- Where's Queer?
In 2014, I opened a blog entry for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism's (NASSR) Graduate Student Caucus with a query that still resonates today: "Where art thou, queer theory?"1 That provocation echoed an observation made ten years prior, when David Collings and Michael O'Rourke highlighted the dearth of Romantic queer undertakings in their introduction to a special issue of Romanticism on the Net: "We have had Queering the Middle Ages, Queering the Renaissance, Victorian Sexual Dissidence, and Queering the Moderns, but no Queering the Romantics or Queer Romanticism."2 Since then, it seems, the scene has little changed.
My own question pertained less to the hunt for same-sex desires and non-normative sexual identities—what Collings and O'Rourke gesture to as the "protoqueer"—but, rather, to the methodologies emerging subsequently in the wake of queer theory's initial wave. Where, for example, can we find queer history and queer historiography, queer ecology, queer temporality, queer affect, or queer kinship invigorating Romantic scholarship? As O'Rourke thoughtfully commented on my post: "we do need a queer romanticisms which would (not solely be about sexuality) but rather attend to issues like climate change, the future of the humanities and futures of reading."3
Scholars of other periods have been less reticent to forge such explorations. For instance, in collections such as Duc Dau and Shale Preston's Queer Victorian Families: Curious Relations in Literature and Monica Flegel's Pets and Domesticity in Victorian Literature and Culture: Animality, Queer Relations, and the Victorian Family, both published in 2015, Victorianists have considered domestic arrangements that counter models of the reproductive, genealogical nuclear family. Early modernists including Madhavi Menon, Jonathan Goldberg, [End Page 185] and Valerie Traub have troubled time itself, proposing queer history, or "unhistoricism," as a method of disrupting normative notions of chronological progression, periodization, and continuity between past and present.4 The American Society for EighteenthCentury Studies recently published online a list of "Recent Works in Queer Eighteenth-Century Studies," featuring titles such as Paul Kelleher's Making Love: Sentiment and Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century British Literature (Bucknell, 2015) and Jason Farr's Novel Bodies: Disability and Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century British Literature (Bucknell, 2019).5 Despite their emergence elsewhere, "queer X" projects have yet to proliferate among Romanticists.
This is not for lack of interest, of course. In 2019, the annual meeting of NASSR hosted an unprecedented two panels on queerness, "Queer Elements" and "Queer Romanticisms." (By contrast, the 2018 conference featured only one; in 2017 and 2016, none. Meanwhile, the 2019 meeting of the Modernist Studies Association dedicated three panels to queer approaches, with half a dozen papers scattered among other sessions.) Despite recent efforts by feminist critics and #Bigger6 advocates to demasculinize and decolonize the period, Romantic studies still needs to deconstruct its dominant heuristics, a solution that queer epistemologies may offer.
When Frankenstein's creature fades into snow and ice, what kind of "no future" or queer ecology does Mary Shelley invoke in a novel that brims with male homosocial bonds?6 When John Keats extends himself discursively across the Atlantic to commune with his brother, what sort of queer kinship and queer temporality might such an act perform? Once we shift from unearthing gay and lesbian figures such as Anne Lister or the "masturbating girl" of Jane Austen's oeuvre, what else might we uncover?7 [End Page 186]
This work would require, of course, that we pivot from identity politics to methodological innovations, prompting us to do the "work of disruption, questioning, and reassessment promised by queer theory" in the first place.8 The kind of work, in other words, that might continue the important job of dismantling the Romantic ideology.
Talia M. Vestri earned her Ph.D. in English with a Graduate Certificate in Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies from Boston University in 2018, and has since held visiting faculty positions at the College of the Holy Cross and Vassar College.
1. Talia M. Vestri, "Romantics Today: Where Art Thou, Queer Theory?" NASSR Graduate Student Caucus (blog), October 23, 2014, https://nassrgrads.hcommons.org...