The new other Victorians: the success (and failure) of queer theory in nineteenth-century British studies
(2014) Victorian Literature and Culture, 17 p. Article in Press.
Much of the critical writing on Queer Theory and Sexuality Studies in a Victorian context over the last decade or so has been absorbing, exploring, complicating, and working under the burden of the influence of Michel Foucault’s theoretical writings on erotic relations and identity. The first volume of Foucault’s The History of Sexuality (1978), in fact, had begun with a gauntlet thrown down before Victorian Studies, a chapter-long critique of Steven Marcus’s The Other Victorians (1966), a work that had offered an entirely new and at the time, quite bold avenue of exploring nineteenth-century culture – namely, through the pornographic imagination that Marcus taxonomized with precise, clinical flair as a “pornotopia” in which “all men . . . are always infinitely potent; all women fecundate with lust and flow inexhaustibly with sap or both. Everyone is always ready for everything” (276). In Foucault’s telling, however, Marcus demonstrated a theoretically impoverished faith in Freudian models of “repression” in Marcus’s examination of “underground” Victorian sexualities. It was Marcus’s reliance on the “repressive fallacy,” his conviction that there existed a demarcated spatial and psychic Victorian counter-world that The History of Sexuality had so forcefully undermined.