"All this was very un -English": Discourses of deviant sexuality and the making of the British Empire

Jeffrey Lynn Schneider, Purdue University


This dissertation examines various eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British texts from the major literary genres written between 1792 and 1850. It seeks to reveal the degree to which the master narrative of British colonial domination was in part dependent on narratives of the sexual degeneracy of the Oriental other. More specifically, it incorporates queer, French postmodern, and post-colonial theoretical perspectives in order to explore the role that British literary production played in the construction and maintenance of masculine and feminine norms that were used in the service of imperialism. Toward that goal, each chapter concentrates on an author's conception and use of the Oriental sodomite and/or its primary signifying images in their respective texts. Chapter one centers on a discussion of sodomy and sensibility as embodied in the character of the effeminate male in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Many of the concerns that Wollstonecraft raises about the threat posed to British masculinity by the Oriental vice (sodomy) are reaffirmed in Percy Shelley's essay “A Discourse on the Manners of the Ancient Greeks Relative to the Subject of Love,” which is the focus of the second chapter. In the third chapter, the examination moves to poetical representations of the Orient itself and Oriental sexual excess as they are envisioned in Byron's “Oriental Tales.” The fourth chapter moves from the Orient to Scotland to demonstrate that, in Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley, Scott liberally adopts and adapts many of the signifiers associated with the Oriental sodomite in order to renounce them in his efforts to define the proper British masculine subject. The dissertation concludes with a chapter on Charlotte Brontë's final novel Villette in which the author weaves the primary tropes of Orientalist sexual discourse into her defense of all things English and her repudiation of all things foreign. ^




Major Professor: Geraldine A. Friedman, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature, English

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