THE TRIALS OF MASCULINITY by Angus McLaren

THE TRIALS OF MASCULINITY

Policing Sexual Boundaries, 1870-1930
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 This somewhat unfocused gender history nevertheless marshals an appealing wealth of evidence of what trials can reveal about the boundaries of men's roles around the turn of the century, especially in England. McLaren (History/Univ. of Victoria, Canada) smartly chooses to examine trials as events where the law meets the vagaries of public culture (including journalism, class hostility, economics, and medicine) in an unpredictable drama, creating a cast of characters out of men according to how they conducted themselves--for example, ``gentlemen,'' ``hard workers,'' ``cads,'' or ``weaklings,'' among others. Men of modest means suing a fraudulent matrimonial service suffered public ridicule for their foolish hopes--or calculating schemes--of attracting wealthy wives. A prominent obstetrician who dutifully informed his father-in-law of medical evidence of his sister-in-law's adultery fell afoul, in a libel suit, of expectations of a gentleman's discretion toward a lady. The second half of the book explores the medicalization of male deviance, culminating in the case most suggestive of the nuances of the cultural definition of masculinity: A man was tried for procuring another to commit ``gross indecency'' when, in the guise of a woman, he earnestly courted a man. The cases, scattered from Canada to France and dipping into the continental literature of sexual pseudo-science, lack the sense of a coherent study of one society but are provocative in their implications for each. A few, such as that of a fatal abortion in England, while themselves illuminating, are only perfunctorily tied by the author to the claims of the book's thesis. More suggestive than conclusive, this study stakes out, in the courtroom drama, a solid ground for the study of gender norms as played out in real life, and makes a promising initial excavation of the issues raised in such cases.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-226-50067-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1997