From Winckelmann to Wilde : masculinity and the historical poetics of nineteenth-century British Hellenism




Spitzer-Hanks, Dorrel Thomas, III

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This dissertation is a survey of nineteenth-century British Hellenism in texts authored between 1768 and 1895 by elite, bourgeois, and working-class people both female and male. Beginning in 18th-century Germany, the dissertation tracks the influence of Johann Joachim Winckelmann on nineteenth-century British Hellenism, asserting that there is a characteristic cluster of representational attributes visible in British Hellenist texts that display a shared ideological emphasis. Winckelmann, who rose from humble beginnings to become the Vatican’s prefect of antiquities, bequeathed a systematic art-historical approach to classical Greek art that became an idealist discourse of British Greekness through the influence of the annual lectures given by Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding president of the Royal Academy of Art, to students between 1768 and 1792. Posthumously the ‘Grand Style’ aesthetics Reynolds promulgated became highly politicized, its influence clear in the debates surrounding the parliamentary purchase of the Parthenon Marbles from Lord Elgin in 1816, in the poetry, prose, art and architecture of the 1820s and 1830s, in specific exhibits at the Great Exhibition of 1851, in the anthropological debates touched off by Darwin’s Origins of Species after 1859, and in Oscar Wilde’s fin-de-siécle advocacy of Dress Reform and his reformed, Reynoldsian aesthetic idealism. Particularly during Oscar Wilde’s 1895 trials, the political valence of nineteenth-century British Hellenism is inescapable, being explicitly enunciated in Wilde’s famous “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name” speech, but I argue throughout that nineteenth-century British Hellenism tends to create ‘enfigurations’ of subjectivity that constrain those who adopt them through insistent reference to an ideal subjectivity that is embodied in white, abled, elite, heterosexual male bodies resembling those found in classical Greek art. Thus I show that while the political valence of nineteenth-century British Hellenism could be contested, the terms of the debate remained fixed around an unmarked yet hypervisible central term, which fixity acted to foreclose radical political change throughout the nineteenth century, and particularly in the 1890s, when British sexological debates made the figure of the modern male homosexual visible at the same time that campaigns for tolerance of homosexuality were energetically quashed



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