The Soldier and the Aesthete: Homosexuality and Popular Culture in Gilded Age America


Blanchard, Mary W. 1996. "The Soldier and the Aesthete: Homosexuality and Popular Culture in Gilded Age America." Journal of American Studies 30 (1): 25-46.

Author: Mary W. Blanchard


The aftermath of civil strife, note some historians, can change perceptions of gender. Particularly for males, the effect of exhaustive internal wars and the ensuing collapse of the warrior ideal relegates the soldier/hero to a marginal iconological status. Linda L. Carroll has persuasively argued, for instance, that, following the Italian wars, one finds the "damaged" images of males in Renaissance art: bowed heads, display of stomach, presentation of buttocks. In fact, male weakness and "effeminacy" can, notes Linda Dowling, follow on the military collapse of any collective state. Arthur N. Gilbert argues, in contrast, that historically in wartime, male weakness in the form of "sodomites" was rigorously persecuted. From 1749 until 1792, for instance, there was only one execution for sodomy in France, while, during the Napoleonic Wars, the period of 1803--14, seven men were executed. Such analysis suggests that, in the aftermath of civil wars, cultural attitudes toward effeminate or homosexual men shifted from suppression or persecution during martial crisis to one of latitude and perhaps tolerance in periods following the breakdown of the military collective.
The aftermath of America's Civil War, the decades of the 1870s and 1880s, provides a testing ground to examine attitudes toward the soldier/hero and toward the effeminate male in a time of social and cultural disarray. At this time, an art "craze," the Aesthetic Movement, captured popular culture. Aestheticism, seen in the eighteenth century as a "sensibility," had, by the nineteenth century, an institutional base and a social reform ideology. 

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Sexuality Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 1996

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