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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
March 2023
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Book description

Can sexual restraint be good for you? Many Victorians thought so. This book explores the surprisingly positive construction of sexual restraint in an unlikely place: late nineteenth-century Decadence. Reading Decadent texts alongside Victorian writing about sexual health, including medical literature, adverts, advice books, and periodical articles, it identifies an intellectual Paterian tradition of sensuous continence, in which 'healthy' pleasure is distinguished from its 'harmful' counterpart. Recent work on Decadent sexuality concentrates on transgression and subversion, with restraint interpreted ahistorically as evidence of repression/sublimation or queer coding. Here Sarah Green examines the work of Walter Pater, Lionel Johnson, Vernon Lee, and George Moore to outline a co-extensive alternative approach to sexuality where restraint figured as a productive part of the 'aesthetic life', or a practical ethics shaped by aesthetic principles. Attending to this tradition reveals neglected connections within and beyond Decadence, bringing fresh perspective to its late nineteenth- and twentieth-century reception.

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