Secret Selves: Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography

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Date: Autumn 2000
From: Victorian Studies(Vol. 43, Issue 1)
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,162 words

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Secret Selves: Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography, by Oliver S. Buckton; pp. x + 270. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1998, $49.95, $18.95 paper, [pound]39.95, [pound]15.50 paper.

Secret Selves, Oliver S. Buckton's compelling examination of the relations among male homoeroticism, its concealment, and its uneasy disclosure within Victorian autobiographical writing is certain to be of interest to period specialists, queer theorists, and genre theorists, especially those involved in the study of life-narrative. Joining others who have argued that selfhood is an effect, rather than a cause, of life-writing, Buckton explores secrecy as an overarching narrative strategy of Victorian autobiography and particularly of life stories written by Victorian men for whom same-sex relations mattered most. As Buckton argues, the secrecy of the texts at hand--which include John Henry Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864) ,John Addington Symonds's Memoirs (1984), Oscar Wilde's De Profundis (1905), and Edward Carpenter's My Days and Dreams (1916) --is "relative to a specific historical context in which homosexuality is associated with a range of perverse, antisocial, and subversive practices and character istics" (4). Within this context, Buckton considers the paradox of a secret self that is "revealed," but that is nonetheless (re)created and reinforced by the pressures of textual secrecy.

Buckton begins with a much-needed revisionist history of the publication of Newman's Apologia, focusing on the extent to which Charles Kingsley's attacks on Newman's "dishonesty" were really charges of "perversion," a term that encompassed Newman's religious "deviance," as well as his gender and sexual indeterminacy. Although "perversion" may not have connoted erotic transgression in the same ways that it does today, Buckton suggests that it is naive to ignore the sexual currency that this word was beginning to have in nineteenth-century...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A72070227