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Prose Rhythm and Queer Desire

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Hall, William 


This dissertation examines the mutual involvement of prose and verse in the work of four gay writers of the Victorian period, to assert a connection between queer object choice and generic hybridity. It contextualises the works in question as being on the cusp of both a liberalisation of traditional boundaries drawn between verse and prose, and a revolution in the conception of same-sex desire. Through close attention to the experience of verse entrainments in prose, this dissertation finds a common thread of concern in the works of G. M. Hopkins, J. A. Symonds, Baron Corvo, and Sir Richard Burton; in each, what happens at the threshold of prose and verse becomes fused with experiences of, and anxieties about, same-sex desire. Prosimetrical forms—forms which combine verse and prose—provide both a generic touchstone and a conceptual key for the dissertation. My dissertation does not suggest a line of influence, but identifies effects at the prose-verse threshold which furnish each of these writers with resources to figure their concerns, which include the irreconcilability of conflicting desires (Hopkins), the lease of the theoretical present on the erotic past (Symonds), the apposition of codes about sexuality (Burton), and the discovery of a historical precedent for marginal desires (Corvo). Throughout, the work of Roland Barthes provides a theoretical basis for considering the binaristic structure of these texts. Barthes, who was self-confessedly ‘enamoured of binarisms’, provides a theoretical basis for demonstrating the strained but co-equal relation of prose and verse in the texts I study. In these texts, neither verse nor prose can be exegetically subsumed by the other; instead, their encounter yields both irony and pleasure. This dissertation argues that this pleasure works against the totalizing energies of the emergent sexological writing of the late nineteenth century. It thus makes a case for an alternative queer textual erotics that maintains, rather than liquidates, a binaristic logic while preserving the liberatory potency embedded in the term ‘queer’. In doing so, this dissertation aims to bridge recent work in historical poetics and queer theory, arguing that each area of inquiry might profit from further contact with the other. This dissertation’s interest in prosody and poetics is inseparable from its account of queer subjectivity. It implicitly argues therefore that the study of verse technique might play a more prominent role in understanding gay subjectivities historically than it does at present. Significant weight is placed in the idea of the ‘prosimetrical’ which, the coda suggests, has a life in queer writing well into the twentieth century, suggesting a possible field of textual and rhetorical analysis beyond the hybrid texts that comprise its four chapters.





Jones, Ewan


Rhythm, Prose, Poetic Form, Versification, Queer Theory, Prosimetrum, G.M. Hopkins, Sir Richard Burton, History of Sexuality, Roland Barthes, J.A. Symonds, Baron Corvo, Frederick Rolfe, Lyric, Prose Rhythm, Queer Desire


Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge