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214 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 sense of the haunting past of early colonialism is never far removed from the narrative. It is ~his historicism that gives an impressive coherence and rigour to the analysis. (HILARY MC D. BECKLES) Jon Thomas Rowland. 'Swords in Myrtle Dress'd,' Toward a Rhetoric ofSodom: Gay Readings ofHomosexual Politics and Poetics in the Eighteenth Century Farleigh Dickinson University Press. 244. us $41.50 In 'Swords in Myrtle Dress'd' Jon Thomas Rowland offers us what he hopes will be among the first handbooks of the 'rhetoric of homosexuality.' His aim is to provide a catalogue of the tropes and commonplaces found in writing about sodomy in texts that range from early eighteenth-century diatribes, through important mid-century works such as Akenside's Pleasures of the Imagination, to a final group of texts that feature sodomy and late-century politics. While this broad array of sources should open up his subject to a wide-ranging discussion ofhow sodomy was represented in the period, his readings are limited by a refusal to recognize how much ofwhat he characterizes as the rhetoric of sodomy was used to denounce all kinds of disreptuable practices. Chief among the rhetorical figures Rowland discusses is what he calls 'nonessentialness/ the notion that the sodomite, who is neither man nor woman, is instead a kind of nonbeing, a member of a third sex which is really no sex at all. -In a world founded on the bedrock of an essential masculinity, whose proper opposite is a kind of ethereal feminine, the sodomite is an all too prominent paradox, a 'vile Antithesis' as Pope put it in his attack on Lord Hervey in the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. Unfortunately, Rowland goes too far and fails to recognize how this series ofrelated tropes occurs in other, nonsodomitical contexts. In his discussion of Churhill's Rosciad, for example, Rowland claims that the portrait of John Hill, is antisodomitical, since the actor is depicted as 'a man of many roles and bad at all of them,' because he is 'lacking in substance' and so really no man at all, but an amphibian like Hervey or the foppish young sodomites found in polemical pamphlets. While Churchill clearly draws on this 'tradition' with a number of satiric portraits, his model in the case of Hill ('Who could so nobly grace the motley list / Actor, Inspector, Doctor, Botanist?') is more probably Dryden's attack on Buckingham in Absalom and Achitophe/. And yet nonessentialness as constitutive of sodomy is so firmly fixed in Rowland's mind that he ignores this debt (as well as the other obvious one to Pope, a great master of this trope in nonsodomitical contexts as well). Rowland's discussion of the place of sartorial satire in the characterization of the sodomite suffers from a similar narrowness of focus. While the sodomite's foppishness reflects his status as a mere 'man of Cloaths,' Rowland fails to recognize the extent to which this complaint reflects a HUMANITIES 215 pervasive anxiety during the period about the relation between clothing and status, about outward appearance and inner worth. Clothes were an important signifier of status, and thus tracts about the rebelliousness of servants, for example, frequently complained that their dress made them indistinguishable from their betters. Sodomy was an affront to Nature's order and thus the sodomite's clothing was yet another manifestation of his disordering capabilities. One of the chief difficulties of an approach such as Rowland's is that it groups together texts whose differences are sometimes as important as, or even more important than, their similarities. While it may be a useful organizational tool to lump together tracts which feature sodomy in order to discover the fundamental assumptions they share, one must at the same time remember that they do not constitute an autonomous body of literature any more than, say, a group of works in duodecirno constitutes a genre. While they seem to share a common subject to the twentieth-century writer, the eighteenth-century reader may well have thought of them as widely different. It is thus extremely dangerous to assume, as Rowland often does, that a common audience existed for alt and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 214-215
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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