Chances Are: Contingency, Queer Theory and American Literature, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Chances Are

Contingency, Queer Theory and American Literature, 1st Edition

By Valerie Rohy


248 pages

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Paperback: 9781138290600
pub: 2019-09-15
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Hardback: 9781138290587
pub: 2019-09-15
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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.

Table of Contents


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







About the Author

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).

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Gender Studies