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The Yard of Wit

Male Creativity and Sexuality, 1650-1750

By Raymond Stephanson

Publication Year: 2011

Literary composition is more than an intellectual affair. Poetry has long been said to spring from the heart, while aspiring writers are frequently encouraged to write "from the gut." Still another formulation likens the poetic imagination to the pregnant womb, in spite of the fact that most poets historically have been male. Offering a rather different set of arguments about the forces that shape creativity, Raymond Stephanson examines how male writers of the Enlightenment imagined the origins, nature, and structures of their own creative impulses as residing in their virility. For Stephanson, the links between male writing, the social contexts of masculinity, and the male body—particularly the genitalia—played a significant role in the self-fashioning of several generations of male authors.

Positioning sexuality as a volatile mechanism in the development of creative energy, The Yard of Wit explains why male writers associated their authorial work—both the internal site of creativity and its status in public—with their genitalia and reproductive and erotic acts, and how these gestures functioned in the new marketplace of letters. Using the figure and writings of Alexander Pope as a touchstone, Stephanson offers an inspired reading of an important historical convergence, a double commodification of male creativity and of masculinity as the sexualized male body.

In considering how literary discourses about male creativity are linked to larger cultural formations, this elegant, enlightening book offers new insight into sex and gender, maleness and masculinity, and the intricate relationship between the male body and mind.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-5

Dedication Page

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pp. 6-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xv

Pope's penis: to suggest that the yard of Alexander the Little reveals something important about the culture of eighteenth-century male creativity will doubtless strike some readers as a preposterous and needless prurience. Yet it is clear that the links between male writing...

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1. Introduction: Male Creativity and its Changing Contexts

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pp. 1-24

Discourses about male creativity were fundamentally influenced by three historical transformations: (1) a revised cultural understanding of masculinity as an interiorized sexual identity; (2) a new kind of interest in the male body as the site where masculinity would be registered...

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2. Masculinity as Male Genitalia

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pp. 25-92

The underlying premises of this chapter can be summarized as follows: (1) there is an unprecedented proliferation of male genitalia as subject matter ca. 1650-1750; (2) discourses of the penis/phallus which emerged in this period reflect uncertainty about the relationship of...

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3. The Sexual Traffic in Male Creativity

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pp. 93-158

The category "male creativity" contained its own versions of the larger cultural uneasiness about what genitalia meant for the male character. The discourses I have described intensified the perceived links between the reproductive system and an essentialized maleness, and these associations...

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4. Pope and Male Literary Communities

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pp. 159-226

Alexander Pope dominated his literary world like no one else, and his life and writing--as well as his reputation--were richly imbued with the discourses I have described. Not only did he use both metaphorical economies widely--brain-wombs/Muses, the yard of wit--but he...


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pp. 227-256

Works Cited

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pp. 257-276


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pp. 277-290

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pp. 291-292

I owe many thanks to the two readers for the University of Pennsylvania Press, whose expert comments and criticism improved my focus and organization. Over the years various sections of this project have also benefitted from the shrewd readerly advice and kindly suggestions of Lesley...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203660
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812237580

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 13 illus.
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 868304328
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Yard of Wit

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism
  • Masculinity in literature.
  • English literature -- Male authors -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.) -- History -- 17th century.
  • Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Authors, English -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- Psychology.
  • Authors, English -- 18th century -- Psychology.
  • Pope, Alexander, 1688-1744 -- Authorship.
  • Male authors, English -- Sexual behavior.
  • Male authors, English -- Psychology.
  • Human body in literature.
  • Generative organs, Male.
  • Men in literature.
  • Sex in literature.
  • Creative ability.
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