glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

English Literature: Restoration and Eighteenth Century  
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  

The Dandies and Macarronis passed themselves off as aesthetes and fashionable beaus; critics other than William Hogarth and Samuel Rowlandson discerned the homosocial basis of their association.

The New Theatrical Milieu

Even so, the stage never lay far from the tip of the civic imagination in responding to these new proliferations. By the 1770s, a theater milieu had developed within metropolitan culture that was self-contained, marking its difference from the Restoration stage world. The public considered its complacency scandalous, and some of our modern prejudice against theatrical persons derives from this early antipathy.

Criticism mounted in diverse quarters: in hack poems such as William Jackson's Sodom and Onan (1776); in claims that plays still allegorized the sodomitical scandals of the gods mirrored in modern metropolitan society; and, of course, through direct attack on specific sodomites like Samuel Foote, actor and dramatist.

He was no Adonis, but functioned as the center of a homosexual London network, and hurt himself by being seen in the constant company of Francis Delaval, a young man who possessed everything Foote lacked, especially family name, a face widely admired, position, and fortune. But whereas Delaval married the monstrously corpulent but wealthy Lady Isabella Pawlet, Foote remained single.

Their intimacy bewildered the town and elicited malicious gossip--the inevitable conclusion, sodomitical debauchery. When Delaval's own plays were discovered to be permeated with sodomitical allusions, the criticism was said to have been well grounded.

The Few Voices of Toleration

Only a few voices resisted the allegations of social contamination and petitioned for toleration: Voltaire in Switzerland, Cesare Beccaria in Italy, and later, Jeremy Bentham in England.

The scientists as yet ventured no theories--sodomy after all remained a sin against every branch of human society. Lockean associationism and Newtonian mechanism had virtually no effect on any secular conception of the sodomite, nor did the French philosophes tamper with it.

The vast body of thought now classified as "European Enlightenment" commented on sodomy but pronounced nothing capable of changing its destiny. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's sense of an emerging "third sex"--a kind of pre-Darwinian anticipation--was a witty construction intuitively articulated, without any knowledge of what the thing actually was.

Nor did lawyers or medics have a clue. Doctors noted it and examined patients manifesting its symptoms, but discovered nothing anatomical beyond ulcerations on the sphincter affirming penetration. Not for another century would homosexuality become medicalized.

A case in the Old Bailey dating from the 1720s suggests interest in the medical causes of sodomy, but not even these early Georgian "mad doctors" ventured views beyond the old saw that its frustrations could lead to insanity. I have not found a single case history written up by an eighteenth-century doctor.

Gothicism and Homosexuality

If there was no "gay science," there nevertheless was plenty of "gay fiction:" satirical, realistic, incidental, and--after the 1780s--"Gothic." Connections between sodomy and Gothic sensibility remain difficult to pinpoint but exist nevertheless. The essence of the Gothic experience, in whatever form, is terror: moonlit moors, haunted castles, monsters, vampires, Frankensteins preying on human lambs.

But which terror is most unspeakable? The reply supplied at the end of the eighteenth century was the perverse sexuality that could not be named. Only cannibalism--the devouring of raw, uncooked, human flesh--was worse, and it had not yet entered the Georgian imagination as it has ours.

The point is not that diverse authors invented sodomitical outlaws, wolf men, vampires, and the like but that the sodomites themselves--Horace Walpole, Beckford, Matthew "Monk" Lewis--invented and fantasized about this kind of Gothic fiction because it served as a metaphor for their own status as pariahs.

The Gothic fiction of the final decades of the century encompassed a large body of printed works, much of it, like Lewis's The Monk (1796), thriving on cross-dressing and the gender ambiguity of homosexual disguise.


But even more so than Gothic sensibility, the French Revolution altered the fate of the European homosexual: his life, economy, social milieu, art--every aspect of his world. And the sense of homosexuality that literary figures such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, Shelley and Byron, inherited was rather different from the one Beckford and Lewis--to name but two--knew.

The alteration was fundamentally political, as Bentham insisted. In a new society overrun with political credos about man in relation to the state, the homosexual would become marginalized in ways never before conjured.

No longer did his niche and function exist in a gray realm capable of subtle differentiation, as it had been for the era of Pepys and Rochester. He was now, like Cain in Byron's play of that name (1821), a villain and outlaw; a threat to the very concept of the state itself.

As a consequence, he had to be marginalized because of the terror he exerted. The new novelists of the Regency and Victorian world--Anthony Trollope, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens--saw to it that he was.

George S. Rousseau

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature

   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

In literature, the gay male cross-dresser and the lesbian cross-dresser are depicted quite differently.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Eighteenth Century

During the eighteenth century, men whom we would now call homosexual, such as Johann Winckelmann, Horace Walpole, and William Beckford, were at the forefront of public taste, championing respectively the fresh interest in Classical, Gothic, and Oriental styles.

literature >> Overview:  Gothicism

The Gothic has always offered writers and readers the chance to experience the excitement of transgressive sexuality of various kinds, including male and female homosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Molly Houses

In early eighteenth-century London, molly houses provided men who were interested in other men sexually a space in which to act on same-sex sexual desires and to develop a sense of community.

literature >> Overview:  Scriblerians

The "Scriblerians," an all-male club flourishing in the early eighteenth century, remains among the most thoroughly homosocial literary groups to be found in modern history.

literature >> Overview:  Travel Literature

Travel has afforded gays and lesbians both freedom from the restraints of their own cultures and the erotic stimulus of exotic sexual customs and partners.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom I: The Middle Ages through the Nineteenth Century

The United Kingdom has a rich and vibrant legacy of queer cultural expression despite a long history of severe legal sanctions against male-male sexual acts and other manifestations of sexual and gender deviance.

literature >> Beckford, William

Extremely wealthy and connected to the aristocracy, British author and connoisseur William Beckford was ostracized by English society for the last sixty years of his life because of his homosexuality.

literature >> Behn, Aphra

British dramatist, novelist, and poet Aphra Behn was known to her contemporaries as a "scandal" for both her writings and her flamboyant personal life.

literature >> Bentham, Jeremy

The most notable law reformer in the English-speaking world, English philosopher, jurist, economist, and political scientist Jeremy Bentham argued for a tolerant attitude toward homosexuality in a series of papers first published in full in 1985.

literature >> Byron, George Gordon, Lord

The bisexual Lord Byron treated many of his homosexual love affairs in his poetry, encoding them by the use of classical references or by purporting that they were affairs with women.

arts >> Charke, Charlotte

Actress and writer Charlotte Charke was known for portraying male characters on the eighteenth-century English stage and for cross-dressing in private life.

literature >> Cleland, John

Although predominately heterosexual in its orientation, John Cleland's Fanny Hill has passages which give insight into lesbian and male homosexual roles and practices in eighteenth-century England.

literature >> Gray, Thomas

Thomas Gray, the best-loved English poet of the eighteenth century, wrote several poems that express the love he felt for other men.

literature >> Lewis, Matthew G.

Matthew Lewis's scandalous masterpiece, The Monk, is one of the great works in the gay and lesbian literary tradition.

literature >> Rochester, John Wilmot, Earl of

In his poetry and his dramatic farce Sodom, the Restoration rake Rochester depicts heterosexual love as imperfect or incomplete and offers homosexual intercourse as a natural alternative.

literature >> Walpole, Horace

Throughout his life, Horace Walpole was devoted to other men, and his exploration of dysfunctional families in The Castle of Otranto and The Mysterious Mother probably stems from his own experience with a destructive father.

social sciences >> William III, Prince of Orange, King of England

The preeminence of William III, Prince of Orange and King of England, as an international hero has made it difficult for Anglophone admirers to assess his sexual orientation candidly.


Aries, Phillipe, ed. Sexualités occidentales. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1982.

Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Gilbert, Arthur N. "Buggery and the British Navy, 1700-1861." Journal of Social History 10 (1977): 72-98.

Halsband, Robert. Lord Hervey: Eighteenth-Century Courtier. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973.

McFarlane, Cameron. The Sodomite in Fiction and Satire, 1660-1750. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

McGeary, Thomas. "'Warbling Eunuchs': Opera, Gender, and Sexuality on the London Stage, 1705-1742." Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research 7 (Summer 1992): 1-22.

Mayer, Hans. Outsiders: A Study in Life and Letters. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1984.

Rousseau, G. S. Perilous Enlightenment: Pre- and Post-modern Discourses: Sexual, Historical. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990.

Tannahill, Reay. Sex in History. Slough, Berkshire: Hollen, 1980.

Trumbach, Randolph. "London's Sodomites: Homosexual Behavior and Western Culture in the 18th Century," Journal of Social History 11 (1977): 1-33.

_____. "The Birth of the Queen: Sodomy and the Emergence of Gender Equality in Modern Culture, 1660-1750." Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr., eds. New York: New American Library, 1989. 129-140.

Wagner, Peter. Eros Revived: A Study of Eighteenth-Century Erotica. London: Secker and Warburg, 1985.

Weber, Harold M. The Restoration Rake-Hero: Transformations in Sexual Understanding in Seventeenth Century England. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rousseau, George S.  
    Entry Title: English Literature: Restoration and Eighteenth Century  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 3, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.