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BRUCE BURGETT Masochism and Male Sentimentalism: Charles Brockden Brown's Clara Howard The moral is that woman, as nature created her and as man up to now has found her attractive, is man's enemy; she can be his slave or his mistress but never his companion. This can only be when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work. For the time being there is only one alternative; to be the hammer or the anvil. I was fool enough to let a woman make a slave of me, do you understand? Hence the moral of the tale: whoever allows himself to be whipped deserves to be whipped. But as you see, I have taken the blows well; the rosy mist of supersensuality has lifted. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs (1870) I. THE CULTURAL PROBLEM OF MASOCHISM From Nathaniel Hawthorne's infamous lament that "America is now given over to a d—d mob of scribbling women" to William Dean Howells' reluctant submission to the literary judgments of the "court of women," from Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the ArnerkanNovel to Ann Douglas' The Feminization ofAmerican Culture, warnings that male sentimentality leads to male masochism echo through United States literary and literary critical canons.2 Most famously, Fiedler complains that a "robust masculine sentimentality, turned out, oddly enough, to have no relevance to the American scene." Rathet, male sentimentalism takes the form of what Fiedler calls, in another context, "an abyssal male masochism."3 As its title suggests, Douglas' Arizona Quarterly Volume 52, Number 1 , Spring 1996 Copyright © 1996 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 610 Bruce Burgen study of New England sentimental culture bemoans a similar reversal of what she designates as "masculine" and "feminine" values (though Douglas also suggests that sentimentalism fails because it disavows "matriarchal values" or, in other words, never affirms its own masochistic subtext).4 "The liberal minister," Douglas argues, "was pushed into a position increasingly resembling the evolving feminine one. Who else was barred with him from the larger world of masculine concerns, who else was confined with him to a claustrophobic private world of overresponsive sensibility, who else but the American lady?"5 For such writers and critics, "masochism" becomes a diagnostic figure that pathologizes male sentimentalism as a "feminization." Like Richard von Kraft-Ebbing's original sentimental masochist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the "essential element" for the modern masochist is specifically his "feeling" of"subjection to die woman."6 The writings of Charles Brockden Brown occupy a privileged position within this literary and literary-critical equation ofmale sentimentalism with male masochism. Brown, critics suggest, "capitulated" to the demands of his allegedly female audience in 1800 when he shifted from his early gothic novels (Wiehnd, Ormond, Edgar Huntly, Arthur Merlin) to his sentimental productions (Clara Howard, Jane Talbot). Evidence of this "capitulation" appears in a letter Brown wrote to his brother James in April 1800. Hoping to attract a larger audience and market for his work, Brown pledged to "[drop] the doleful tone and assume a cheerful one."7 According to his critics, Brown enacts the masochist's surrender to a feminized law by contracting with his public to produce less "experimental" and "radical" fictions. "Like Edgar [Huntly]," Bill Christophersen suggests in a recent book-length study of Brockden Brown's career, "Brown may have come to fear his [psychological ] discoveries and their possible repercussions."8 Fiedler is less oblique: Brown "fails in his direct attempt to recapture passion from the 'female scribblers."" For the same critics, this failure is heroic rather than pathetic, however. Brown becomes the antetype of nineteenthand twentieth-century male authors whose art resists sentimentality, even as it eventually falls prey to the demands of the mass market and the interests ofa female reading public. The story of Brown's career becomes a fable that warns the male reader against the perils ofsentimental publication—public displays ofmale affect—in an increasingly gen- Masochism and Male Sentimentalism dered literary public sphere. Clara Howard andJane Talbot are, Norman Grabo concludes, "trivial and silly."10 Of course, many of the critics I have alluded to have never given halfas much...


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