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Perverse Romanticism

, 376 pages

14 halftones

December 2008



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Perverse Romanticism

Aesthetics and Sexuality in Britain, 1750–1832

Open Access Edition Available at Project MUSE

Richard C. Sha’s revealing study considers how science shaped notions of sexuality, reproduction, and gender in the Romantic period.

Through careful and imaginative readings of various scientific texts, the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Longinus, and the works of such writers as William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lord Byron, Sha explores the influence of contemporary aesthetics and biology on literary Romanticism.

Revealing that ideas of sexuality during the Romantic era were much more fluid and undecided than they are often characterized in the existing scholarship, Sha’s innovative study complicates received claims concerning the shift from perversity to perversion in the nineteenth century. He observes that the questions of perversity—or purposelessness—became simultaneously critical in Kantian aesthetics, biological functionalism, and Romantic ideas of private and public sexuality. The Romantics, then, sought to reconceptualize sexual pleasure as deriving from mutuality rather than from the biological purpose of reproduction.

At the nexus of Kantian aesthetics, literary analysis, and the history of medicine, Perverse Romanticism makes an important contribution to the study of sexuality in the long eighteenth century.

Richard C. Sha is a professor of literature at American University and author of The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism.

"With breathtaking scholarship, solid erudition, and distinctively clear prose, Richard Sha shows us the place of perversity in Romantic aesthetics. He links aesthetics and sexuality by showing how 'resistance to function can be the basis of a meaningful critique of society.' By linking these previously binarily opposed terms, Sha is able to embrace the perverse and show us how it becomes a central motivating force behind Romantic thought. As a result Romanticism is reimagined here, as Sha says, 'from the ground up.' This is a groundbreaking study that will change our understanding of the major Romantic writers and the field of Romanticism itself."

"Sha addresses the ways in which Romantic literature advocated purposelessness in both aesthetics and sexual pleasure: art for art's sake and sex for the sake of sex. His analysis is original and insightful."

"An impressive display of Sha’s masterful grasp of a wide range of scholarly literature, and a provocative thesis that will be of interest to academics in all three fields."

"Sha brings to these topics a keen intelligence buttressed by up-to-the-minute scholarship... He dazzles by the quantity and breadth of his reading and embodies the best interdisciplinary approaches so many scholars tout but rarely incorporate."

"His theoretical insights come together with acute readings and strong historical research."

"Richard C. Sha's fine study takes Byron's theme of 'perversion' in a different direction from the ethical, demonstrating how Romantic medical writing about the perverse influenced literary Romanticism.... Fascinating book."

"Stunningly brilliant and original... a distinguished work that is well worth reading."

"Strong scholarship."

"An engaging study."

"Sha's work... with its rich and engaging cultural context, significantly broadens and deepens our understanding of Romantic-era sexuality."

"Sha's scholarship on behalf of perversion is formidable, and makes for fun reading."

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