MAN AND WOMAN: A Study of Love and the Novel 1740-1940 by A. O. J. Cockshut

MAN AND WOMAN: A Study of Love and the Novel 1740-1940

Email this review


Transcendent love belongs most to poetry, Cockshut avers, whereas the novel is preoccupied with the social ramifications of sex; and his strong and varied examples make this a persuasive, if brief, social history of eroticism in England. Cockshut first sketches the pattern in literary treatments of love: the sanctitity of marriage, the double standard of sexual behavior, the alliance of morality and aesthetics, and, above all, the unquestioning acceptance by authors and public alike of the moral fabric of society. This last enables Cockshut to bridge literature and social theory, since it explains how the English novel could reflect social life while at the same time England contributed so little to the revolution in social thought. The most ""serious and fundamental lack"" of English literary culture is, in short, its failure ""to inquire into the fundamental bases of morality,"" and thereby of society--while nonetheless illuminating both. Although 18th-century novelists seemed on the verge of such an inquiry and Jane Austen unraveled tangles of ""feeling and judgment,"" 19th- and early 20th-century authors relied on schematic social psychologies. Whether they portrayed heterosexual love with detached realism (Thackeray, Mrs. Gaskell), pessimism (Emily Bronte, Swinburne, Hardy), or optimism (Lawrence, notably), or whether their subject was male homosexuality (Rolfe, Forster, L. H. Myers), or lesbianism (Dickens--in Little Dorrit--James, Radclyffe Hall, Djuna Barnes), they tend to regard the social system as firm--even as they implicitly undermine it. Although the strengths and weaknesses of the novel as sociology could be more sharply etched here, Cockshut enables the reader to put literary love in a larger perspective.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1978
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press