Languages and Literature, University of Birmingham
My project explores stories of male-male desire and male-male love in early Gothic writing.
Given that this writing pre-dates the sexual codification of the 19th Century (with which came the arrival of the term ‘homosexuality’), my primary objective is to contest the commonly-held theoretical notion that this desire and love could not exist in writing at this time given its lack of an overt definition.
I will achieve this by demonstrating how a series of authors, writing between 1790 and 1835, weave and encode male-male love stories into their Gothic tales. Furthermore, I will show how these stories’ ill-fated and decidedly Gothic conclusions of hatred, insanity, murder, suicide and remorse function as a way to critique the homophobic patriarchal politics of the time: I will show how these tragic finales come about not because of this same-sex desire itself, but because of the repression of this desire through the characters’ internalisation of those patriarchal ideologies that make them hateful of their innocent attraction towards other men (and, in turn, hateful of the man whom they desire).
My MRes thesis revealed a need for more focused work on William Godwin’s writing, as this has attracted much inaccurate critical attention that downplays male-male desire and love. Male-male couplings are, furthermore, a definitive part of his fiction. By beginning my research with Godwin, I now have a strong basis to expand to his circle with the intention to talk about a community that collectively worked to critique oppressive attitudes whilst celebrating male-male desire and love. These include his daughter Mary Shelley, his son William Godwin Jnr, and his associates Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Joanna Baillie, with a view to go beyond canonical authors to lesser-known texts that influence, and are influenced by, Godwin’s circle.