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Title: Ecstasy or justice? : the sexual author and the law, 1855-1885
Author: Wolf, Naomi Rebekah
ISNI:       0000 0004 9356 148X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) was a British poet, critic and biographer who wrote what may be the first manifesto in English calling for legal equality for homosexual men, "A Problem in Modern Ethics: Being an Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Sexual Inversion, Addressed Especially to Medical Psychologists and Jurists" (1895). "Ecstasy or Justice? The Sexual Author and the Law, 1855-1885," explores Symonds' work in the context of his epistolary relationship with the American poet Walt Whitman, whose influential 1860 edition of "Leaves of Grass," with its frank treatment of homoerotic themes, inspired a generation of British writers, feminists and activists, in addition to provoking Symonds himself into more direct, though textually veiled and coded, engagement with homoerotic themes. "Ecstasy or Justice? The Sexual Author and the Law, 1855-1885," also examines the impacts of laws criminalizing publications with sexual themes, and laws criminalizing same-sex offences, as background for analysis of certain texts by Symonds' contemporaries, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel and William Michael Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, the painter Simeon Solomon, the activists for women's rights Josephine Butler and Annie Besant, and later, the young Oscar Wilde. The thesis addresses ways in which these "sexual dissidents'' work may show certain impacts of pressure from the passage of the Obscene Publications Act and other laws managing privacy and speech in Britain in the 19th century. It also makes the case that pressures of this kind on literary texts in Britain may have affected outcomes for writers such as Whitman eventually in the United States as well, as the passage of the Comstock Act in 1873 led to comparable restrictions on literary freedoms for American writers, and helped lead to the withdrawal of a print run of "Leaves of Grass." The thesis argues that we can't fully assess the work of many writers in Britain after 1857 and in America after 1873, without taking into account the possible impacts on literary texts of restrictions on freedoms of speech and on private sexuality.
Supervisor: Evangelista, Stefano-Maria Sponsor: Barnard Center for Research on Women ; Stony Brook University
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: 19th Century ; English Literature ; LGTQ Studies