1st Edition

Chances Are Contingency, Queer Theory and American Literature

By Valerie Rohy Copyright 2019
    174 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    174 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This innovative work makes use of psychoanalytic, queer, and narrative theories to read nineteenth and twentieth-century American literature and demonstrate how the concept of contingency—whether chance, accident, luck, or mutation—enriches our understanding of how queer sexualities are articulated.

    Perhaps love always carries an element of contingency (our attraction to a particular person can be arbitrary and inexplicable), and a sense of necessity (we find that we cannot imagine life without them). But contingency and chance mean something different for queer subjects. In a heteronormative culture, heterosexuality claims to be necessary (it must be), whereas homosexuality not only could be otherwise, but perhaps it should be otherwise, and probably it should not be at all.

    This book outlines why and how issues of chance and contingency should matter to queer theory and queer literary studies. Combining psychoanalytic, queer, and narrative theories, Chances Are considers nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literary texts that formally or thematically involve contingencies of their own, including narrative coincidences and accidents, the role of luck in notions of race and class, and efforts to imagine queer hermeneutic methods that make space for contingency. Literary texts include Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" (1842), Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick novels (1868-69), Frank Norris’s The Pit (1903) and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905), Frances E.W. Harper's Iola Leroy (1892) and Nella Larsen's Passing (1929), H.D.'s Tribute to Freud (1956), and Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother (2012).

    This dynamic and original text would be suitable for students and researchers in literary studies, critical theory and women’s and gender studies.


    1. Introduction: Taking Chances

    • Heterosexual Necessity

    2. Gambling on Marriage: The House of Mirth and The Pit

    3. The Calculus of Probabilities: "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt"

    • Accidental Narratives

    4. Alger and Emerson: Racism, Retroaction, and the Marriage Plot

    5. Racial Contingency: Iola Leroy and Passing

    • Contingent Reading

    6. Interpretation by Chance: Bechdel, Winnicott, Woolf

    7. Exchanging Hours: A Dialogue on Time

    8. Conclusion: Not Knowing








    Valerie Rohy is a Professor of English and the University of Vermont. She is the author of Impossible Women: Lesbian Figures and American Literature (Cornell, 2000), Anachronism and Its Others: Sexuality, Race, Temporality (SUNY, 2009), and Lost Causes: Narrative, Etiology, and Queer Theory (Oxford, 2015).


    "Chances Are astutely examines the crucial role of contingency in queer American literary representations. Tracking the ways chance plays through multiple discourses—narrative theory, psychoanalysis, and queer theory—Rohy’s study shows the ways that literary renditions of individual subjects, romance, sexualities, and fate all depend upon a range of possibilities instead of any pre-defined necessity."

     -- Judith Roof, Professor, Rice University

    "To let chance encounters remain chancy, to risk contingency and  contemplate its queerness, is both the challenge and the pleasure of Valerie Rohy’s readings of theory and American fiction in this study.  She surprises us with queer appreciations of contingency in straight classics from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Frank Norris, and Edith Wharton, and also gives us a fresh appreciation of a queer canon that includes H. D., Nella Larsen, and Alison Bechdel.  Her focus on the question of chance in queer theory, reaching back through Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Lee Edelman to Derrida, Barthes, and Freud, offers a new direction for criticism on narrative and desire.  Her writing is lucid, rigorous, at times deeply personal – and always at peace with the unpredictable."      

     -- Ellis Hanson, Professor, Cornell University

    "Rohy’s nimble reading offers an astute assessment of contingency in queer time, persuasively demonstrating chance’s power to overturn heteronormative necessity."

     -- E. L. McCallum, Associate Professor, Michigan State University