Masculinity in peril: mutiny fiction and Victorian man-making

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University of Alabama Libraries

In Victorian Masculinities, Herbert Sussman identifies the emergence of the "masculine plot" in mid-nineteenth century writing by male authors. The masculine plot, an alternative to the marriage plot's bourgeois domestic masculinity, provides a hero who eschews the threatening feminine realm and enters a world exclusive to men where he gathers male wisdom leading up to a test of his masculinity. Rewriting masculinity as the sublimation of male desire into productive labor in a solely male world and replacing the marriage bond with male-male relationships demanded that authors of the masculine plot unfold it somewhere outside of contemporary England. British writers displaced the masculine plot either geographically, historically, or both. By the close of the nineteenth century, the Indian Mutiny offered a location for the masculine plot both physically and temporally removed from home. India during the Mutiny also offered a stage for the masculine plot that was already heavily gender-inflected. When news of the Mutiny first reached London in 1857, the British struggled to build a narrative of the causes and outcomes of the Sepoy Rebellion and to systematize their relationship to a frighteningly unfamiliar imperial holding. Periodicals seized upon a set of stock devices with which to frame their Mutiny narratives, wherein developed a subtext in which a masculine England triumphed over a feminine India. These same gendered dramas appear in children's adventure novels about the Mutiny published in the late nineteenth century--such as George Manville Fenn's Gil the Gunner--that operate according to the masculine plot. My thesis examines ways in which children's adventure novels about the Mutiny explore tensions inherent in late-Victorian constructions of masculinity. These books exploit both the useful features of the masculine plot and the very failures that make it an insufficient technology for making masculine men, whether real or fictional.

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English literature