By Claire Jarvis
How did realist novelists within the 19th and early 20th centuries trace at intercourse whereas conserving a secure distance from pornography? Metaphors helped: waves, oceans, blooms, and illuminations have been all deployed in first rate 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 additional, pushing formal barriers through 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 finds how writers’ diversified use of particular personality types—the dominant lady and the submissive man—in conjunction with decadent, descriptive scenes of sexual refusal creates a robust counter-narrative hinting at relationships past patriarchal and companionate marriage constructions. through concentrating on the exquisitely masochistic excitement led to by way of 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 via genital act.
Complicating our realizing of Victorian marriage ideology’s extra well-trodden concentrate on a effective, nation-building perfect, beautiful Masochism deals attention-grabbing perception into our personal culture’s debates round illicit sexuality, marriage, replica, and feminism.
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Additional info for Exquisite Masochism: Marriage, Sex, and the Novel Form
Adherents to a notion of S/M role reversal’s liberating effects ignore the ways in which such role reversal avoids a real encounter with negotiation. Flexible positions reduce the need to agree about anything other than the position one occupies during an individual encounter. Instead of arguing about their actual positions, then, partners come to debate the momentary occupation of a position. The dyads I discuss, by contrast, fully negotiate the fixed power positions common in Victorian novels.
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.
248) The length and depth of his anticipation intensifies to the point where his bodily functions fail (“I have to remind myself to breathe”). The tension of expectation has stretched even Heathcliff beyond his limits, and he is fully absorbed (“swallowed”) in an attitude of frozen waiting. Compulsion, importantly, does not relate to the absorbing anticipation Heathcliff describes here; he must compel his body to continue the basic operations required for survival, but he “yearns”—wants, chooses—to anticipate his reacquaintance 29 30 Exquisite Masochism with Catherine.