FEMALE PERVERSIONS: The Temptations of Emma Bovary by Louise J. Kaplan

FEMALE PERVERSIONS: The Temptations of Emma Bovary

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A sprawling, provocative mapping of female perversions by psychologist Kaplan (The Family Romance of the Impostor-Poet Thomas Chatterton, 1987, etc.). Kaplan launches into this murky, often horrifying psychological territory by defining male perversions--fetishism, transvestism, sexual masochism, necrophilia, etc. Perversions, she argues, are deceptive ""psychological strategies,"" marked by ""desperation and fixity,"" designed to deal with childhood trauma, and they are ""as much pathologies of gender role identity as they are pathologies of sexuality."" Female perversions, so far largely unrecognized, take their own form--kleptomania, masquerades, mutilations (""delicate self-cutting"" and possibly plastic surgery), anorexia, and, most hideously, child abuse. To Kaplan, Emma Bovary, enslaved by adulterous passion, manifests the most common female perversion--""sexual bondage,"" as well as ""home-ovestism""--hiding longings for ""phallic power"" in trappings of femininity. With a ""fetish of one sort or another"" on ""nearly every page,"" Flaubert's novel serves Kaplan as a ""template."" Her repetitious, 592-page book indiscriminately sweeps through countless aspects of perversion, from Jack the Ripper to Vita Sackville-West, from children chained, beaten, and murdered to the ""commodity fetishism"" of megamalls. The piling together of such differing kinds and degrees of perversion--past and present, fact and fiction--clouds the definitions and undermines the arguments. At one point, Kaplan claims that ""all children are little perverts."" An ambitious book whose disquieting, feminist points on the tyranny of social stereotyping are obscured by skeins of material and theory.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Doubleday