Can a work of art be erotic without directly mentioning sex or sexuality? According to Claire Jarvis, a professor of English at Stanford, novelists in Victorian England mastered the art of building erotic tension without uttering a word about sex itself. Sexual tension is indicated obliquely in Victorian novels, but novelists found ways around societal strictures. Image credit: Wikipedia. Victorian novels had to find ways to build erotic tension without using explicit language. By disguising eroticism as ornate description, turn-of-the-century novelists could hint at sexual frustration without coming too close to explicit depiction.
Stanford English scholar explores the aesthetics of sexuality in Victorian novels
The New Woman Fiction
The final two decades of the Victorian era witnessed the beginning of a shift in social attitudes regarding gender relations, which is marked by a steady move away from the pattern of patriarchal male supremacy and female dependence towards the modern pattern of gender equality. One of the manifestations of this movement is the emergence of the New Woman fiction. In the s, Harriet Martineau continued vigorously the Woman Question debate in her polemical writings. She urged upper-class women to obtain a proper education and profession in order to make themselves financially independent. Frances Trollope and Elizabeth Gaskell urged upper-class women to become active in the public sphere.
The Fetishization and Objectification of the Female Body in Victorian Culture
However, for the Victorian period this was as passionate as literature could be and still be allowed to circulate publicly, due to the moral and social codes and the Obscene Publications Act of Although this was a time when the rights and opportunities for women were expanding, their representation by males was often contradictory to the increased freedom they were experiencing. The female body has long been idealised, objectified and fetishized and this can be seen particularly in Victorian culture. Social rules and guidelines on how the female body should look, and how it should be dressed, objectified the body and encoded femininity within these rules.
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