Saturday, February 17, 2007, 08:02 AMWatchng Frasier made me think again about a topic I’ve written on in the past, same-sex sibling incest in literature. As Kaslow et al have demonstrated, homosexual incest is a genuine phenomenon, but one which tends to get blanked out in scientific literature on sexuality.
My own work has focused on canonical texts, on the Philomela story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and on various nineteenth-century novels. But we can find examples in more recent popular culture too. For example in Georgette Heyer’s False Colours (see earlier post) there is a homoerotic quality to the representation of the handsome identical twin brothers, Kit and Evelyn, and the strength of their bond (which includes some low key telepathy) is presented in some ways more intensely than that between Kit and Cressida.
Kit’s discourse, his slang (particularly to seasoned Heyer readers) has an oddly feminised quality, and he is romantically attached to his beautiful and charismatic mother. It may also be significant that both men in a sense ‘share’ Cressida – she was first engaged to Evelyn. As I’ve shown elsewhere, the indirect sexual contact between two sisters (or brothers) using a ‘conduit’ can symbolise or mask a direct sexual relationship between same sex siblings.
A more up to date example can be found in The Simpsons. Marge’s gruff, unmarried, masculine sisters (Patty and Selma Bouvier) seem to play on lesbian stereotypes and of course live together. Indeed eventually it is revealed that one of them is a lesbian. Lesbian incest is almost but not quite actualised in the show.
Returning to Frasier, the scenario seems almost to call attention to its oddness. Frasier’s foppish brother Niles may be married to Maris and infatuated with Daphne, but in some ways the show suggests that it wanted to be about a gay couple but made them brothers instead – Niles seems to spend an extraordinary amount of time in Frasier’s apartment after all, and the fact that we never actually see the improbable Maris may be a further hint at a buried queer subtext.
Saturday, February 17, 2007, 06:57 AMAs previously blogged, this one day conference exploring interfaces between 'canonical' literature and SF is taking place on Saturday 24 March. There will be panels on classical reception, SF and the Victorians and steampunk and cyberpunk. For fuller details go to the
Sunday, February 4, 2007, 09:40 AMOn the subject of classics/ pop culture interfaces, I’ve recently come across an interesting example of a text which uses (Neo) Latin to playfully incongruous effect. Here’s a little quiz. (No prizes.) What is being described and when was the poem written?
Hortus adest magica longe celeberrimus arce
Ima petit currus, subitoque recurrit in altum
Volvitur in praeceps iterum, iterumque resurgit;
Vis celer exoritar magnis operata ruinis
Proruit et lato sonitu, lapsusque propinquo.
Deficit inde halitus, clauduntur lumina nocte,
Et gelido motu convulsio corripit artus.
Quinque per excelsos rapide petit aethera montes,
Quinque per infernas decurrit machina valles.
Attoniti, caeci terram superamus, et undam,
Perque nemus, thalamosque volatica membra vehuntur.
Haud procul est lucus magica mirandus ab arte.
Hic dum sublimen stupefactus fertur in arcem
Spectator, solio per sese attollitur imo,
Servus adest nullus, patefactaque gurgite strata
Pandunt, appositam nitido videt ordine mensam.
Sunday, February 4, 2007, 09:23 AMThe interface between classics and popular culture, particularly in the Victorian period, was the focus of an excellent symposium, Classics Rejected, held at Robinson College on 27 January. Topics included the classicism of Dickens (Edith Hall) and the Greek and Roman displays on show at the Crystal palace (Kate Nichols).
The most entertaining paper was given by the conference’s organiser, Edmund Richardson. This was a study of (inter alia) failed classicist, Theodore Buckley, who died of delirium tremens, and of Robert Brough, author of numerous burlesques of canonical works, including a version of Medea.
At a time when a knowledge of Greek and Latin was a sign of cultural and social superiority, writers and artists from less privileged backgrounds approached classical themes with ambivalence, sometimes rejecting them antagonistically, sometimes attempting to democratise the classics and make them accessible to a new class of reader.
It is interesting to speculate what relationship – if any – there is between, say, Brough’s pastiches of classical myth and recent successes such as Gladiator and Troy.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007, 09:34 PMThe internet is an increasingly vital tool in academic research. But it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between authoritative sites and those which provide misleading or even false information. In a worrying development I have recently come across sites which claim to provide Georgette Heyer Top Tens but which are distressingly inaccurate. (How could Cousin Kate feature in any Heyer fan’s top ten, for example.) Here follows my own definitive Georgette Heyer Top Ten.
Clergyman’s daughter Arabella is furious when wealthy Mr Beaumaris suspects she engineered a carriage accident as an excuse to make his acquaintance. Her response is to pretend to be a fabulously wealthy heiress. Trouble ensues. (This novel is slated at some length by Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch.)
2. Devil’s Cub.
Dominic, Marquis of Vidal, the demonic hero, abducts Mary Challoner by accident, mistaking her for much prettier and more morally accommodating sister Sophia. She protects her virtue by shooting him in the arm but their relationship gradually improves.
3. Friday’s Child.
Refused by the love of his life, the hero, Sherry, decides to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be his childhood friend Hero Wantage. The best Heyer novel to begin with a marriage, and one of her funniest books.
4. The Corinthian.
Cross dressing Pen(elope) is determined to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart and runs away from home with the unwilling help of the cynical misogynist hero Sir Richard Wyndham.
An established novelist by this stage, Heyer tricks her readers by presenting us with a sardonic, moody, saturnine hero who is rejected by the heroine in favour of his amiable cousin Freddy, a kind of Regency Bertie Wooster.
6. The Talisman Ring.
In this particularly funny novel the hero antagonises his proposed bride, the romantic Eustacie, by refusing to ride ‘ventre a terre’ to her (hypothetical) deathbed. Both end up with more appropriate partners.
The heroine is very understanding about wicked Lord Damarel’s peccadilloes.
'You'd know about my orgies!' objected Damarel.
'Yes, but I shouldn't care about them once in a while. After all, it would be quite unreasonable to wish you to change all your habits, and I can always retire to bed, can't I?'
8. Lady of Quality
Young heiress Lucilla runs away from an arranged marriage – with the help of her equally unwilling fiancé. Annis Wychwood (who is 29 and doesn’t wish to marry) helps them when their carriage has an accident and finds herself having to deal with Lucilla’s rude and disobliging uncle Oliver.
Capable Frederica feels sure that her beautiful sister Charis is destined to make a great match. So she travels to London (with her large and chaotic family of brothers and sisters) to seek the help of their distant cousin the Marquis of Alverstoke.
10. False Colours
Another atypical Heyer hero. Kit is polite, responsible and (almost excessively) devoted to his beautiful mother. But when his twin, Evelyn, goes missing Kit is persuaded against his better judgment to pass himself off as his irresponsible brother at the latter’s engagement party. Will Evelyn’s fiancée notice the difference?
… I do hope that settles the matter
Incidentally I have recently been reading on the web about Lois McMaster Bujold whose novels are apparently heavily influenced by (and in one case dedicated to) Georgette Heyer despite being set in outer space 1000 years in the future. Sounds intriguing.