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Richard Dellamora's book describes the reinvention, in Victorian England, of a classical tradition that identifies friendship as the basis of the democratic state. Within this tradition idealized friendship is the foundation for active citizenship. While acknowledging that friendship played an important role in parliamentary politics in the Victorian period, Dellamora stakes out his area of inquiry elsewhere: "Instead, my attention is directed toward aesthetic contexts where mutual attraction in same-sex friendships, particularly in mentor-protégé relationships, absorbs writers' attention" (23). At the heart of the Victorian version of such an idea Dellamora locates two novels by Benjamin Disraeli and a political pamphlet by William Gladstone, as well as novels by Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, [End Page 543] George Eliot, and Henry James; in addition, the book includes chapters on Karl Marx's "On the Jewish Question" (1844) and Oscar Wilde's play, An Ideal Husband (1895; 1899).
According to Dellamora, the utopia of perfect friendship—and perfect government—is troubled from the beginning: "the ideal of male fraternity was troubled by anxieties about the possible conversion of intimacy into sexual anarchy" (1). This claim leads to what becomes the major context within which the works under investigation are studied—namely, the ways in which "sodomitic intimations" (of immorality) (1) contaminated the perfect friendships that are at the heart of democratic culture, especially the relationship between mentor and protégé. Dellamora locates his project within "gay historiography," identifying his own contribution in the following way: "What hasn't been argued is that Western concepts of the nation-state have been constituted in part in relation to the story of Sodom in Genesis. . . . Imaginary constructions of the national subject depend upon a shadowy, abjected Other, namely, the S/sodomite" (17–18).
How does Dellamora's argument proceed? In a chapter on Dickens's Oliver Twist (1838), for example, Dellamora examines Oliver's different mentors—from Fagin to Brownlow and Grimwig—and suggests that the novel is really about the sexual abuse of children, with "the Jew Fagin" threatening "Oliver's bodily integrity with racial contamination" (36). Dellamora claims, "An unmentionable act may be concealed in the darkness of Fagin's den," and then admits: "Whether sexual abuse literally occurs or not, Dickens's intense gaze prompts the thought" (40). The strongest sections of this chapter offer illuminating analyses of graphic representations of Jewish identity by George Cruikshank and Hablot Browne, where the suggestive visual images convey the topic sometimes more powerfully than words.
There are two chapters on Disraeli—one on Alroy (1833) and one on Tancred (1847)—that analyze the place of friendship in politics. Friendship across ethnic and racial lines is the subject here, so that friendship becomes a means of supporting the project of democracy; both novels were written during the period of the parliamentary debates on Jewish emancipation. But the mentor-protégé relationship is again soiled because "the purity of the male ephebe cannot be preserved": "Anxieties about sexual contamination by another man focus on the institution of male mentorship. Concerning the latter, my claim is that erotic and sexual aspects should be construed at times within religious or political terms; at other times, sexual aspects dominate political ones. Depending on context, the two terms are reversible" (51–52). In explaining the importance of the Orientalist context of Alroy, Dellamora gives an unusually illuminating account of Disraeli's relationship to William Beckford, the author of Vathek (1786). These chapters might have benefited from a discussion of Coningsby (1844), in which Disraeli does in fact imagine the mentor-pupil relationship—between the Jewish Sidonia and the younger Protestant aristocrat Coningsby—as effective and successful, a relationship that becomes the model for that between Mordecai and Deronda in Eliot's Daniel Deronda (1876).
In a chapter on Trollope's The Prime Minister (1876) and Gladstone's Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (1876), Dellamora claims that both authors set up a binary opposition that demonizes Jews in general and Disraeli in particular: "an infidel...