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  • Literary Sexology, 1860–1930
  • Laurie Lyda

Heiki Bauer. English Literary Sexology: Translations of Inversion, 1860–1930. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. xi + 216 pp. $69.95

Heiki Bauer’s extensive work with the histories and theories of sexuality is realized in English Literary Sexology: Translations of Inversion, 1860–1930. An installment in Palgrave’s Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture series, the monograph details the evolution of sexology and how the tradition migrated from its German roots to the continent and took hold in British culture and society.

An investigation of the gendered meanings of “inversion,” a now-defunct term popularly used as a synonym for homosexuality in the nineteenth century, frames Bauer’s study. She establishes the differences between the histories of inversion and homosexuality and then [End Page 114] contrasts male inversion with its counterpart, female inversion. Notably, the latter designation was earned for transgressions of sociosexual contracts more so than inverted sexual behaviors—the New Woman of the late nineteenth century, for instance, was also considered a female invert.

English Literary Sexology extends current scholarship on sexology and feminism to include considerations of the theoretical intersections of language, gender, and discipline. Bauer interrogates the location of the female invert within the male-dominated field of sexology and questions how women, though marginalized in scientific, political, and cultural spaces, theorized sex. She grounds her work, in part, upon Judith Halberstam’s Female Masculinity (1998), which analyzes concepts of masculinity as separate from the body. This methodological precedent further enables Bauer’s investigation of the theoretical interstices.

The discussion of the female invert occurs within a pervasive discussion about the systems of influence manifested by understandings of nation and translation; Bauer also explores nineteenth-century connections between concepts of nation (of citizenship) with sexual behaviors, especially between faulty citizenship and same-sex sexual behaviors. Throughout this book, translation—including linguistic translations, translations of theory, and translations of discipline—occupies a central focus. Bauer’s study “takes seriously the links between the translations of the textual body and that of the sexual body to develop a methodology that allows for considerations of individual contributions as well as the cultural contingencies of larger discourses of sex.” In this way, Bauer’s book deals with the constant interaction among linguistics, culture, and concepts of the social and individual bodies.

Bauer directly channels her research questions into English Literary Sexology’s four meticulously structured chapters. While the chapters’ frequent subheads can inhibit reading immersion, they do assist in arranging the book’s dense information into more manageable and comprehensible pieces. It is also notable that this study resists the sensationalism often associated in the past with sexual discourses and the like; Bauer concisely presents her findings, which are anchored securely to a theoretical frame.

English Literary Sexology begins with an examination of sexology’s evolution, from its German scientific origin(s) to its movement across Europe and North America. German discourse linked theories of the sexual body to an emerging national body—classifications of the individual body equated to value judgments of the social body. As sociocultural [End Page 115] commentators, sexologists created theoretical frames for understanding ideas of sex and the body that were then translated throughout Western cultures. Bauer discusses the work of three important German sexologists, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, and Magnus Hirschfeld, whose works “are characterized by different forms of translation which indicate how the sexual body was theorized in culturally-specific terms during different stages in the development of German sexology.”

Ulrichs’s inspiration derived, in part, from Plato’s Symposium, and his work “conceptualized the male invert, whom he called ‘Urning,’ in response to a new discourse of citizenship around the formation of a unified German state during the 1860s and early 1870s.” He fought against the assumption that same-sex acts were indicative of poor citizenship. His work enabled the creation of “a new cultural discourse of the social order which increasingly replaced post-Enlightenment ideas of the individual natural body with the notion of a nationally-specific male social body,” such as Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, which focused on sexual classifications and behaviors. The work, intended for a medico-juridical...


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pp. 114-118
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