Castration Anxiety in Jonathan Swift 4: The Anxious Swift

Jonathan Swift joined in with the commentary on female independence in a series of poems which demonstrate male anxiety towards feminine privacy, ‘The poems ‘A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed’ and ‘The Progress of Beauty’ use dressing room scenes to debunk the concept of beauty foregrounded in their titles and to offer narratives of exposure that reveal women’s cosmetic secrets’, (Chico, 2002, p. 42). The filth, grime and excrement present in his poetry around this subject address the subject of female individuality and the private space. Each of the private spaces described in ‘The Progress of Beauty’,’ A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed’  and ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ describe a dirty environment, containing not just the physical filth of the disjectamembra of the cosmetics used to construct the public self, but also the internal, moral uncleanliness associated with it. Swift shows that just as the male private space is used to construct a male public persona as identified in the second chapter, by using the male interior void as a place to ruminate over problems and create solutions to them, the female private void is also used to create a public persona, only this time it is one of superficiality and physicality evidenced by the frequent allusions to prostitution in the poetry and the deceit associated with makeup and wigs which is inherent in the nature of disguising one’s true appearance. Swift shows the supposed uncleanliness of the female interior, being one of lapsed morals, satirising the male held anxieties surrounding this privacy.

Cadenus and Vanessa, 1713.

‘Cadenus and Vanessa’ is presented as a court battle between two opposing views on the state of contemporary love, presided over by Venus (lines 1-2). The first opening statement is made by the nymphs, representing women, who argue that men’s romantic love has declined for the sake of money and knowledge. On the other side there are the shepherds, representing men, who blame the decline of love on woman who they say have become shallow.

 Venus’ response to this is to create a new kind of woman, Swift’s ideal (Poor, 2000). What contrasts this idealised view with the contemporary idealised woman are the aspects of what were considered male traits. Vanessa is an individual, she is not a combination of various physical traits assembled into one ‘perfect’ woman, and she is simply Vanessa. There is next a long description of the creation of Vanessa by the Gods in which all her virtues are listed, among them traditional male virtues such as ‘justice, truth and fortitude’ (line 207). Here Swift is mocking these contemporary opinions of what women were capable of. Vanessa was a real person who held these personality traits; women could not be defined by limited ideas of what femininity was. The inability of contemporary society to acknowledge the possibility, and positivity, of genders eschewing their traditional role can be seen in Swift’s lamentation that ‘to copy her few nymphs aspired;/Her virtues fewer swains admired’ (lines 440-441). The next section of the poem details how Vanessa fell in love with Cadenus her tutor. Cadenus however does not reciprocate these feelings as he sees himself as too old and is apparently only interested in Vanessa for intellectual ends.

Ultimately, Venus decides in favour of the nymphs and blames men for the decline of love. The ending is problematic for although Vanessa is presented as the narrator’s idealised woman, Cadenus does not explicitly declare his lover for her. The outcome must ‘never to mankind be told’ (line 834). The narrator takes full responsibility for this by declaring that men are a ‘stupid, senseless race’ (line 879) for Vanessa ‘never could one lover find’ (line 875).

In the poem, Swift presents a personal view of the idealised woman, independent and not defined by the male gaze, although of course still defined by his specific gaze. She is intelligent, well read, and boyish in some ways. This intermingling of gender suggests Swift’s approval of a gender neutral reality. Women were not a mysterious other who presented a danger to men, they were a confused, complicated combination of elements the same as men; they were people.

 ‘Cadenus and Vanessa’ presented Swift as a sexual being (Kelly, 2002, p. 72). Vanessa was Swift’s pet name for a woman he was very close with. The extent of their relationship has never been conclusively ascertained and in truth it does not matter. Swift hinted at a physical intimacy with Vanessa and certainly had a strong emotional attachment (Kelly, 2002, p. 105) but it does not matter how physically intimate they became. What is important is the undeniable appreciation Swift shows for Vanessa and so despite satiric presentations elsewhere, accusations of misogyny seem completely false and indeed, as has been noted, Swift’s desire for a ‘gender-neutral humanity’ displays an understanding of women as human which seems lacking elsewhere in eighteenth-century custom (Barnett, 2002, p. 181). The love Swift felt for Vanessa is clear in the way ‘he could find no ending for Cadenus and Vanessa because his culture allowed for no female types save for docile or shrewish wives, longing old maids, and frivolous or foolish whores’, (Doody, 2003, p. 107). There was no ending for the poem because Swift wanted to portray Vanessa as being more than the female archetypes of the time. Rather than the narrator rediscovering idealised love thanks to a newly impassioned Venus, the goddess simply disappears. Swift understood too well that notions of idealised love and their manifestations in practice in English culture would negate the importance of the female. To marry Vanessa would have been to subjugate her to his will in the eyes of society. This would not meet the equality which Swift championed in the poem (Poor, 2000). The language of female empowerment was not available to those writers in the eighteenth century sympathetic to equality. But again it is too simplistic to view Swift’s opinions and relationships with people as being divisible along gender lines. He was a misanthropist, able to on the one hand despise all humanity because of its filth, while at the same time loving humanity despite it.

The Progress of Beauty, 1719.

In Swift’s 1719 poem The Progress of Beauty he presents a woman, Celia, and contrasts her with the classical goddess Diana ‘When first Diana leaves her bed/Vapours and streams her looks disgrace’ (lines 1, 2). By using Diana in an ironic manner to begin the poem, presenting her as a ‘disgrace’ when she wakes up, the reader is alerted to the fact that the representation of women in this poem will not be an idealised one. Celia is shown to be an artificial creation, ‘The soot or powderwhich was wont/To make her hair look black as jet’ (lines 17, 18). Left alone in her dressing room she constructs an image of herself each morning and takes it apart again each night. Swift here shows this act of creation to be short lived and ultimately futile as Celia will age and require ever increasing work to disguise her appearance, leading her to ultimately appear hideous. Diana is a figure of natural female beauty which does not need disguising and never fades. Hers is not a physical beauty but a spiritual, ephemeral and timeless one which exceeds Celia’s attempts at constructed physical beauty. Again, the process of applying makeup and all the other accessories required to create beauty, is rendered as a metaphor for the private creation of a female public persona. It is presented as something dangerous as Swift lampoons the male anxieties of the time. In the fourth stanza of the poem, Swift claims parallels between the privacy of women and the moon, ‘’Twixt earthly Females and the Moon/All parallels exactly run’, (lines 9 – 10). Women are shown as literally women of the night. For women to have such an inherent connection with the moon and so with the night shows that from the male perspective which Swift is satirising, women are innately sexual beings. Like the moon, Celia is waning,she is decomposing,she is the moon at the end of its cycle. In much the same way that the new moon symbolises virginity, Celia’s waning, disappearing state symbolises the loss of that virginity. Venereal disease and lead poisoning have combined to physically destroy Celia, she is waning from her sexualisation. The fourth stanza suggests that if men were to see women as they appear naturally and in their private void they would be shocked and it would be dangerous for the man (lines 13 – 16). As has been demonstrated earlier, the public persona is created in the private realm and while it is different to the private self, it is informed by it and there will inevitably occur a bleeding through of the private self into the public self. The danger that women present to men in private therefore is not exclusive to their private space, it can occur in the public arena also. The female public persona created in the private space is demonstrated to be a fragile thing which can quickly go from being a thing of positivity for women to one of negativity. In the sixth stanza, Swift’s narrator warns that the ingredients that go into the creation of the female persona, in this case metonymically the three lead based makeup paints, when seen in a different light (line 23) quickly become hideous. The warning here is that the things which women use to create their public persona are so changeable as to be almost uncontrollable.

This malleability of the aspects of female character is expanded upon in the following stanza. Here, women’s innate connection to sex and reproduction is shown to be dangerously close to sexual recreation. The colours of the makeup used to create beauty, ‘black, and red, and white’ (line 21), are ‘graceful in their proper place’ (line 22) but when combined through sweat and grease ‘they form a frightful hideous face’ (line 24). The lily represents the giving of life and the rose is seduction; the private female interior can confuse these two separate but connected elements and transfer the importance of one on to the other ‘For instance, when the lily skips/Into the precincts of the rose’ (lines 25, 26). The female private space is further undermined by stanza seventeen. Swift writes that ‘after four important Hours/Celia’s the wonder of her Sex’ (lines 53,54) and shows that the female private space is used as a void for creativity, like the male space, but creativity with purely physical ends. The purpose of the female void is said to be to make one beautiful, to be admired for the way one looks and with the emphasis on the word sex, here meaning not just the female gender as one homogenous unit but intercourse, the primary function of female creativity is to be desired by men.

With the previous mingling of lilies and roses, this male desire will presumably be used not for sexual procreation but for sexual promiscuity, sex for sex sake. The poem ends with images of decay and decomposition as ‘No painting can restore a nose/Nor will her teeth return again’ (lines111-112) as Swift shows that the end of unrestrained female privacy and sexuality is death. The cheeks, lips and eyes of Celia have dissolved to nothingness, and the previous disguises can now offer no redemption. The overbearing message of futility which Swift presents is so unsubtle in its execution that, coming from a writer as adept as Swift, it seems it must be the narrator’s male voice which is the target of the satire. The poem satirises the moralising and patronising men who did not want women to have any kind of independence.

Ultimately ‘The Progress of Beauty’ characterises Swift’s love of writing about those at the lower end of society, to the bewilderment of some of his readers (Shesgreen, 2002, p. 196). This determination to present humanity at its ugliest against the desires of the reading public displays the anti-mimetic nature of Swift’s poetry; he was not representing the received wisdom of his time, he was lampooning what he saw as the absurdities of contemporary society. Swift’s progress poems show the deterioration of aspects of social life and presents them in the guise of the progress of society (Rogers, 2003, p. 183). It is the underlying absurdity of English society that great things could be achieved by animals, albeit animals capable of reason (Hunter, 2003, p. 235).

Gulliver’s Travels, 1726.

Gulliver’s Travels is a novel written by Swift in 1726. It depicts Gulliver’s travels through undiscovered countries and documents his dealings with the native inhabitants of those lands. In the first section, Gulliver finds himself in Lilliput where the indigenous people are roughly six inches high, rendering Gulliver a giant. In the second book, Gulliver travels to Bromdingnag. Here the size relationships are inverted and the Bromdingnagians are giants compared to Gulliver. One of the more pertinent sections of Gulliver’s Travels as it relates to castration anxiety is the account of Gulliver in Bromdingnag living in small boxes, first in a farmer’s house and then the royal palace. The evolution of what these boxes represent shows the anxiety surrounding female privacy and castration. The box is female gendered by its ownership and so becomes a female void housing a male form. The first box is taken on trips in a horse driven coach (Swift, 2003, p. 92) as Gulliver is presented as an attraction at markets by the farmer who found him. The box is left to the stewardship of the farmer’s daughter, gendering the box as female. The male intrusion is rendered safe through punishment as during the rough journeys the box acts as a weapon against Gulliver, throwing him about. Gulliver is then sold to the royal household of Bromdingnag where he becomes a favourite of the royal family. Gulmdalclitch accompanies Gulliver here and retains stewardship of Gulliver and his living quarters, continuing the female gendering of the places Gulliver is housed. The next box is a room fitted out with miniature scale furniture ‘like a London Bed-chamber’ (Swift, 2003, p. 99) for Gulliver to use. The box is in effect a one room doll’s house, with Gulliver as a doll. Gulliver is housed in a female place, gender identified by its owner. The male intrusion into the female place has been neutralised by both his diminutive size and his being possessed by a woman. Next the box is stolen by a bird, flown away and dropped into the ocean (Swift, 2003, p. 131) which, with its connections to tides and the moon, is gendered as female and threatens to drown Gulliver, almost becoming a coffin. This evolution from punishment, to imprisonment, to casket, show castration anxiety and the cultural effects that showed men were subconsciously worried about what female privacy would mean for them. First men’s power would be neutralised passively, next would come active female rebellion, and finally the death of male privilege.

A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed, 1731.

In his 1731 poem A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed the reader is shown the nightly ritual ablutions of a young woman upon returning to her private rooms. She is shown to physically dismantle herself prior to going to bed, and then reassembling herself in the morning after a fretful night’s sleep before going out into the public world once again. The male neurosis towards female independence is presented in the first line of the poem. The eponymous nymph is described as the ‘Pride of Drury Lane’, (line 1). Drury Lane was an area of London associated with prostitution and so in this first line, the reader is given the answer to the question of what women would do with their privacy and independence. They would apparently become publicly sexual beings. The fact that prostitution had always existed does not negate the fact that here, privacy and sex are being linked in a way which contemporary audiences would have understood to have a cause and effect relationship. The fact of Corinna’s independence is established early in the poem with reference to ‘her bower’, (line 8). The dwelling is hers, inside is her own private space in which she can be an individual. Following the establishment of Corinna’s possession of her space, Swift enters into a long description of the nymph’s disassembly. From line eleven in which we are shown her ‘picking out a crystal eye’, to line thirty-four in which she removes the ‘Dawbs of White and Red’, the reader is presented with Corinna removing seemingly real and natural sections of a human body. From eye-brows (line 13) to teeth (line 20) and even hips (line 28), Corinna removes the parts of herself which she has constructed to form her public persona until she is the embodiment of the private self; unrecognisable from the public image which she presents. Immediately following this glimpse inside female privacy, Swift describes the ‘running sores’ (line 30) and alludes to the calamities which have befallen Corinna to account for them (line 31). This acts as a warning to men about what will happen should women gain their independence and ownership over their private space as Corinna has. ‘Sad Disasters’ abound should this be allowed to happen.

That Corinna herself is aware of the dangerous line she is walking between independence, and punishment for that independence,is revealed to the reader in a description of her dreams. She dreams ‘Of Bridewell and the Compter’, (line 41), the sting of whips (line 42) and transportation to the Caribbean (line 45), for the sexually independent life she is leading. When Corinna wakes in the morning from her nightmares, it seems that reality is not much better. The ‘ruins of the night’ (line 58) have left her room the victim of vermin burglary, cat urination, ‘Puss had on her plumpers pissed’, and dog flea infestation, (lines 59 – 64). The metonymical dirt here represents the moral corruption of Corinna stemming from her independence, and the private female void is shown to be unclean and pestilent. After reconstructing her public image as best she can, Corinna then leaves her filth-ridden interior and emerges into her world where she is once again a lusted after female. However, the detritus of the feminine void appears to be corrupting as it now oozes out into the public world, infecting those who come into contact with Corinna, ‘Corinnain the Morning dizened/Who sees, will spew; who smells, be poisoned’, (lines 73 and 74). It seems that not only is female privacy and independence dangerous to women, but to public society as well.

The other side of Swift, the part of him that saw women as equals and sympathised with their position in society is also on display in A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed. The poem should be read as a woman taking off her public identity in the privacy of her room and being reduced back to her real, private self. When Corinna throws off her clothes and cosmetics she is removing the parts of herself which have been constructed to allow her to exist in the public sphere. In the poem it is makeup and corsets, but it could equally have been money in pockets or the ability to engage in discursive activities. These are all elements which make up a person’s identity, but they function in public and are used to create a self which others see, specifically men. The male gaze is here under scrutiny, as will be explored in more detail later. Corinna is getting back to the private self which has no regard for how others perceive it. When seen in this context, lines 19 and 20 become very significant from the Freudian reading. These lines show the removal of teeth, ‘from her gums/A set of teeth completely comes’ (lines 19-20). As the teeth are intended to be on display to others in the public sphere, they become a defensive item. The teeth of vagina dentata only exist because they have to. If men have anything to fear of female privacy and independence it is a thing entirely of their own making. If women were treated as equals in the eighteenth century and not as a danger to male dominance there would be no need for the dangerous female interior to exist. It only exists in the male imagination as part of Freudian psychological development, but it does not appear to exist in the mind of Swift. He was quite comfortable in showing the defanged interior of the female place and instead focused his attention of the male neurosis and anxieties.

 ‘A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed’ showcases gender neutral views on the absurdity of human nature and presents women as individuals. The poem shows a woman who has been objectified and defined by the male view in public, able to be herself in private. The use of coarse and unflattering language to describe the woman in the poem shows identification with women and intimacy with their private spaces, which had hitherto been a rarity in discourse on women (Kelly, 2002, p. 123). Swift’s subversion of the Ovidian transformation trope in the change from an object of artificial beauty to one of a simple human, has caused one critic to hail him as ‘the most subversive writer in his, or possibly in any, literary period’ (Hammond, 2003, p. 82). The study of the customs of society and contemporary gender roles and the creation of female identity have been read in a feminist light in recent years (Hunter, 2003, p. 235). The subversion of the concept of the idealised, objective woman and the presentation of her as a person, with the faults and imperfections common to all, displays the anxiety over the dangerous female interior. It is in her own private room that Corinna can be a person, undefined by the male gaze, and able to act as an individual.

The Lady’s Dressing Room, 1732.

Swift’s magnum opus on male anxiety ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ continues the themes developed so far and takes them to their expected conclusion of openly and obviously satirising the contemporary male attitudes towards female independence and privacy. The poem presents a narrator describing a young man’s invasive search through his lover’s private dressing room. He analyses all the discarded clothes and cosmetic devices and is disgusted by them all. He sees women for the physical creatures they are which is at odds with his previously held idealised view. The poem begins by explaining the absence of Celia from her private space, her dressing room, (lines 1 – 4) and showing Strephon entering it in secret. This invasion of Celia’s private space, confirmed as illegal by Swift’s use of the word ‘Stole’ (line 7), is tantamount to rape. To understand the prevalence of castration anxiety in ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ there are a number of key passages to look at. It is possible to ground this poem in Epicurean physics in the first twenty five lines of the poem. The dressing room is shown to represent not just Celia but all women,by the use of the generic noun in the title: it is the lady’s room. Celia owns it, but by not being named in the title, the lady can stand in for any lady. The description of the room being ‘void’ (line 5) therefore links the room, the empty space, the void, and women. By having a man make the discovery that ‘the room was void’, the female space is defined by its relationship with the male form entering it. The room was not void until Strephon went in and discovered it to be so. In lines twenty-one and twenty-two, sexual acts and the vagina dentata myth become merged. The voids between the teeth of the comb Strephon finds are filled with detritus and nothing can move between them:

The various combs for various uses

Filled up with dirt so closely fixed

No brush could force a way betwixt (lines 20-22).

As has been discussed, the combination of form and void leads to genesis and can be seen as a metaphor for sex. Swift here combines sex with the teeth of a comb, suggesting the dangerous female vagina. When this motif is layered upon a nervous Strephon, hurriedly searching through Celia’s belongings, and being a male form inside a female void, uninvited and in danger of being discovered,the danger the female space poses to men is shown. The threat of forcible eviction from a female place is displayed in lines fifty-nine to sixty-eight in which a worm is described being removed from Celia’s face. The removal of the worm takes place in Strephon’s anxious imagination and sums up the castration anxiety Swift was putting on show. The worm is Strephon, it is his penis and it is male power; Celia’s nail is Celia, her vagina and it is the newly created female public persona coming from the creation of lady’s dressing rooms. The worm ‘must come out alive or dead’ (line 68) in Strephon’s imagination showing the crisis some men subconsciously felt they were going through at the time.

In ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’, evidence of forms and voids and the psychological makeup of men abound. The void is the dressing room, gendered as female by the possessive nature of the title. The form is Strephon, the small entrapped male moving through the dressing room. His presence in the place is an attempt at occupation, at claiming ownership. He is attempting to remove the female clutter and replace it with male order and logic. The presence of Strephon’s form within the dressing room’s void leads to the metafictional genesis of Swift’s creation of the poem. The invasive male form personified by Strephon, entering without permission the feminine void renders that void a male property. Strephon represents the male neurosis attempting to reclaim privacy. Swift again presents the uncleanliness that seems to inevitably accompany female private spaces, and shows the male attempt to order that filth through itemising and cataloguing. It is the male prerogative to clear the discarded matter of the dressing room. This process of organising and listing the female space further presents it as a male owned arena. There follows another long list of the discarded elements which make up the female public persona, Strephon inspects them all, fanatically and obsessively peering through makeup, combs and used underwear. This inventory is a suspenseful build-up to the coup de theatre of the chest. Going back to Johnson’s definition of a chest as being a store of valuable goods, normally belonging to a man, Celia’s chest is a grotesque parody. The chest holds the ultimate physical representation of female privacy, an innately personal item. Strephon, representing the majority male point of view, sees it as an object of disgust, something dirty and in need of repressing, it ‘[taints] the parts from which [it] fell’ (line 112). In the literal language of the poem, the faeces taint the body which deposits them especially the sexual and reproductive organs which nature has placed next to the excremental organs. There is considerable anxiety on the part of Strephon that sex takes place so close to urethra and anus, and further, that he was born in such proximity, corresponding with Freud’s assertion that ‘All neurotics, and many others besides, take exception to the fact that ‘inter urinas et faeces nascimur.’  (Freud, 2002, p. 106). In metaphorical language this can be read as women as a whole being tainted by the privacy they now hold. The creation of an independent female self, and everything that is associated with that privacy, taints and muddies women. They can never again be the objects of subservience they once were; Swift is recognising this as a dramatic change in gender relations. The stench created by the faeces in turn creates a bad smell throughout the whole room, reinforcing theinfectious nature of female privacy.

The poem reaches its crucial point when Strephon finds the toilet disguised as a chest. This void within the void turns the dressing room into a microcosm of the outside world. With the presence of the void in the void, Celia for a while stops being one with the void and mimics the male form occupying space. The function of the inner void shows what happens when the genuine male form is absent. The act of creation that takes place when a male form occupies a female place is shown in a grotesque parody. The act of childbirth is replaced with the act of defecation. The link between birth and defecation is one that had been explored by Swift before in his excremental poems, and its use here can be read as an attempt to show what happens when genesis is attempted without the male form.

Strephon seems to believe that Celia’s chest has been left out in the open with no compunction on her part just for him to find and be disgusted by:

‘That careless wench! No creature warn her

To move it out from yonder corner,

But leave it standing full in sight,

For you to exercise your spite! (lines 71 – 75).

He is shown to define the female existence by its relationship with men: women exist only by how men judge them. As was noted in Berger’s Ways of Seeing, the presentation of the idealised woman in art rejects the importance of individualism in the female. She can be made up of disparate ideal body parts and joined together into a jigsaw puzzle with no identity or individuality. The position of the nude in art is used to further this concept as the eye line and body position of the female subject is presented in a way which acknowledges the male viewer and not the needs of the subject. The nude, the apparent presentation of female sexuality and by extension the sexualised female in Swift, celebrates male sexuality not female sexuality. The female subject exists as a way in which to reinforce male vigour and virility (Ways of Seeing, 1972). Swift’s rejection of the ideal woman and instead the presentation of the reality of her humanity would therefore seem to be a celebration of previously subdued female individuality. Again, the powerful female independence is rendered a male owned concept, because it is only through the recognition of and acceptance by men that it can exist at all.

There are also Freudian elements present in the aftermath of Strephon’s intrusion. The lasting effects in him are shown to be equating all women with the stench of detritus in the dressing room. His conditioned response to seeing women is to smell filth.  The disgusting nature of the only genesis possible when the male form is lacking is the same as the only possible genesis was the female void is lacking. Each gender when operating alone can only create excrement, it is only when the two are put together that pregnancy is possible. Swift seems therefore to be saying that yes, women are disgusting and as they claim more power and independence for themselves this will become more evident, but they are no more disgusting than men are. Strephon’s distorted worldview as a result of his traumatic experience is to become fixated on one area of the body. Indeed, Strephon’s initial need to catalogue and restore order to the disorganisation of the dressing room hints at an anal fixation suggesting a traumatic experience in childhood.

Swift lambasts Strephon for finding Celia’s humanity disgusting and he points out to the reader how absurd such an opinion is. The object of Swift’s satire though, has divided critics for decades, between those like Huxley who think that the male voice in Swift’s poetry is Swift’s voice, (Greene, 1967, p. 677),  those who read deeper and see a second male voice alongside the male character’s which is mocking the character, (Baudot, 2009, p. 654).

Laura Mulvey recognised the importance of castration anxiety and the role representations of women had to play in its manifestation in art. The female subject symbolised, by her lack of penis, the castration threat (Mulvey, 1975, p. 6), and through this symbolic representation the woman’s meaning in the male gaze is made clear, that of sexual difference (Mulvey, 1975, p. 11). The route to resolving the anxiety comes through investigating the woman and demystifying that about her which is mysterious, her existence as other (Mulvey, 1975, p. 11). This investigation we see through the actions of Strephon as he stalks his way through the dressing room, in search of the truth behind the sexual difference. The scopophillic tendency he displays links into another Freudian psychosexual desire, the desire to see what is private and uncover the hidden. This desire drives Strephon onwards to the conclusion which so repulses him. The sexual other is no such thing, the female object is in many important ways the same as the male subject, it is her human nature which repulses Strephon and sends him fleeing.

The offence that was generated by ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ on its publication, and the resulting insults directed at Swift demonstrate the confusion that surrounds the poem and its intent; a confusion which persists to this day. The uncertainty over whether Swift is ‘appalled or delighted’ by the excrement he describes caused, and still causes, considerable unease to its audience (Kelly, 2002, p. 93). The initial feeling, and one which continued until relatively recently, was that Swift was a misogynist and the poem demonstrates his hatred of women. The faeces appalled him as a male, but the description of women as dirty creatures was assumed to excite him. The anxiety this caused to a reading public more used to idealised objective representations of women manifested itself in ad hominen insults and rumours about Swift’s lack of sexual potency (Kelly, 2002, p. 94). More recent academic discourse has focused on Swift’s refusal to objectify women as idealised beauty and his ‘indifference to gender categories’ has been hailed by female readers (Kelly, 2002, p. 123).

Pamela, 1740.

The importance of the private female space and the effect it had on culture is evidenced in the emergence of the epistolary novel. This highly artificial literary device was popular until the middle of the eighteenth century and beyond, despite the brutal mockery of Fielding (2009), but is a clear indication of the emergent cultural awareness of women as independent entities.

This is especially clear in Pamela(Richardson, 2012). Samuel Richardson uses this device of letters written by Pamela to unfold his story, as she hides herself away in private to explain events in her own words. The importance of a subjective female viewpoint and the physical area in which this viewpoint is considered and articulated is central to the importance of the female private space. Also in Pamela we see the male intrusion into an enclosed space, particularly in the violent scene in which Mr B. attempts to force himself upon Pamela in a summerhouse (Richardson, 2012, pp. 17-19). Brissenden believed that Pamela’s rejection of Mr B. in this instance, and so the female rejection of the male intrusion into an enclosed place, was relevant to the understanding of female individuality and the respect due to women (Brissenden, 2012, p. 567). However the female private space is not always presented as a dangerous area in eighteenth-century literature. Samuel Richardson regards the closet and resultant privacy and individuality in a positive light. Karen Lipsedge acknowledges that by giving Pamela her own private place in which to engage in correspondence and prayer, ‘[Richardson] suggests that enclosure in a private closet is not only a requisite for female virtue but also for deliverance’, (Lipsedge, 2012, p. 96). If Swift satirises prevalent male anxieties over female power, Richardson engages in anti-mimesis in which he explicitly states that female individuality is a positive experience for the individual and consequently for society as a whole.

TristramShandy, 1759.

TristramShandy(Sterne, 2009) displays its castration anxiety openly and proudly. It has even been argued that the novel itself suffers from castration in its inability to ‘father a complete narrative’ (Watts, 2009, p. xi). The eponymous narrator’s life has apparently been shaped and guided by three symbolic castrations, the crushing of his nose (Sterne, 2009, p. 145), the contraction of his name (Sterne, 2009, p. 197), and his accidental circumcision by a sash window (Sterne, 2009, p. 261). These all help to shape Tristram’s poor standing in the world and are offered as explanation for the ending of his family line with him. The text makes quite clear that all three of these instances are castrations. Despite the narrator’s constant protestations that when he writes of a nose, that is all he means, the more this defence is used the more the phallic imagery is emphasised (Watts, 2009, p. ix). Further, Tristram’s name, reduced from the mighty sounding Trismegistus to Tristram, evokes melancholy (Watts, 2009 p. x). Watts however neglects to take this observation further by linking the name Tristram to post-coital tristesse. It could be argued that castration results in an eternal refractory period with the inability to orgasm. Although Tristram is not castrated by the falling window, merely circumcised, the language used by Sterne reveals the extent to which the reader is intended to have castration in mind during the event. The double entendre in Susannah’s thoughts that ‘Nothing was well hung in [Tristram’s] family’ (Sterne, 2009, p. 261) and her later cry of ‘Nothing is left’ upon the circumcision show that castration was foregrounded during the passage. In a novel where the continuation of the family line is so important(Watts, 2009, p. ix), the death of Tristram’s older brother (Sterne, 2009, p. 233) is particularly poignant in this regard, leaving Tristram the sole male heir to his father;the fact that it is never mentioned if Tristram becomes a father, is important. While never actually castrated, the two symbolic and one near miss seem to have compounded and left him childless.

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