Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Paul Schmidt - Chair
Much recent scholarship in Victorian studies has viewed sexuality as historically contingent and constructed primarily within the realm of discourse or social organization. In contrast, the following study details species-typical and universal aspects of human sexuality that must be adequately theorized if an accurate model of the ideological forces impacting Victorian sexuality is to be fashioned. After a short survey of previous scholarly projects that examine literature through the lens of biology—much of it marred by an obvious antipathy toward all attempts to discover the involvement of ideology in human behavior—this study presents a lengthy primer to the modern study of evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, and human sexuality. Because the use of science is still relatively rare in literary studies, the first chapters are designed both to convince the reader of the necessity of considering biology and evolution in examining human sexuality, as well as to provide the general educated scholar in our field with the basic framework of knowledge necessary to follow the remainder of the text. Chapter three follows with a detailed examination of the sources of the political resistance to biological and genetic models of human behavior within liberal arts and social science departments, and chapter four presents an evolutionary and biochemical model for the apprehension of art that locates the origins of culture within the evolutionarily-fashioned brains of individuals and attempts to recuperate the concept of aesthetic emotion and foreground the special nature of erotica in its ability to produce immediate neurochemical effects in the brains of its consumers. Finally, the study examines works of Victorian literature, especially My Secret Life, to demonstrate the deficiencies in constructionist and interactionist theories of human sexuality while detailing the new readings that emerge when one is aware of the biological basis of human mate selection mechanisms.
Burns, Robert Jonathan, "On the Limits of Culture: Why Biology is Important in the Study of Victorian Sexuality" (2007). English Dissertations. Paper 13.