- Queer Friendship: Male Intimacy in the English Literary Tradition by George E. Haggerty
Cambridge University Press, 2018. 208pp. £75. ISBN 978-1108418751.
Throughout his trailblazing career, George E. Haggerty has written about the literary history of sexuality in historically nuanced and theoretically savvy ways. His recent monograph adheres to this critical practice but reimagines the scholarly terms he had previously established. Queer Friendship demonstrates that intimacy between men is multivalent, that it is not distinguishable “from the love between lovers,” and that it is the foundation upon which narrative rests (2). By examining the affective character of male friendships in works from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, Haggerty offers a welcome revaluation of scholarship that has become so sedimented in queer studies that new perspectives seem almost unimaginable. With his lucid prose, impressive breadth of friendship models, and dazzling close readings, Haggerty shows us new ways forward. By conceiving of three separate but not always discrete friendship categories—elegiac, erotic, and platonic— he provides an invaluable blueprint for grasping male intimacy.
Queer Friendship engages a rich archive of scholarship on male friendship, including ground-breaking titles from Alan Bray, Jonathan Goldberg, and Eve Sedgwick. One critical intervention is Haggerty’s revisiting of Sedgwick’s pioneering Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985). But Haggerty is not interested in undermining Sedgwick’s study. He recognizes, for instance, that Sedgwick is right about how male homosociality facilitates patriarchy. However, as Haggerty argues, “the uses to which” Sedgwick “is put” often impose barriers on how we perceive intimacies between men (9). Queer Friendship shows that there is much more to say about this topic, especially when one stops to consider the homophobia that still saturates social relations in our current moment. As Haggerty remarks, “When two people say that they love each other, we understand what that means. When those two people are a man and a woman, we are happy to invest the emotion with erotic feeling as well. We are loath to make the same assumption when the two loving participants are male. But why should we, in cases like some of those before us, assume that this friendship serves only a public and political form when the terms are so deeply personal?” (8–9). In shifting focus from the “public and political” to the “deeply personal,” Haggerty uncovers the gains and losses, the joys and hardships, and, perhaps most compelling, the exquisitely erotic underpinnings of male bonds.
In each chapter, Haggerty clearly defines the contours of the different [End Page 355] kinds of friendships that he identifies in an array of canonical works. In his chapter on elegiac friendship, he explores literature in which men express sorrow for the death of beloved partners. Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1849), for instance, is a poem imbued with the “transcendent power” to celebrate male intimacy (41). Rather than impose modern conceptions of sexuality onto his reading, a sticking point for some scholarship on Tennyson, Haggerty contemplates “a kind of love that is physical and meaningful but does not circumscribe emotion in terms of sexuality” (43). Likewise, in placing Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759–67) in the elegiac tradition, Haggerty suggests something entirely unforeseen: that the novel redefines the elegy in the passage in which Eugenius clasps hands with Yorick before the latter passes away. This is a more “powerful” expression of loss because it is “founded in physical intimacy ... with the living friend” (26). Sterne offers a poignant commentary on physical touch between men as a cherished form of intimacy. This chapter includes stunning readings of Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room (1922).
Haggerty also explores the eroticism of male friendship that can be subject to the pressures of homophobia. In Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748), the eponymous hero encounters sodomitical threats: first, in the extravagantly effeminate Captain Whiffle and then in the masculine, undetectable Earl Strutwell. While such characters serve as warnings for what could go wrong with male intimacy—as well as for what is absolutely right about...