"A certain zest to his own enjoyment" : homoerotic competition, race, and the rise of a Southern middle class in The marrow of tradition
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This essay contends that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's "between men" thesis (1985) provides a particularly apt methodology for engaging The marrow of tradition (1901), a post-bellum novel concerned with the structure of the New South in the United States. While the novel contains myriad "between men" pairs, reading the homosocial bond between Lee Ellis and Tom Delamere has the potential to change the way we think about the novel's interest in the complex relationships among class, social mobility, race, whiteness, and the erotics of power. If "the political and the erotic necessarily obscure and misrepresent each other... in ways that offer important and shifting affordances to all parties in historical gender and class struggles," then we can read the Ellis/Tom/Clara erotic triangle as dramatizing the rise of a white middle class whose professional capital encroaches upon and supersedes the central role of a plantation based aristocracy without significantly challenging either the essential hierarchy of white over black or the bloody lynch law that helps enforce that hierarchy (Sedgwick 15). Sedgwick's broad definition of desire as "the affective or social force, the glue, even when its manifestation is hostility or hatred, that shapes an important relationship" can usefully be applied to the rivalry between Lee Ellis and Tom Delamere, a rivalry that epitomizes the Girardian theory that "the bond between rivals in an erotic triangle [is] stronger [and] more heavily determinant of actions and choices, than anything in the bond between either of the lovers and the beloved" (Sedgwick 21). An examination of the erotic triangle and the function of the courtship plot enable us to theorize the implications of this expropriation of the aristocrat by the white southern middle class and this ascendant class's role in remaking a whiteness that at the novel's end still reigns supreme.