Wordsworth's Poetical Works

Homoerotics of Romantic Poetry

In the work of the Romantic poets, there is a clear disparity in the representation of male and female homoerotics. While male homosexual poetry is generally characterised by a careful synthesis of personal feeling and an imagined homosocial tradition in Hellenism, female homoerotics are typically torn between an extreme degree of sexual sublimation into the ‘romantic friend’ ideal and a voyeuristic male heterosexual fantasy that is nevertheless pervaded by a sense of panic induced by the presentation of female sexuality. That is, ostensibly lesbian poetry undergoes a process of heterosexualisation that dilutes (and may in fact, entirely undo) any liberating potential the poem would have otherwise possessed. Moreover, while gay male narratives are privileged within a mythologised Hellenistic context and become purified and validated therein, specifically lesbian poetry is denied access to Sapphic tradition. Thus, lesbians become de-Hellenised in Romantic poetry and the reader is alienated from a positive tradition of female homoerotics.

In ‘To lady Eleanor Butler . . .,’ Wordsworth describes the romantic friendship of the Ladies of Llangollen. The poem is pervaded by a sense of sisterhood and close friendship without being...

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