1st Edition

Touch, Sexuality, and Hands in British Literature, 1740–1901

By Kimberly Cox Copyright 2021
    238 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    238 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    From Robert Lovelace’s uninvited hand-grasps in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa to to Basil Hallward’s first encounter with Dorian Gray, literary depictions of touching hands in British literature from the 1740s to the 1890s communicate emotional dimensions of sexual experience that reflect shifting cultural norms associated with gender roles, sexuality​, and sexual expression. But what is the relationship between hands, tactility, and sexuality in Victorian literature? And how do we best interpret ​what those touches communicate between characters? This volume addresses these questions by asserting a connection between the prevalence of violent, sexually charged touches in eighteenth-century novels such as those by Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson, and Frances Burney and growing public concern over handshake etiquette in the nineteenth century evident in works by ​Jane Austen, the Brontës, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and Flora Annie Steel. This book takes an interdisciplinary approach that combines literary analysis with close analyses of paintings, musical compositions, and nonfictional texts​, such as etiquette books and scientific treatises​, to make a case for the significance of tactility to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century perceptions of selfhood and sexuality. In doing so, it draws attention to the communicative nature of skin-to-skin contact ​as represented in literature and traces a trajectory of meaning from the forceful grips that violate female characters in eighteenth-century novels to the consensual embraces common in Victorian ​and neo-Victorian literature. 

    Introduction: Touching the Victorians: A Theoretical Context

    1. When Hands Touch: "’Tis Hard to Give the Hand Where the Heart Can Never Be"

    2. A Language of Touch?

    3. Grip, Clasp, Embrace: Reciprocation and Proximity

    Chapter 1: Rape: Hand-Grabbing in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa

    1. Nonconsensual Touch in Tess of the D’Urbervilles

    2. Hands and Haptics in the Eighteenth-Century

    3. Conduct Manuals: The Social and Sexual Dangers of Uninvited Touch

    4. Clarissa’s Hands, Robert’s Grasp: Violent Seizure, Nonreciprocal Touch, and Assault

    5. Uninvited: Hand-Grabbing As Sexual Violation

    Chapter 2: Attraction: Reciprocal Touch in the Conduct Fiction of Fanny Burney and Jane Austen

    1. Aggression to Affection: A New Type of Literary Touch

    2. Rape, Legal Discourse, and Haptic Experience in Evelina

    3. Defining Consent: Violence Versus Reciprocity

    4. Consensual and Nonconsensual Contact in Burney’s Evelina

    5. Tactile Reciprocity and Female Sexual Subjectivity in Austen’s Emma

    Chapter 3: Desire: Transgressing Handshake Etiquette in Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

    1. Etiquette and Invitation: Consensual, Reciprocal Handshakes in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

    2. Negotiating Desire: Invited Touch in Jane Eyre

    3. Shifting Masculinity, Female Agency, and Tactile Intimacy

    4. Materializing Self-Realization through Haptic Reciprocity

    Chapter 4: Sexuality: The Tactile Erotics of Gloved and Ungloved Touch

    1. Safety in Surfaces: Glove Etiquette, Class, and Respectability

    2. Surfaces of Safety: A History of Gloves and "Gloves"

    3. Maintaining Surfaces: Exerting the Glove in Emma and Tess of the D’Urbervilles

    4. Constructing Surfaces: Controlling the Glove in In the Year of Jubilee

    5. Transgressing Surfaces: Penetrating the Glove in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, The Odd Women, and "On the Western Circuit"

    A. Affection on the Surface

    B. Desire beneath the Surface

    6. Controlling the Glove

    Chapter 5: Orientation: Queer Touch, Proximity, and Erotic Potential

    1. Queer Touch and Disorientation: Becoming "off line"

    2. Intensifying Proximity: Nearness and Tactile Intimacy in The Picture of Dorian Gray

    3. Pressure: Men Touching Men

    4. Clinging: Women Touching Women

    5. Praying: Clinging Hands in Adam Bede

    6. The Queer Potentiality of Literary Touch

    Epilogue: Touching Ourselves: A Neo-Victorian Case Study

    1. Continuity: (Un)Invited, (Non)Reciprocal Touch in Neo-Victorian Fiction

    2. Reimagining Female Tactile Power in Fingersmith and The Parasol Protectorate

    3. Futurity: Touching Forward


    Kimberly Cox is Assistant Professor ​of English at Chadron State College, where she teaches courses in British literature, gender and sexuality, multiethnic literature, literary theory, and composition. She received her PhD in Victorian literature and her graduate certificate in women’s and gender studies from Stony Brook University. She served as managing editor of Victorian Literature and Culture from 2016 to 2018. Her work on hands, haptics, and sexuality has appeared in Victorian Network, Victorians: Journal of Culture and Literature, ​Nineteenth-Century Literature, and Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, the journal for which she recently coedited the special issue "'Teaching to Transgress' in the Emergency Remote Classroom."