1st Edition

Sexual Privatism in British Romantic Writing A Public of One

By Adam Komisaruk Copyright 2019
    228 Pages
    by Routledge

    228 Pages
    by Routledge

    The Romantic age, though often associated with free erotic expression, was ambivalent about what if anything sex had to do with the public sphere. Late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century British texts often repressed the very sexual energies they claimed to be bringing into the open. The delineation of what could and could not be said and done in the name of physical pleasure was of a piece with the capitalist consecration of the social trust to the individual profit-motive. Both these practices, moreover, presupposed a determinate self with sovereignty over its own interests. Writings from and about some nominally public institutions were thus characterized by privatism—a sexual, economic and ontological withdrawal from otherness. 

    Sexual Privatism in British Romantic Writing: A Public of One explores how this threefold ideology was both propagated and resisted, wittingly and unwittingly, successfully and unsuccessfully, in such Romantic "publics" as rape-law, sodomy-law, adultery-law, high-profile scandals, the population debates, and club-culture. It includes readings of imaginative literature by William Beckford, William Blake, Erasmus Darwin, Mary Hays, Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft; works of political economy by Jeremy Bentham, William Cobbett, William Godwin, William Hazlitt and Thomas Robert Malthus; as well as contemporary legal treatises, popular journalism and satirical pamphlets.

    Illustration Credits



    Chapter One: The Law of Rape

    Chapter Two: Homo Economicus

    Chapter Three: Tortious Conversations

    Chapter Four: In the Pigsty

    Chapter Five: Malthusian Husbandries

    Chapter Six: Love among the Ruins



    Adam Komisaruk is Associate Professor of English at West Virginia University. He is the author of several articles on British Romantic and eighteenth-century literature; and the editor, with Allison Dushane, of Erasmus Darwin’s The Botanic Garden (2 vols., Routledge, 2017).

    Adam Komisaruk examines “the varieties of erotic experience in an age of revolution” (1), covering British writings from c. 1780 to 1830. He posits an overriding theme of the relation between “sexual privatism” and “the public sphere,” and he cites most of the theorists (Habermas,Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Laqueur, Sedgwick, etc.) whose ideas have long dominated such discourse. He organizes his study “according to some different sexual ‘publics’in the period: legal treatments of rape, sodomy and adultery; high-profile sex scandal; population theory; and club culture” - Marsha Keith Schuchard, Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly