. The proof of this danger was the uncomfortable response to the 1816 publication of his Memoirs. Although late twentieth-century critics have found this to be his most compelling text,67 early nineteenth-century readers disliked the specificity with which Cowper described his madness and his suicide attempts: "[W]e do not like to be carried back to all the particulars of his early offences . . . When they are pressed once more upon our notice, with all their minuteness, they have a tendency . . . to detract somewhat from our respect"; "[T]he secret sufferings of the gifted but most unhappy subject . . . were detailed with a minuteness, which nothing but the unsocial and indelicate taste of methodism could for one instance have endured."68 Just as Bowdler had warned, if a man told too much about what made his inner suffering distinctive, he would not be admired. Cowper's memoir strained the ability of his audience to distinguish between proper distinction and scandalous deviance.
(42) One might suppose that such a strain would have ended Cowper's popularity. If Cowper the bachelor seems an unlikely model for suburban masculinity, Cowper the lunatic seems impossible. Yet the actual reactions of nineteenth-century readers were considerably more complex. Among Evangelicals, he remained an irreproachable standard of piety. While Southey's 1837 anti-Evangelical edition of Cowper sold 6,000 copies, the Rev. T. S. Grimshawe's 1835 Evangelical edition sold 32,000.69 For William Blake, the Romantic link between madness and inspiration encouraged him to see Cowper as an inspired visionary.70Yet the most common reaction was to see him less as a good Christian and sharp satirist, as his first readers tended to do, then as a man whose secrets made him appear unusually feminine. Davidoff and Hall note that anxieties about gender surrounded Evangelical men in general: "Evangelical manhood, with its stress on self-sacrifice and influence, came dangerously close to embracing 'feminine' qualities."71 These anxieties were particularly acute in Cowper's case because of his madness and secrecy, both qualities opposed to "manly" sanity and openness. Once the "singleness of thought and feeling" identified by Brydges could be associated with the effects of madness, Cowper seemed to be best characterized through a vocabulary of femininity.
(43) For some readers, the spectacle of a man with feminine characteristics was distasteful. Hazlitt complained of the "effeminacy about [Cowper], which shrinks from and repels common and hearty sympathy."72 Frederick Denison Maurice worried that the "gentleness of [Cowper's] life might lead some to suspect him of effeminacy," but he assured them that "the old Westminster school-boy and cricketer comes out in the midst of his Meditation on Sofas."73 In defending Cowper, Maurice did not suggest that Cowper really possessed adult masculine characteristics. Instead, he projected backwards into the eighteenth century the aggressive masculinity associated with Victorian public schools. Better for Cowper to be a boy than to be effeminate.
(44) Yet the distaste that Hazlitt and Maurice felt for Cowper's effeminacy was far less common than a recuperation of Cowper as a man who, while flawed in many ways, still remained a model. Toward his "feminine" aspects, critics maintained an amiable condescension. Jeffrey praised his "feminine gentleness and delicacy of nature, that shrank from all that was boisterous, presumptuous, or rude," and George Saintsbury commented on his "slightly feminine" nature.74 Even those who did not use "feminine" used feminizing phrases to describe him, such as "delicate in constitution, and timid in his disposition"; they praised his "peculiar naïveté" and "tender, generous and pious sentiments."75 The long-term effects of this condescension are still evident, as in the Norton Anthology's description of him as a poet whose "sensibility" is "delicate" and whose "gentle talk" can "re-create for us the serenity and simplicity of life in an English village."76
(45) This condescension reveals more about uncomfortable perceptions of relations between masculinity and domesticity than it does about Cowper. Labelling Cowper as feminine let nineteenth-century writers imply that they, in contrast, were masculine. Nevertheless, they respected Cowper's femininity insofar as it distinguished him from vulgarity. Nor did they ever treat Cowper exclusively as feminine, but as a man who had masculine and feminine qualities: he united "the playfulness of a child, the affectionateness of a woman, and the strong sense of a man."77One supposedly masculine quality with which readers were eager to associate him was his patriotism: "Cowper is the poet of a well-educated and well-principled Englishman"; "When the shame of England burns in the heart of Cowper, you must believe him; for through that heart rolled the best of England's blood."78 Likewise, Cowper's love of domesticity and his strong faith earned him "many simple and honest readers who turn to books for sympathy and fellowship" because "Cowper is one of the strongest instances, and proofs, how much more qualities of this kind affect Englishmen than any other."79 If Cowper's gender identity was unusual, his national representativeness was not, since identifying with this vulnerable and feminized man was a mark of English manhood.
(46) Cowper's unusual personality also could be recuperated as the source of his distinction. As Henry Neele noted, in comparing Cowper to Thomson, "His range is neither so wide, nor so lofty, but, as far as it extends, it is peculiarly his own . . . The pictures of domestic life which he has painted are inimitable."80Macaulay thought that Cowper had rejected eighteenth-century cliches to become the "forerunner of the great restoration of our literature" represented by the Romantic movement; for William Michael Rossetti, "in point of literary or poetic style, Cowper was mainly independent."81 This independence could even be valued as a form of masculinity: "His language has . . . a masculine, idiomatic strength"; Cowper had "a manliness of taste which approached to roughness."82 In the eyes of these writers, problematic as Cowper's personality may have been, at least he was "independent" enough to think for himself.
(47) Nevertheless, Cowper's perceived mixture of masculine and feminine qualities had within it the seeds of scandal. There was always the possibility that this mixture would be recognized not as distinctive and even admirable eccentricity but as alarming deviance. Several recent scholars have emphasized that the gender deviance was not necessarily a sign of sexual transgression.83Yet reactions to Cowper reveal that the two categories were not necessarily as distinct as these critics claim. The relevance of the slippage between gender and sexuality to Cowper's case surfaced in the 1830s while Robert Southey was writing his biography of Cowper. He heard of a letter supposedly by Cowper's mentor John Newton that disclosed "something regarding Cowper much more remarkable than anything that is publicly known concerning him."84According to the memoirs of Charles Greville, the letter claimed that Cowper "was an Hermaphrodite; somebody knew his secret, and probably threatened its exposure."85 Southey pondered the significance of the letter, but did not include the rumor in his biography. It leaked out through "the sensation-mongering editor of a small journal, the Literary Times," though it received little public attention.86 Later in the century, it resurfaced with the publication of Southey's letters and of an expurgated version of Greville's memoirs, which changed Greville's language to say that Cowper had "some defect" in his "physical conformation."87
(48) The most intriguing aspect of this incident is trying to understand precisely what these men thought was wrong with Cowper. The 1874 editors of Greville's memoirs assumed that Cowper's hermaphroditism was a physical condition, presumably of the sort that Alice Domerat Dreger has shown received considerable attention from Victorian doctors.88 Yet Southey decided otherwise. According to Southey, if Cowper possessed an actual physical deformity, "no parent would or could have sent him to a boarding school," as Cowper's parents had done.89 Instead, Southey treated Cowper's hermaphroditism as evidence not of biological deformity but of mental instability: "He fancied that he was an androgyne"; "It occurs to me that the most probably solution is to suppose it a mere conception of madness, not the real and primary cause of his insanity, but a hypochondriacal and imaginary effect of it."90 By treating hermaphroditism as a figment of Cowper's mind rather than a fact about his body, Southey suggests that Cowper's gender deviance was a psychological rather than a physical trait. For Southey, Cowper's delusion that he had a body combining male and female biological traits must have stemmed from a prior confusion about gender identity related to his mental illness.
(49) Greville's remark in his memoir that Cowper was a "hermaphrodite" with a "secret" that might have been exposed suggests that for him, Cowper's "hermaphroditism" had a different significance. Since the Renaissance, the term "hermaphrodite" had hovering around it an ambiguity similar to that surrounding the adjective "effeminate." If applied to a man, it might mean that he was a man who had sex with other men, but it did not necessarily do so.91 In the case of the quotation from Greville, the association of "hermaphrodite" with same-sex passion seems probable because of its link to secrecy and exposure. By the 1830s, a series of scandals had accustomed the British public to understand sex between men as the most shameful secret that could possibly be exposed. Crompton discusses the most famous of these in his accounts of William Beckford, the Bishop of Clogher, and Lord Byron.92 These cases took place against the backdrop of many lesser-known examples of men forced to flee the country because of their "disgraceful conduct," as well cases in which men who had sex with other men submitted to blackmail to keep their behavior secret.93Such events suggest that Greville understood Cowper as a man worried about keeping his sexual desires closeted. For him, Cowper looked more like a closeted homosexual than like a model suburbanite.
(50) The history of the hermaphrodite rumor took a surprising turn in 1837 after Southey had seen the supposedly incriminating letter. He was shocked to discover that it referred to not his Cowper but to one of Cowper's relatives with the same name:
I obtained from Ingles a sight of the sealed letter. How little are men's memories to be trusted upon points of which they have no cause to take particular notice at the time! . . . [T]he facts of the disappearance, the tracing of the lost person to France, and the supposed cause of his thus absconding, relate to theother William Cowper, as clearly ascertained by the date. What then becomes of all the collateral traditional evidence respecting my Cowper's real or supposed malformation? . . . [D]id my Cowper apply to himself what was reported of his kinsman, and engraft this miserable imagination upon his other delusions?94
Presumably the other William Cowper disappeared and fled to France after a homosexual scandal. In any case, this letter makes clear that the hermaphrodite rumor about Cowper the poet arose from a case of mistaken identity. No evidence existed for it whatsoever.
(51) It may look as if the hermaphrodite rumor should be dismissed as telling more about Southey and later readers than about Cowper. Yet doing so would lose the insight that it provides into the nineteenth century's use of Cowper to construct masculinity in relation to homosexuality. Southey, once he learned that the rumor was groundless, still wondered about the "collateral traditional evidence" of Cowper's "supposed malformation." Even without the specific evidence of Cowper's hermaphroditism, Southey still suspected that Cowper harbored a secret about gender deviance. He even thought that it was possible that Cowper believed himself to have engaged in same-sex passion, as the earlier Cowper evidently had. Even more remarkably, twentieth-century scholars have entirely overlooked the evidence of Southey's letter and proceeded as if the hermaphrodite rumor really were about Cowper the poet. They have produced a wealth of theories and denials, including the possibility that Cowper was a latent homosexual.95
(52) The rumor's durability is no mere accident. It reveals how little distance might exist in the nineteenth century between the model suburban man and the sexual deviant. In Cowper's case, his supposed feminine qualities overdetermined the possibility of seeing him as having a secret identity as a "hermaphrodite" or "androgyne." Tellingly, Southey and Greville never described him as a "sodomite" or a "bugger," but used words that pointed specifically to feminine traits in a man. For Greville, if Cowper were a "hermaphrodite," he had sex with other men. For Southey, Cowper the "androgyne" might at least have thought, in his insanity, that he had homoerotic desires.
(53) In terms of Cowper's larger significance to the history of masculinity, the hermaphrodite rumor reveals the potential danger in cultivating a secrecy effect as a basis of personal distinction. In the 1780s, Cowper had defined himself as a stricken deer who had earned his unique perspective on the world through painful but mysterious experience. The secrets with which Cowper surrounded himself could by the 1830s be taken as evidence of homosexuality, or at least of gender dysfunction. The Task taught nineteenth-century suburban men that any man who wished to aspire to the special viewpoint fostered by the domestic sphere needed to have his share of secrets. Yet this secrecy effect could seem potentially scandalous after "one particular sexuality . . . was distinctively constituted as secrecy," as Sedgwick notes of homosexuality.96Although the hermaphrodite rumor was not widely known in the nineteenth century, it reveals the anxieties for nineteenth-century men lurking beneath the model for the suburban man represented by Cowper. The question marks potentially surrounding masculine secrecy as the mark of a distinctive inner life meant that the suburban man had to find a way to differentiate his secrecy from the kind that could make him look "hermaphroditic."
(54) The solution to these anxieties in nineteenth-century writing was to re-create the stricken deer narrative as a specifically masculine story of achievement. Like Cowper, nineteenth-century heroes undergo secret inner struggles that earn them a distinctive, individual perspective on the world and separate them from the supposedly less sensitive mass of commonplace men. Yet far from feminizing them, this process earn them masculine "character."97 InSartor Resartus (1830-31), for example, Carlyle notes approvingly about his hero, Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, that "what ragings and despairing soever Teufelsdröckh's soul was the scene of, he has the goodness to conceal under a quite opaque cover of Silence."98From these secret ragings emerge Teufelsdröckh's self-assertions as a prophet who feels, like Cowper, that he sees beyond the commonplace, everyday appearances to eternal truth.
(55) While Carlyle writes Teufelsdröckh's story in an extravagant, hyperbolic style that seems hardly appropriate for the Victorian suburbanite, a more likely model was Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown. Brown is the archetypal Victorian "man," product of Thomas Arnold's Rugby and then an Oxford education. While he many initially appear to be the polar opposite of the "feminine" Cowper, he ends by emphasizing that he is not "some one who found the world a very good world, and was satisfied with things as they are." Like Cowper's stricken deer, he is "full of all manner of doubts and perplexities, who sees little but wrong in the world about him, and more in himself."99 Brown's self-doubt is supposed to be a mark of his masculine character because it distinguishes him from the complacency of Philistines satisfied with things as they are. As with Cowper, the exact content of Brown's "doubts and perplexities" remains vague, but his secrets are not to be despised because they manifest his distinctively masculine inner struggle.
(56) Once Cowper the stricken deer could be rewritten as a masculine model, the secret of homosexuality had to be connected not to men of individual character but to men lacked such character. Writers located such men in cities, far from the isolating world of the suburban home: "These wretches have many ways and means of conveying intelligence, and many signals by which they discover themselves to each other . . . by means of these signals they retire to satisfy a passion too horrible for description, too detestable for language."100 A Victorian work entitled The Yokel's Preceptorwarned those new to London to beware of groups of men who "generally congregate around the picture shops, and are to be known by their effeminate air, their fashionable dress."101 In Oxford, the Tractarians were perceived as a secretive cult led by John Henry Newman. As James Eli Adams has noted, "attacks on the Tractarians solidified a gendered structure in which male secrecy eventually came to be identified narrowly and specifically with sexual transgression."102 Reactions to Oscar Wilde treated him likewise as the leader of a cult. Punch noted that when Wilde's play were performed, "[n]ightly the stalls were fulfilled by Row upon Row of neatly curled Fringes, surmounting Buttonholes of monstrous size."103 When testimony at his trials revealed his involvement with same-sex activity, the newspaper commented that "this curse of an outrageous cult" had at last been exposed.104 Even in British colonial experience, the homoerotic anxieties surrounding the possibility of "going native" can be seen as a version of the paranoia surrounding secrecy. As in the attacks on Wilde or the Tractarians, anxieties about masculinity arose when confronted with the possibility of submerging individual personality within an eroticized, larger body, such as the secretive mass that writers like Kipling represented as India.
(57) This mode of homophobia remains familiar today in the attacks by the religious right on the "gay agenda." Homosexuals threaten the "fundamental" value of individualism insofar as they are represented as a cult eager to recruit new members rather than as an oppressed minority. At the same time, a gay man's story can be acceptable if it follows an archetypal individualist narrative, as in Jonathan Demme's filmPhiladelphia (1994). Its hero is a latter-day Cowperian stricken deer whose secret is not madness but AIDS. The contradiction whereby a violently homophobic culture can praise and reward a film that sympathetically represents a gay man has its roots in Cowper's model of suburban masculinity and the discomfort surrounding its nineteenth-century reception. Cowper's poem installed the structure of the closet at the center of the middle-class suburban psyche in ways that made homophobia more useful than ever as a means of reinforcing the fragile borders of bourgeois masculine subjectivity.
Andrew Elfenbein is an Associates Professor of English at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. He is the author of Byron and the Victorians (1995) and Genius: The Prehistory of a Homosexual Role, forthcoming from Columbia University Press.
- Crompton, Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1985), p. 38. Back
- On the Labouchère amendment, see H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love that Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1970), 134-37; Ed Cohen, Talk on the Wilde Side: Toward a Genealogy of a Discourse on Male Sexualities (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 91-93. Back
- On the rise of the suburbs, see Donald J. Olsen, The Growth of Victorian London (London: B. T. Batsford, 1976), 189-264; Walter L. Creese, "Imagination in the Suburb," Nature and the Victorian Imagination, ed. U. C. Knoepflmacher and G. B. Tennyson (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1977), 49-67; Bruce Coleman, "The Idea of the Suburb: Suburbanization and Suburbanism in Victorian Britain," London in Literature (London: Roehampton Institute, 1979), 73-90; The Rise of Suburbia, ed. F. M. L. Thompson (Leicester: Leicester Univ. Press, 1982), 1-26; Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 39-72. Back
- Adam, "Structural Foundations of the Gay World," Comparative Studies in Society and History 27 (1985): 658-71; 663; Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, trans. Daniella Dangoor (1972; Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1993), 93-112; Fernbach, "Toward a Marxist Theory of Gay Liberation," Socialist Revolution 6.2 (1976): 29-41; D'Emilio, "Capitalism and Gay Identity" in Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), 3-16. Back
- On masturbation, see Cohen, Talk, 35-68. Back
- Times, July 5, 1822, quoted in Crompton, Byron and Greek Love, 301. Back
- Shelley's Prose, ed. David Lee Clark (London: Fourth Estate, 1988), 222. Back
- The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay, ed. Thomas Pinney, 6 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974-81), 1:76; The Diaries of William Charles Macready, ed. William Toynbee, 2 vols. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1912), 1:243. On the rumors surrounding Byron's separation, see Crompton, Byron and Greek Love, 221-35, and Andrew Elfenbein, Byron and the Victorians(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995), 206-13. Back
- W. H. Thompson, The Phaedrus of Plato (1868; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1973), 163n. Back
- Richardson, Literary Leaves, quoted in Peter Stallybrass, "Editing as Cultural Formation: The Sexing of Shakespeare's Sonnets," MLQ 54 (1993): 91-103; 101, 102; Henry Hallam,Introduction to the Literature of Europe, 3 vols. (1837-39; rpt. New York: Johnson, 1970), 2:504. Back
- Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1990), 185, 186. Back
- The literature on nineteenth-century masculinity is substantial. Accounts that I have found particularly useful are David Newsome,Godliness and Good Learning: Four Studies on a Victorian Ideal(London: Cassell, 1961); Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall,Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987), 229-71; Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1992), 283-320; and James Eli Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Manhood (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995), 1-20. Back
- For an appropriation of Bourdieu for the study of gender, see Toril Moi, "Appropriating Bourdieu: Feminist Theory and Pierre Bourdieu's Sociology of Culture," New Literary History 22 (1991): 1017-49; for Bourdieu and sexuality, see Elfenbein, Byron and the Victorians, 206-29. Back
- Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1984), 291, 414. Back
- Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (New York: Knopf, 1977), 213.Back
- Hazlitt, The Round Table in The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe, 21 vols. (New York: AMS, 1967), 4:136;Table Talk, 8:50. Back
- Buzard, The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to "Culture," 1800-1918 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 121-22; see more generally 80-154; Elfenbein, Byron and the Victorians, 58-74. Back
- Bulwer, England and the English, ed. Standish Meacham (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970), 45. Back
- Smiles, from Self-Help, quoted in Culture and Society in Britain, 1850-1890, ed. J. M. Golby (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), 109.Back
- Mill, On Liberty (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956), 76. Back
- Bowdler, Select Pieces in Verse and Prose, 2 vols. (London: G. Davidson, 1816), 2:525. Back
- Olsen, Growth of Victorian London, 221. Back
- Bulwer, England and the English, 23. Back
- Dyos, Victorian Suburb: A Study of the Growth of Camberwell(Leicester: Leicester Univ. Press, 1961), 23.Back
- Dickens, Great Expectations, ed. Angus Calder (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1965), 231. Back
- Cohen, "The Double Lives of Man: Narration and Identification in Late Nineteenth-Century Representations of Ec-centric Masculinities," Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle, ed. Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995), 85-114. Back
- Don Leon reprinted in Bernard Grebanier, The Uninhibited Byron: An Account of His Sexual Confusion(New York: Crown, 1970), 307-49; quotations on 308, 309. Back
- Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1990), 43. Back
- Sedgwick, Epistemology, 44-48. Back
- Sinfield, The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde, and the Queer Movement (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1995), 1-24.Back
- Cohen, Talk, 212. Back
- Davidoff and Hall, Family Fortunes, 162-67. Back
- For these terms, see Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), 121-27. Back
- For standard works on Cowper, see Patricia Meyer Spacks, The Poetry of Vision: Five Eighteenth-Century Poets (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967), 178-94; Vincent Newey, Cowper's Poetry: A Critical Study and Reassessment (Totowa, N. J.: Barnes and Noble, 1982); Marvin Priestman, Cowper's Task: Structure and Influence (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1983); Bill Hutchings, The Poetry of William Cowper (London: Croom Helm, 1983); Marshall Brown, Preromanticism (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1991), 58-81. Back
- "Additional particulars relative to Mr. Cowper," Monthly Magazine 9 (1800): 498-500; 500. Back
- Jeffrey, "Hayley's Life of Cowper," Edinburgh Review 2 (1803): 64-86; 84. Back
- "Cowper's Poems and Life," Quarterly Review 16 (1816): 117-29; 120. Back
- Lives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen, ed. George Godfrey Cunningham, 8 vols. (Glasgow: A. Fullarton, 1838), 6:327.Back
- Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias, 51-62. Back
- Melanie Louise Simo, Loudon and the Landscape: From Country Seat to Metropolis, 1783-1843 (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1988), 41; see also 28-29, 40, 197. Back
- Thomas B. Shaw, A Complete Manual of English Literature, ed. William Smith (New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865), 359. Back
- On bachelors as threats, see Sedgwick, Epistemology, 189-95.Back
- On Cowper's use of this tradition, see Newey, Cowper's Poetry, 83-84; see also Dustin Griffin, "Redefining Georgic: Cowper's Task,"ELH 57 (1990): 865-79.
- Davidoff and Hall, Family Fortunes, 112. Back
- All quotations from The Task are from Cowper's Poetical Works, ed. H. S. Milford, 4th edn. (London: Oxford, 1971); refs. to book and line numbers. Back
- On this tradition, see Linda H. Peterson, Victorian Autobiography: The Tradition of Self-Interpretation(New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1986), 34-40. Back
- For a discussion of secrecy in relation to Pater that has useful parallels with Cowper, see Adams,Dandies and Desert Saints, 194-205. Back
- Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Random House, 1970), 251. Back
- Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 59, 61. Back
- Sedgwick, Epistemology, 73. Back
- Evidence of the popularity of Cowper's personality is abundant. In 1800, a Dr. Willowby published a sonnet to Cowper in which he noted, "At thy sad tale many a tear I've shed, / While down the vale I guide my pensive way" ("Sonnet to Mr. Cowper," Gentleman's Magazine 70 : 565). The Rev. Fellowes noted thatThe Taskwas so powerful a poem "as to overpower [him] with concern, and sympathy, and admiration" (quoted in Letters of Anna Seward Written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. [Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811], 5:327). James Mackintosh "could not look at [Cowper's] writing without tears. So meek in his life!–so pure!–so tender!–so pious!–he surely never had his rival in virtue and misfortune" (Robert James Mackintosh, Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Sir James Mackintosh, 2 vols., 2nd ed. [London: Moxon, 1836], 1:148). Joseph Bringhurst was so concerned over reports of Cowper's illness that he wrote a letter to him explaining, "I admire thy poetical talents, but the efforts of thy mind in the cause of true virtue, have gained thee my love, and my veneration" (Copy of a letter from a Young Men, A Quaker, in Pennsylvania, to the Late William Cowper, The Poet [Chester: Brother and Son, 1800], 4-5). He added that in Philadelphia where he lived, there were "many amiable and some great minds, who love thee with true affection" (6). Back
- For a complete discussion of this process, see my "Cowper'sTask and the Anxieties of Femininity,"Eighteenth-Century Life 13 (1989): 1-17. Back
- Klancher, The Making of English Reading Audiences, 1790-1832 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 173. Back
- On the importance of self-discipline to eighteenth-century understandings of masculinity, see Carolyn D. Williams, Pope, Manliness, and Homer: Some Aspects of Eighteenth-Century Classical Learning (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 9-26.Back
- Olsen, Growth of Victorian London, 214. Back
- For a relevant discussion of Protestant nonconformity, see John Newton's Twenty-Six Letters on Religious Subjects (London: T. Wilkins, 1774?), esp. 160-65. Back
- My understanding of the Evangelical movement and Cowper's relation to it is informed by Boyd Hilton,The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1795-1865(Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 3-35, and D. W. Bebbington,Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 20-74. Back
- Brydges, The Autobiography, Times, Opinions, and Contemporaries of Sir Egerton Brydges, Bart., 2 vols. (London: Cochrane and M'Crane, 1834), 1:132. Back
- Sedgwick, Epistemology, 3. Back
- Patricia Meyer Spacks, Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), 124. Back
- Johnson, Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995), 1-22; Judith Frank, "'A Man Who Laughs is Never Dangerous': Character and Class in Sterne'sA Sentimental Journey," ELH 56 (1989): 97-124.Back
- "Review of Cowper's Poems," Gentleman's Magazine 55 (1785): 985-88; 987. By 1824, readers longed for a definitive source that would allow them to say, "Now, then, we shall probably be able to 'pluck out the heart of poor Cowper's mystery!'" ("Private Correspondence of Cowper," New Monthly Magazine 10 : 90-103; 92). Readers were still wondering in 1854 when George Gilfillan asked, "Why did this man suffer thus? Why was he ever born to endure such wretchedness? What the rationale of his long martyrdom and darkness?" ("The Life of William Cowper" in The Poetical Works of William Cowper [Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1854], xxv). In 1874 M. Seeley likewise noted that "a mystery, a painful mystery, enveloped most part of poor Cowper's life and being" (The Later Evangelical Fathers [London: Seeley, Jackson, & Halliday, 1874], 82). Back
- On the controversy, see Lodwick Hartley, "Cowper and the Evangelicals: Notes on Early Biographical Interpretations," PMLA 65 (1950): 719-31. Back
- William Hayley, The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper, 3 vols. (London: John Johnson, 1803-04), 1:206. Back
- "Hayley's Life and Posthumous Writings of Cowper, Vol. III,"Monthly Review 44 (1804): 241-52; 241. Back
- Hayley, Life, 1:195, 198. Back
- See Patricia Meyer Spacks, "The Soul's Imaginings: Daniel Defoe, William Cowper," PMLA 91 (1976): 420-35; Felicity Nussbaum, "Private Subjects in William Cowper's 'Memoir,'" Studies in the Age of Johnson 1 (1987): 307-26; and Allan Ingram, The Madhouse of Language: Writing and Reading Madness in the Eighteenth Century (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), 124-29. Back
- "Cowper's Poems and Life," Quarterly Review, 123; "The Rural Walks of Cowper," Monthly Review 100 (1823): 111-12; 111; Dibdin also noted that "publishing the memoirs "could only lead to the debasement of that amiable creature, whom it was the bounden duty of the publisher to have kept . . . free from all imputation" (The Library Companion, 2nd ed. [London: Harding, Triphock, and Lepard, 1825], 547n). Back
- Newey, Cowper's Poetry, 1-2. Back
- For Blake and Cowper, see my "Cowper, Blake, and the Figure of the Invader," The Friend 1.4 (1992): 10-19. Back
- Davidoff and Hall, Family Fortunes, 111. On effeminacy in the eighteenth century, see Chloe Card, "Effeminacy, pleasure and the classical body," Femininity and Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Art and Culture, eds. Gill Perry and Michael Rossington (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1994), 142-61; John Barrell, "'The Dangerous Goddess': Masculinity, Prestige, and the Aesthetic in Early Eighteenth-Century Britain" in The Birth of Pandora and the Division of Knowledge (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press), 63-88; and Williams, Pope, Homer, and Manliness, passim. Back
- Hazlitt, Lectures on the English Poets in Complete Works, 5:91.Back
- Maurice, The Friendship of Books and Other Lectures, ed. Thomas Hughes, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1874), 28. Back
- Jeffrey, "Hayley's Life of Cowper," 80; Saintsbury, Short History of English Literature (New York: Macmillan, 1898), 590. Back
- R. R. Madden, The Infirmities of Genius, 2 vols. (London: Saunders and Otley, 1833), 2:99; "Private Correspondence of William Cowper," Somerset House Gazette 1 (1824): 297-300; 298; "Cowper's Poems and Life," Quarterly Review, 120. Back
- Samuel Holt Monk and Lawrence Lipking, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. M. H. Abrams, 6th ed., 2 vols. (New York: Norton, 1993), 1:2502. Back
- "Private Correspondence of Cowper," Quarterly Review 30 (1823): 185-99; 185. Back
- Dibdin, The Library Companion, 735n.; John Wilson, "North's Specimens of the British Critics, No. VIII: Supplement to MacFlecnoe and the Dunciad," Blackwood's 58 (1845): 366-88; 388.Back
- Maurice, Friendship of Books, 28. Back
- The Literary Remains of Henry Neele (New York: J. and J. Harper, 1829), 125. Back
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, Critical and Historical Essays, 2 vols. (London: Dent, 1967), 2:630; William Michael Rossetti, Lives of Famous Poets (London: E. Moxon, Son, and Co., 1878), 186-87.Back
- Thomas Campbell, Specimens of British Poets, 7 vols. (London: John Murray, 1819), 7:350; Macaulay,Essays, 2:631. Back
- See, for example, Cohen, Talk, 136; Sinfield, The Wilde Century, 25-51; Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1994), 1-31; Joseph Bristow,Effeminate England: Homoerotic Writing after 1885 (New York: Columbia Univ., 1995), 1-16. Back
- The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles, ed. Edward Dowden (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1881), 296.Back
- The Greville Memoirs, 1814-1860, ed. Lytton Strachey and Roger Fulford, 8 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1938), 3:85. Back
- Charles Ryskamp, William Cowper of the Inner Temple, Esq.: A Study of His Life and Works to the Year 1768 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1959), 140. Back
- Greville quoted in ibid., 139. Back
- Dreger, "Doubtful Sex: The Fate of the Hermaphrodite in Victorian Medicine," Victorian Studies 38 (1995): 336-70.
- New Letters of Robert Southey, ed. Kenneth Curry, 2 vols. (New York and London: Columbia Univ., 1965), 2:432. Back
- Southey's letter printed in Ryskamp, William Cowper, 141; Southey, Correspondence, 300; see also Southey, New Letters, 433. Back
- In Ben Jonson's Volpone, when Lady Politic accuses her husband of consorting with "Your Sporus, your hermaphrodite" (IV.ii.48), the conjunction of the term with the name of a Roman catamite implies same-sex activity (Three Comedies, ed. Michael Jamieson [Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1966], 127). Yet in a pamphlet published in 1718, when Jonathan Wild asked if a group of "he-whores" were "hermaphrodites," he was told, "No ye fool . . they are sodomites"; the response implied that the two terms were not synonymous (An Answer to a Late Insolent Libel, quoted in Randolph Trumbach, "The Birth of the Queen: Sodomy and the Emergence of Gender Equality in Modern Culture, 1660-1750,"Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, ed. Martin Duberman et al. [New York: Meridian, 1989], 129-40; 137).Back
- Crompton, Byron and Greek Love, 118-23; 196-235; 300-301.Back
- On these cases, see Rictor Norton, Mother Clap's Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England, 1700-1830 (London: GMP, 1992), 169-86; 226-31. Back
- Southey, Correspondence, 346. Back
- For the most complete account, see Ryskamp, William Cowper, 135-44. Back
- Sedgwick, Epistemology, 73. Back
- On "character" in relation to nineteenth-century masculinity, see Stefan Collini, "The Idea of 'Character' in Victorian Political Thought," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 35 (1985): 29-50, and J. W. Burrow,Whigs and Liberals: Continuity and Change in English Political Thought (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 77-100.Back
- Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, ed. Kerry McSweeney and Peter Sabor (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1987), 115. Back
- Hughes, Tom Brown at Oxford (New York: Macmillan, 1888), 543. Back
- George Parker, Views of Society and Manners in High and Low Life, quoted in Norton, Mother Clap's Molly House, 185. Back
- The Yokel's Preceptor, quoted in Hyde, Love, 120. Back
- Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints, 102. Back
- Punch, quoted in Matthew Sturgis, Passionate Attitudes: The English Decadence of the 1890s (London: Macmillan, 1995), 226. Back
- Daily Telegraph, April 6, 1895, quoted in Cohen, Talk, 172. Back