Upcoming Talks

Abstract:

“‘This name of mine was worn of one long dead’: Swinburne’s Doubles, Deadnaming, and Intersexuality.” Panel: Queering the Pre-Raphaelites. Modern Language Association Annual Convention 2023. San Francisco, CA. 

Critical attention to Pre-Raphaelite non-binary models of gender and sexual identity regularly turns to Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Hermaphroditus” (1866). Most recently, John Holmes claims that acts of visual imaging in “Hermaphroditus” enabled Pre-Raphaelite artists and writers to “grasp difference” and “recognize their own distinctive subjectivities.”[1] A less obvious, but equally intriguing, effort to address difference and heterogeneous subjectivities occurs in Swinburne’s use of doubles in two of his more mature poems, Tristram of Lyonesse (1882) and “The Tale of Balen” (1896). Although Joseph Riehl and Jerome McGann each devoted attention to Swinburne’s doubling as early as the 1980s, neither they nor recent scholarship have considered how Swinburne’s pairs might relate to gender and sexuality.

This paper argues that Swinburne’s doubles prefigure recent emancipatory movements that affirm nonbinary sexual and gender identities. While in the context of heterosexual love in Tristram of Lyonesse and brotherhood in “Balen,” I want to suggest that Swinburne’s doubles reflect his desire to “think without intolerance”[2] and represent nascent thinking about the violence of what is now termed deadnaming, the act of referring to a non-binary individual by a name they no longer use. In each poem, duplicate names occasion violent ends: Balin and Balan destroy each other in combat, while Tristram and Iseult perish leaving their surviving name-twins behind. Read not as separate characters but as parts of a single identity struggling with itself, Swinburne’s doubles stand in for the social violence done to and the possibilities of intersexual identity.

[1] Holmes, John. “Investigating Intersexuality: Pre-Raphaelite Poetics and the Hermaphrodite Self.” Defining Pre-Raphaelite Poetics. Amy Kahrmann Huseby and Heather Bozant Witcher, eds. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. 55-56.

[2] Rossetti, William Michael. “Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads.” Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage. Clyde K. Hyder, ed. New York: Routledge, 2012. 64-65.

Abstract:

“Jealousy, Desire, and Political Agency in Michael Field’s Borgia and Julia Domna.” Roundtable: Other Michael Fields. British Association of Victorian Studies Annual Convention 2022. University of Birmingham, UK.

Jealousy, covetessness, ambition, desire—this terms describe a Michael Field occupying an affective field that scholars have yet to address. What does jealousy become in incestuous, Oedipal relations like those of the Bradley Cooper family, or those described in their historical dramas? What does jealousy become for a single imagined self? Is it jealousy of one’s own self, the other half, or a tacit acknowledgment of separation and the impossibility of true unification? This essay would explore how two Michael Field verse dramas—Borgia and Julia Domna— represent jealousy as a powerful political affective state. Contrary to prior scholarship on these plays, which affirms that Cooper and Bradley “ventriloquize the past in order to comment upon contemporary issues” (Bickle, “Victorian Maenads” 2), my interest here is how the pair convert their personal experiences, affective and aesthetic investments, and commentary on contemporary issues into a form of political action and reclaimed agency. In other words, what’s interesting is not only their use of the historical to look backward in looking forward, but that they create from that process a personal and political enterprise to reclaim agency and transmute their emotions into an affective connection with their readers. Their very act of thematizing emotional release in historical dramas and experiencing emotional release from the composition process becomes a form of politics for Bradley and Cooper. Drawing upon the work of queer and affect theorists Dustin Friedman, Heather Love, and Sianne Ngai, I would turn our attention to the insistent scenes of parents choosing between two children for political reasons, and the respective children expressing jealousy for parental love and acknowledgement. Indeed, a number of their dramas involve parents made to choose between siblings and the state, or between a single child and the state. In this essay, I will argue that Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper were drawn to the representation of such historical situations for several additional, and as yet unexplored, reasons.

Jealousy is an especially interesting affective and aesthetic choice for Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley, given what we know about their complex family dynamics. Familial jealousy resonated with the pair as it reflected their intensely Oedipal relationships with James Cooper and their desire to claim for themselves the legitimacy of marriage “that belonged to a different, powerful, and ‘official’ married couple: James and Emma Bradley Cooper” (Dever 134). Cooper wrote, in fact, that her father had “a jealous, passionate temperament” in the concluding entry to Works and Daysfrom 1897. In the same year, she references “his faults, they were perversions of love,” a statement that could well have been made about the parents in Borgia and Julia Domna (1897, 140v). Later in the same passage, she writes, “Sometimes the pain and fear he brought me almost made me long, out of life impulse, for his death.” All of the ingredients for many of their historical dramas are write there in Works and Days: jealousy, wishing for the death and love of a loved one, desiring to take parental authority for oneself, a power struggle amidst familial upheaval. In Borgia and Julia Domna, James is transmuted into each parent from whom children simultaneously beg love and seek to overturn his authority. As Dever explains, all things associated with James Cooper were “equal parts beloved and oppressive” (109).

What’s more both Borgia and Julia Domna are set at pivotal imperial moments that likewise involve the upsetting of authority, the first in which the Catholic Church begins a moral reformation and the second a transition in Roman power. Each of these events bore historical ramifications for centuries. It is intriguing that Cooper and Bradley lean into this correlation with empire, paternity, and familial dynamics. Through these historical moments of jealousy, murder, and power in flux, the poets seem to be working through something about influence and authority. If the empire is, along with specific characters, understood as representing James Cooper, one wonders whether vanquishing another country or eliminating competition for imperial rule reflects patricidal desires, like those expressed by Edith Cooper? When Carolyn Dever asserts that Bradley and Cooper’s private marriage ceremony in Zermatt “very clearly (and quite literally) signals their appropriate of postpaternal authority,” do plays such as Borgia and Julia Domna then continually to play out that appropriation? And is there an assumption in doing so that there can only be one person in authority, only one person who is successful in the room, one person in charge, in power? This essay will investigate these questions and the fascinating paradox that emerges in their thinking in which there can be only one with authority, fame, or power, while Bradley and Cooper are always multiple. They assert a limit case on authority while always seeking to expand and divide that authority for their own purposes, not unlike the children in Borgia and Julia Domna.

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