Two Is the Oddest Number: Same-Sex Marriage and the Victorian Afterlife
Goodwin, James Michael
Cohen, William A
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This dissertation reads today's same-sex marriage debate in United States in relation to the English debates over marriage reform in the 1850s. In particular, it focuses on the postmodern afterlife of the Victorian, arguing that the Victorian afterlife merges deeply suspicious readings with reparative ones. Starting with John Stuart Mill's "The Subjection of Women," it examines the manner in which today's readings of Mill's treatise repeat the responses of Mill's contemporaries. The paranoid reactions of today's readers attempt to show the inadequacies and contradictions of Mill's liberalism. At the same time, they highlight the paradoxical quality of Mill's "ideal of marriage," which involves "two persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and purposes, between whom there exists that best of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority." In other words, "I am superior to you at the very same time that you are superior to me." So the desire for reciprocal superiority to embrace the supposedly non-paranoid, utopic celebrations surrounding the phenomenon of same-sex marriage, while it also reminds us not to dispense with paranoia, since these promises are pure fantasy. The volatile relationship between these opposing reading practices (the paranoid and the reparative) helps us to identify the impossibility of true marriage equality. In order to highlight their dialectical relationship, subsequent chapters focus on the paranoid and reparative qualities of two contradictory critical readings of Charles Dickens's "David Copperfield"; on "Little Dorrit" and its same-sex couple (Miss Wade and Tattycoram); on Walter Pater's hagiography of Winckelmann; and, finally, on Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" and what I call Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's "reparative avunculate,' that is, the alternative familial relations that flit upon the play's surface but get ignored by paranoid scholars focusing solely on the psychoanalytic triad of the father-mother-child. While the "reparative avunculate" is comprised by Algernon's cynical, paranoid insistence that "two is none," it is a necessary addition to Wilde's farcical portrayal of bourgeois marriage. Taken together, paranoid and reparative analyses demonstrate there is no such thing as an anti-hierarchical, egalitarian, non-zero-sum, two-person partnership, although we continue to desire such partnerships.