Laura Eastlake

Mar 9, 2021

Masculinity and Ancient Rome in the Victorian Cultural Imagination

Classical Presences 2019

Laura Eastlake’s Ancient Rome and Victorian Masculinity (Oxford University Press, 2019) examines Victorian receptions of ancient Rome from the French Revolution to the First World War, with a specific focus on how those receptions were deployed to create useable models of masculinity. Romans in Victorian literature were at once pagan persecutors, pious statesmen, pleasure-seeking decadents, and heroes of empire. These manifold and often contradictory representations were used as vehicles equally to capture the martial virtue of Wellington and to condemn the deviance and degeneracy of Oscar Wilde.

In the works of Thomas Macaulay, Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, H. Rider Haggard, and Rudyard Kipling, among others, Rome emerges as a contested space with an array of possible scripts and signifiers which can be used to frame masculine ideals, or to vilify perceived deviance from those ideals, though with a value and significance often very different to ancient Greek models.

Using approaches from literary and cultural studies, reception studies, and gender studies, and ranging across the topics of education, politics, empire, and late Victorian decadence, this volume offers the first comprehensive examination of the importance of ancient Rome as a cultural touchstone for nineteenth-century manliness and Victorian codifications of masculinity.

Dr. Laura Eastlake is a senior lecturer in English literature at Edge Hill University in the UK, with degrees in the Classics, classical reception, and Victorian literature, with additional research interests in sensation fiction, Victorian humour and substance-use, and the late-Victorian Gothic. Check out her exhibition at The Atkinson museum: Fatal Attraction: Lilith and Her Sisters.

Carrie Lynn Evans is a PhD student at Université Laval in Quebec City.

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