Victorian Literature Masculinity
Melissa Shields Jenkins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0141


What is masculinity? And, how much of the topic’s vast expanse can be covered in one bibliography, even one limited to the Victorian period? A list of books dealing with men and their experience would be overwhelming. Yet, narrower definitions of masculinity studies (or, more often, the study of “masculinities”) are contested. A good place to begin, therefore, is with a working definition, however imperfect, as well as some principles of exclusion. Scholarly studies of masculinity analyze experiences in which norms and expectations about maleness are put under pressure. Masculinity, therefore, is not merely “maleness.” It involves a system of protocols for being “manly,” accompanied by a social structure that polices these performances. The study of masculinity involves entering into a dialogue about power. A performance is observed and critiqued within a specific culture, and this critique shapes future performances of “maleness” within that culture. Gender norms, as collected and then tested within a specific community, make demands on how men organize their senses of self, how women consciously or unconsciously incorporate parts of the performance menu, and how a number of male, female, and transgender bodies found in violation of these norms can carve new spaces for themselves in opposition. A culture-specific study of masculinity, then, must begin by collecting those shared norms and expectations, and determining which group or groups police those expectations over time. Then, the researcher must consider how “masculinities” intersect with race, class, disability, sexual orientation, and other crucial markers of identity. Phillip Mallet writes in his introduction to The Victorian Novel and Masculinity that “male identity” is “experienced within a particular discursive figuration, and since discursive boundaries vary with historical conditions, it is never fully achieved, grasped once and for all” (Mallett 2015, p. vi [cited under Genre and Publishing History]). A student may want to begin this article in its “General Overviews and Reference” section and then turn to the “Feminist and Queer Theory Section.” These categories contain important interventions in the never-ending attempt to define masculinity and masculinity studies. These sources will help students define key terms (for example, the distinction between sex and gender), and unpack what scholars mean when they, following Judith Butler, discuss gender as performance. From here, readers of the article will encounter a number of books, articles, and online sources that reflect the massive critical interest in reconceiving and reconfiguring masculinity. Most of these sources continue the splintering of “masculinity” into multiple, competing “masculinities.” Many sources turn to women and the performance of femininity as important counterpoints.

General Overviews and Reference

Students seeking a foothold in the general terminology and critical moves common to masculinity studies can begin here. Adams and Savran 2002 is an anthology of primary texts and influential secondary criticism in which the Victorian age is represented by Henry James and Sigmund Freud, and Flood, et al. 2007 is a quick-reference encyclopedia. Some figures in this article—Connell, Halberstam, Sedgwick—are represented in this collection as well. Connell 2012 lays out the trajectory of masculinity studies from a scholarly and theoretical framework, as well as offering a wide view of the history of masculinities in the West. This section also includes collections of essays—Brod 1987, Emig and Rowland 2010, and Smart and Yeates 2008—from which readers can select from a menu of options, from romantic to contemporary. Mansfield 2006 may be the most controversial choice here. At once social history, theory, and polemic, Mansfield’s relatively conservative argument for the recuperation of the manly man is informed by research but geared toward a popular audience. Mansfield’s work, and the call for more work on “issues of age—both youth and senescence” (p. 383) in Hobbs 2013, are indicative of how each of these overviews also offers an assessment of the state of the field, often in response or even in opposition to earlier pieces. Thus, is it both helpful and appropriate that this category also includes a website—Gender Matters—that is ripe for updating on a regular basis.

  • Adams, Rachel, and David Savran, eds. The Masculinity Studies Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.

    Essay collection is transnational, vast in the time periods covered (from classical to postmodern), and interdisciplinary. Victorianists should read Eve Sedgwick’s essay on Henry James as well as the Freud excerpt, “Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes,” that begins the collection.

  • Brod, Harry, ed. The Making of Masculinities: The New Men’s Studies. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987.

    The fourteen essays in this edited collection respond to late-20th-century feminist criticism. The essays attempt to define what makes masculinity studies a separate endeavor from feminist critiques of men.

  • Connell, Raewyn. Masculinities. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2012.

    As with Brod 1987, Connell lays out the formal practices of masculinity studies. The book, especially in its expanded second edition, offers everything from the politics of the body to the history of Western masculinities to engagement with 20th-century theories of masculinity in the context of psychoanalysis. Originally published in 1995.

  • Emig, Rainer, and Antony Rowland, eds. Performing Masculinity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    This essay collection spans from the romantic to the postmodern age. Scholars of romanticism should note Diego Saglia’s essay about Byron’s transgressive body. Victorianists can reference Jessica Malay’s essay about Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë, Rainer Emig’s essay on Victorian comedy, and Anthony Bateman’s essay about imperial masculinity.

  • Flood, Michael, Judith Kegan Gardiner, Bob Pease, and Keith Pringle, eds. International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    This resource consists of short essays, arranged in alphabetical order. Offers reading suggestions and conceptual maps across a number of concepts, from a transnational perspective. Literary entries include overviews of the adventure novel, the bildungsroman, poetry, and war literature.

  • Gender Matters. The Victorian Web. 26 July 2015.

    This web resource is divided into sections on theory, politics and history, religion, the arts, and science. Much of the material relates to the “Woman Question,” but note George P. Landow’s “Issues of Victorian Masculinity” and Jacqueline Banerjee’s “The Struggle for Manhood in Victorian Fiction.”

  • Hobbs, Alex. “Masculinity Studies and Literature.” Literature Compass 10.4 (April 2013): 383–395.

    DOI: 10.1111/lic3.12057

    Review essay that assesses literary masculinity studies and that begins with Brod 1987 as one of the first prominent edited collections. Its primary focus is Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity, “the most useful, albeit sometimes controversial, thesis of men’s studies” (p. 385). Requests more studies of youth and old age.

  • Mansfield, Harvey C. Manliness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

    Unapologetically polemical presentation of male identity as constructed and contested; ranges from the classical tradition to the present. Book arranged ahistorically by topic, so use the index to find specific authors. Victorian authors discussed include Charles Darwin, H. Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, and John Stuart Mill.

  • Reeser, Todd W. Masculinities in Theory: An Introduction. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444317312

    An accessible overview of masculinity studies: how it developed as a field, how it intersects with queer theory and feminist theory, how the male body appears in different official discourses such as law and medicine, and how masculinity intersects with categories of nation and race.

  • Smart, Graeme, and Amelia Yeates, eds. Special Issue: Victorian Masculinities. Critical Survey 20.3 (2008).

    Expanded and revised conference proceedings (Keele University, 2006). Essay topics include comparative and colonial masculinities, theatricality, illness, gendered language, and aesthetics. The goal of the collection, according to editors Smart and Yeates, is to emphasize “the fluidity and instability of masculine identities by revealing their constructions as social processes” (p. 4).

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