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REVIEWS Robert M. Polhemus. Erotic Faith: Being in Love from Jane Austen to D. H. Lawrence. Chicago: U of Chicago P. 363. $29.95 US (cloth). Robert Polhemus's Erotic Faith: Being in Lovefrom Jane Austen to D. H. Lawrence is an important book, and should take its place on the shelf alongside the classic studies that anyone who regularly teaches or writes about the English novel will want to have to hand, whether or not they subscribe to those particular schools of criticism: books like Arnold Kettle's Introduction to the English Novel, Dorothy Van Ghent's The English Novel Form and Function, Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric ofFiction, Gilbert and Gubar's TheMadwoman in theAttic, and George Levine's The Realistic Imagination. Like theirs, Polhemus's book consists largely of individual studies of single novels—in this case, from Pride and Prejudice to Lady Chattertey's Lover, and like them, he has an individual approach that provides the unity for the study. But more than them, I think, he supplies a pleasurable critical experience. Love, after all, is a sufficiently juicy subject "Erotic faith" is love considered as a religion, an experience transcendent and spiritually exalting: in Polhemus's words, it is "an emotional conviction, ultimately religious in nature, that meaning, value, hope, and even transcendence can be found through love—erotically focused love, the kind of love we mean when we say people are in love" (1). He locates this erotic faith in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, where it has virtually come to replace formal and traditional religion. I would mildly dispute his history here, inasmuch as the invention of erotic faith as I understand it predates our time by many centuries—Romeo and Juliet, for instance, were surely faithful votaries. But since his book is about these last two centuries, and since he is entirely convincing about the presence of erotic faith in this era, its presence or absence in previous centuries needn't be of major concern. The novels he deals with, a chapter at a time, are Pride and Prejudice, The Bride ofLammermoor, Wuthering Heights, VUlette, Great Expectations, The Mill on the Floss, Trollope's two Phineas novels, Far from the Maddening Crowd, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, and Lady Chattertey's Lover. A number of other novels that do not occupy a whole chapter, such as The Monk, Sons and Lovers, To the Lighthouse, and Mahne Dies, also 68Victorian Review receive attentive analysis. Polhemus reads sensitively, and writes eloquently. His studies are full of fine insights and subtle discriminations. And he manages to do what I think the best criticism should do—he brings these novels to life again as he discusses them. A recurring focus of his treatments is the strong strand of incestuous feeling in the English novel. The family is "eroticized" (36), and family relationships feed into the loves of lovers beyond die family. He is perceptive in linking Elizabeth's love for Darcy, for instance, to her strong final attachment to her father. Pip's desperate struggle in the conflagration scene with his mother surrogate Miss Havisham, while the ancient bridal clothes are burned off her fragile body, is read persuasively as "a tragic, parodie fantasy of a wedding night" (157). Maggie Tulliver in 77ie Mill on the Floss is "faithfully in love from start to finish—in love with her brother Tom" (169). An unusual feature of the book is its generous illustration. As part of a program "to show both the endurance and the malleability of love as subject and motivating force of art" (5), Polhemus has included reproductions, many in full color, ofpaintings from the Renaissance to the present, which serve as visual correlatives of the novels he discusses. Bronzino's "Allegory of Love" is there, and illuminatingly analyzed, and Botticelli's Venus, besides works by Velazquez, Vermeer, Millais, Klimt, and Redon. These visual representations serve to enlarge the discussion of erotics beyond verbal media, and their presence is a graceful reminder of the aesthetic dimension of love. We all have our views on love. It touches us where we live. And whether we admit it or not, the representation of love in a novel, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 67-70
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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