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460 LETIERS IN CANAOA 1997 Cameron McFarlane. The Sodomite in Fiction a11d Satire 166o-1750 Columbia University Press. 216. us$52.00 cloth, us$1g.oo paper While all history views the past with an eye to the present, gay history has always done so with a particular urgency. Its earliest practitioners engaged in a project that sought to uncover a gay and lesbian presence that had been hidden by what they termed a 'conspiracy of silence.' And while sodomy was, as the jurists claimed, a 'crime not fit to be named/ a surprisingly rich and varied body of evidence existed nevertheless. Even so, the way to interpret that record has been a question that has vexed scholars ever since it was first suggested (initially by Mary Mcintosh and most famously by Michel Foucault) that the past was indeed an uncertain country and that the social and sexual practices of early cenh1ries may have borne little relation to their organization in the present. VVhile homosexual acts may always have existed, the people who performed those acts may have engaged in them simply as acts as opposed to identitydefining experiences. Thus began an often heated and largely fruitless debate between those who drew a continuous and uninterrupted line between past and present (the essentialists) and their opponents (the constructionists) who argued that the social organization of same-sex sexual activities had, over time, changed beyond all recognition. The lines of battle were further drawn between hard-core Foucauldians, who claimed that the modem homosexual was 'born' in themid-nineteenth century, and what might be termed the soft constructionists, who argued that this shift took place earlier, generally in whichever period a particular scholar specialized. Cameron McFarlane's The Sodomite in Fiction and Satire 1660-1750 deftly manages to sidestep this debate by acknowledging its fundamental insolubility. Most studies of same-sex sexual activities during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries have, in the spirit of the usual period chauvinism, claimed that this era was, in fact the moment when what has been wryly termed The Great Paradigm Shift took place. They have pointed to a series of texts that seemed to suggest that men had begun to gather in taverns, parks, and other outdoor places of rendezvous for the purpose of engaging in sexual liaisons as evidence that sodomy constituted not simply a catch-all term for a variety of perversions (as in the Renaissance ) but a recognizable way of being. The chief difficulty with these studies, as McFarlane acknowledges, was the way in which they attempted to render transparent texts tl\at were at best translucent and at worst opaque. Vitriolic satires (which, not surprisingly, form a great deal of the historical record) were taken as evidence of how people, the very subject of those attacks, thought felt, and led their lives. By ignoring the rhetorical and literary frameworks that surround this 'evidence,' scholars have 'precipitated somewhat questionable means of reading historical evidence' HUMANITIES 461 while inviting us to 'endorse homophobically-charged depictions of malemale desire ... as the glass through which we might see ourselves, however darkly.' Instead McFarlane offers a study of the representational contexts of sodomy and the sodomite as a means not of judging the 1 1:Tuth' of these accounts but rather as a way of assessing the 'cultural work which these representations performed.' He makes good (but not slavish) use of recent work in queer theory to explore how anxieties about political economic, and social disorder were displaced onto the sodomite, making him the monstrous embodiment of a host of contemporary bugbears. His reading of such texts as Sodom; or, the Quintessence of Debauchery and Love Letters Between a certail1 late Nobleman and the famous Mr. Wilson reveal how the sodomite achieved 'a significant discursive prominence as a social type' who 'represented an anarchic force that threatened to undermine the nation and against which the nation might define itself.' The final half of the book focuses on a number of works by Smollett and on Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. With both these authors McFarlane suggests the ways in which sodomy is both the object of vociferous denunciation a11d the subject...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 460-461
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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