Marcus, Steven

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Marcus, Steven. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England. 1966. "With a New Introduction by the Author." New York: Basic Books, 1974 [recorded in Library of Congress on-line catalog as 1975]. In the series Studies in Sex and Society, "sponsored by the Institute for Sex Research, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana," (a k a "the Kinsey Institute").

A ground-breaking work of literary criticism — Marcus limits his attention to (mostly heterosexual) literary works, although he's well aware of porn in the visual arts of the period — and a field-changing work in Victorian Studies generally. Significant here for taking very literally the observation that pornographic representations of sex tend to be "mechanical." Discussing a significantly unoriginal novel titled Randiana, Marcus notes its concern with fashion and, more important for his argument, food and an aphrodisiac: "The fantasies that are involved here have to do again with fluids and bodily substances; they regard those things that are taken into the body as magical, energizing substances. One of the corollaries of this notion is the belief that one's sexuality, one's potency, comes not from within oneself but depends upon some outside agent, some energizer, which can be taken at will and mechanically. As a result, human sexuality is again regarded mechanically, and human sexuality is again ideally represented as the functioning of machines. […] The mechanical view of the universe […] here is not so much Newtonian as it is simply childish. It undertakes to control sexuality by mentally splitting off the sexual apparatus from the sexual emotions. This tendency is unchanging in pornography; and yet, one must remind oneself, what else in 1884 [the publication year for Randiana] could a writer have done, what alternatives were open to him?" And perhaps more so for the earlier novels (possibly because they were written in a period before [Freudian] psychological insights became common in the culture). Almost reaching the end of the chapter, Marcus continues, "This vision of a grim, gray, and spiritless universe is common in pornography. Nevertheless, the tone of this novel — like the tone of the majority of pornographic works of fiction — is lighthearted, humorous, harmless in intention, and slightly scatterbrained. It is only when one goes beneath the surface that one finds the mechanical grimness, the frenzied repetition, the impotent quest for omnipotence" (250-51; ch. 5). || CAUTIONS: (1) At least one very serious student of pornography has noted that conscious humor is unusual in porn, to the point that its presence is a sign a work is not pornographic. (2) Readers who accept the arguments of Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, et al. that pornography always and necessarily oppresses women can object to Marcus's low level of outrage at pornography. (3) Younger readers, and some veterans of academic in-fighting, may find Marcus's view through a Freudian lens quaint if not distorting and annoying, and his Freudianly-inflected moral judgments intrusive in a work of scholarship. Readers of all persuasions should note that "the long 1950s" lasted through most of 1963 and that The Other Victorians helped bring literary studies into the 1960s and prepared the way for later work, including that of Dworkin and MacKinnon.

9. BACK, RDE, 27/III/11