Victorian Literature and Culture

Research Article

LESSONS FROM THE GUTTER: SEX AND CONTAMINATION IN THE WAY WE LIVE NOW

Elizabeth Bleichera1

a1 Ithaca College

Felix Carbury's name is a classically Trollopian bit of fun. The heir to the Carbury family estate is dubbed with the Latinate for “happy and fortunate” when Felix is in fact the active agent of its sorrow, loss of fortune, and impending demise. Though Felix's gambling, drinking, and indolence are the practices most dangerous to his family, Anthony Trollope frames his sexual habits as most dangerous to society and young readers. The narrator and other characters aptly call Felix “vicious” (21; ch.2, 132; ch. 17, 540; ch. 71), which is etymologically rooted in “vice.” Margaret Markwick's assertion that “viciousness” was Trollope's regular reference to “carnality or sexual licentiousness” (95) is helpful in understanding how Felix, and his fate, are being made to function in the discussion of male sexuality in which the novel engages. As a result of improper sexual liaisons, Felix descends from the status of eligible, aristocratic bachelor to contaminating social pariah. In the process, he ends up walking the streets in a parody of the desperation and police harassment that Victorian fallen women faced; loses his beauty in a symbolic disfigurement that mirrors the ravages of syphilis; and ends up banished not merely from his community but from the entire country. The plot explicitly states that Felix is exiled to prevent him from inflicting financial harm on women, but Felix's participation in the extratextual discourse on men's sexuality required that he also be expelled from the sexual economy to contain his potential for transmitting sexual contagion.

(Online publication May 18 2011)

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