HotM: Jonathan Swift Wednesday, Mar 31 2010 

Tomorrow night I am beginning my graduate seminar on Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy by having my students read Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. I’m hoping that this text will serve as a useful model for Sterne’s difficult novel.

I’ve taught Gulliver’s Travels before, but this time I’m taking a slight risk. In addition to the usual discussion of politics and the Enlightenment (and Swift’s views on each), I am also emphasizing a reading of the novel based on two essays by Christopher Fox. The first is an article published in EIghteenth-Century Studies in 1986 entitled “The Myth of Narcissus in Swift’s Travels.” The second is a chapter in an MLA volume, Approaches to Teaching Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels entitled “Sexuality and the Body.”

What I’m interested in exploring is the joke early in the text in which Swift brings up masturbation. The joke starts with Gulliver’s mentioning the man to whom he is apprenticed, Mr. Bates. After a few near misses, Gulliver finally calls him “Master Bates.” The question I have is, “Why does Swift begin his text with this joke?” I wonder what function it serves and what connotations are evoked by it. This joke is all the more interesting because the opening paragraphs of Gulliver’s Travels so heavily emphasize the conventions of realist fiction: where Gulliver was born, who his parents are, where he went to college, how old he is, etc. This joke immediately seems to undermine this realism.


Teaching Libertinism Saturday, Apr 14 2007 

This week my honors tutorial students read three poems by John Wilmot, earl of Rochester (“Satire against Reason and Mankind,” “Love and Life,” and “The Imperfect Enjoyment”), William Wycherley’s play The Country Wife, and Aphra Behn’s “The Disappointment,” making libertinism our theme for the week. Rochester

I’ve taught all of these texts fairly frequently in my regular eighteenth-century lit courses. The students in those classes almost always love Rochester’s use of explicit sexual language and frank discussion of sexuality. They are usually able to move beyond the language and sexuality to see something deeper. We can move to Wycherley and Behn to see how Rochester’s contemporaries responded to his poems.

WycherleyI was a little surprised, therefore, by my HTC students’ general responses to his poetry. Few, if any, expressed any real enthusiasm for his work, and the majority seem to want to dismiss him as simply a misogynist or a pervert. They generally had better things to say about Wycherley’s play and Behn’s poem. And I was definitely pleased that some of them were able to see the comedy of China scene and appreciate Wycherley’s genius. They all seemed to enjoy Behn’s poem, with many of them writing their papers on her this week.

BehnWhat struck me about this was the fact that these students generally feel more comfortable talking and writing about aesthetics than they do issues of gender and sexuality, which is the reverse of the students in my regular eighteenth-century classes. As long as we’re talking about Behn’s use of classical mythology or religious imagery, they can participate quite effectively, but as soon as I ask them about her (or, heaven forbid, Rochester’s) construction of the female body, they don’t have the experience to do so effectively.

I understand that this is largely a factor of their inexperience in discussing such frank representations of sexuality in the classroom — most of my students in this class are freshmen and sophomores and have not yet had the literary theory course or courses on gender and/or sexuality in literature, all of which would provide them with a critical vocabulary for approaching such works. So, I’m going to have to adjust a bit. This is my first time teaching in the program, so I’ll have to think about how and whether to continue pushing them to deal with issues of gender and sexuality. Next week we’re reading Oroonoko, Fantomina, and The Female Husband, so we won’t be able to escape these issues. But I will perhaps have to reframe the ways in which I talk about these texts.


Hottie of the Month Wednesday, Feb 21 2007 

February’s Hottie of the Month is … William Congreve, pictured here. Congreve is one of the most famous of the late seventeenth-century dramatists (others include Aphra Behn, William Wycherley, Sir George Etherege, Thomas Otway, and Sir John Vanbrugh).

Congreve lived from 1670 to 1729 and is most famous for writing The Way of the World, perhaps the most anthologized play of the late seventeenth century — I refuse to call him a Restoration playwright, since “the Restoration” as a period really should end in 1689 with the ascent of William and Mary. (Maybe I should post about that sometime — titillating, don’t ya think?!)

Actually, I don’t particularly like William Congreve all that much. This is at least partly a response to his play being so anthologized. If students are going to read only one Restoration comedy, I think it should be The Man of Mode, The Country Wife, or The Rover. These are actual Restoration comedies. Congreve really represents something else — the beginning of the eighteenth century and it’s rejection of what it perceived to be Restoration (im)morality.

But Willy’s kind of cute in this portrait — I love his wig and his chubby cheeks. If he had been born about a decade earlier, I could imagine him as Rochester’s catamite.

And The Way of the World is a great play — except for the characters’ names: Mirabell and Millamant as our leading man and lady? Whatever. (In case it isn’t obvious, the “hottie of the month” feature is very tongue-in-cheek!) Check back in a month to see who’s March’s hottie!

Hottie of the Month Monday, Jan 22 2007 

Many of the gay blogs I read feature pics of models and other attractive men either as part of the site’s main focus or as a periodic entry. (Clearly, it’s a good way to boost viewership.) I’ve been wanting to include a similar monthly feature since I started my blog. So, this month’s hottie is …

Sir Charles Sedley


Sir Charles Sedley (1639-1701), one of Charles II’s courtiers. Sedley was one of the famous libertines in Charles’s court during the 1660s and early 1670s, but underwent a kind of political/sexual conversion in the mid-1670s. He subsequently settled down and became a relatively prominent and respected member of Parliament.

Stage Beauty's SedleyI chose him as my first hottie of the month for three reasons. First, just look at him in his portrait (by Sir Godfrey Kneller) above — he’s clearly hot! Second, I was terribly disturbed when I saw how the movie Stage Beauty, which I like very much, portrayed him. In that film, he’s shown as a fat fop rather than as the hot-to-trot libertine he clearly was. On the right is a picture of the movie’s version of Sedley, who is played by Richard Griffiths (who is great in The History Boys, btw). And finally, I chose Sedley for my first hottie because I love his work — I even have a chapter, which a review recently pointed to as especially good, about him and one of his plays, Antony and Cleopatra, in my first book.