Revolting Men?

Sexual Fears and Fantasies in Writings by Old Men, 1880–1910

in Critical Survey
Restricted access

‘Being a man,’ Norman Mailer once wrote, ‘is the continuing battle of one ’s life … [One] can hardly ever assume [one] has become a man’. At the turn of the nineteenth century, it was the unbecoming (collapse) of (English) manhood which was foremost in the minds of many male writers. The growing sense of a masculine collective self in crisis can be placed in direct correlation with the advances of the British women’s movement and its destabilization of patriarchal hegemonies. This article examines the way in which, in their endeavour to exorcize the threat of female cultural and sociopolitical agency, anti-feminist male writers pressed New Woman fiction into service as a medium for conservative propaganda. I shall be considering two textual configurations of the turn-of-the-century masculinity complex and its articulations of dread and desire, dystopia and the male free-love plot. Sexual fantasies of women’s reconfinement within the boundaries of male desire, these texts served to defuse, depoliticize and (hetero)sexualize the political and moral/social purist agendas of feminist activists and writers by transforming the New Woman – the agent of feminist rebellion in women’s fiction – into a Sexy Angel in the House.