A Queer Chivalry: The Homoerotic Asceticism of Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was a practitioner of strict asceticism in its broadest definition--the refusal of physical pleasure or comfort in the interests of moral or spiritual gain. As a result, his commentators have felt obliged to take a stand approving or disapproving of this rigorous self-discipline: Many idealize his allegiance to the Society of Jesus as motivated by his determination to conquer his attraction to other men, and thus as the source of the spiritual strength from which his eucharistic and Christological verse derived. Others decry his monasticism as the regrettably oppressive regimen from which he was able to escape only occasionally through his sensuous, sometimes overtly homoerotic verse.
Julia F. Saville uses Lacanian theories of sublimation and courtly love to reconfigure this long-standing rift in the field of Hopkins criticism. Her book displaces hagiographic interpretations of the poet's life, arguing that Hopkins's poetics of homoerotic asceticism shaped his work in such a way that his career should be viewed not as a steady linear progression but as an ongoing process of negotiating his desire. It also constitutes a map tracing the alternating practices of self-discipline and self-indulgence, self-expression and self-silencing performed by Hopkins's verse.
Saville presents a new reading of asceticism that does not advocate or condemn its practice. What is needed, she argues, is a reading that explains first the dialectical capacity of asceticism both to constrain and to liberate, to cause discomfort and to give satisfaction, and second, the ethical value of recognizing and encouraging this dialectical operation.
A Queer Chivalry highlights the strange blending of sensual delight and strict self-denial in Hopkins's courtly verse, initiating a new trend in criticism that celebrates the poet's queer status as the Victorian troubadour-priest.
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