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Evangelicalism and the making of same-sex desire : the life and writings of Constance Maynard (1849-1935) Lloyd, Naomi

Abstract

Although a devout Evangelical Anglican, living in an era that largely pre-dated the dissemination of sexological discourses of female same-sex desire, Constance Maynard, the prominent Victorian feminist and educational reformer, pursued a series of same-sex relationships. Religion is often understood to exercise a repressive influence on sexual desire. This study, however, takes as its starting point the historian of sexuality Michel Foucault’s contention that sexual regulation produces desire rather than repressing it. It charts the role of Evangelical discourse – both regulatory and non-regulatory – in the structuring of Maynard’s dissident sexual subjectivity. Arguing that sexuality, and female homoeroticism in particular, is crucial to an understanding of turn-of-the-century British culture, this dissertation explores transitions in Maynard’s same-sex desire as they were occasioned by shifts in her religious subjectivity, examines the role of other cultural discourses in precipitating changes in her religious beliefs, and delineates the implications of transitions in the relationship between Evangelicalism and these other discourses for turn-of-the-century British society. A central focus of this dissertation is the discourse of modernity. Modernity is often represented as the product of the triumph of science, reason, and progress over an out-dated, irrational, repressive religion. This dichotomy is a gendered one; masculinity is often aligned with the former terms and femininity with the latter. Dominant narratives of modernity also fail to take into account the indebtedness of the latter to imperialism. The making of Maynard’s same-sex desire disrupts the science/religion, masculine/feminine, and metropole/colony binaries that inform narratives of modernity. Maynard’s sexual subjectivity and her modernizing sexual discourse were the products of Evangelicalism in dynamic interaction with, rather than in opposition to, the scientific discourses of natural theology, evolution, eugenics, and psychoanalysis. The constitution and contestation of Maynard’s religio-scientific imperialist discourse in her same-sex relationships demonstrates the role of imperialism in the production of modern sexuality. Discourses of modern sexuality feature prominently in the making of contemporary geopolitical divides. To move beyond these divides it is necessary to recognize the complex interactions between religion and science that have produced modern western sexuality, and to situate its production in the context of the uneven relationship between metropole and colony.

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