Sexual Violence and Literary Art

Sexual Violence and Literary Art

By Peter Robinson

Sexual Violence and Literary Art addresses the complicity of representation in what is represented, and its creative transformations, by re-examining classic poetic, dramatic and fictional texts by men in light of women’s philosophical, theoretical and critical responses to them.

Hardback, 250 Pages


June 2024

£80.00, $110.00

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About This Book

Written by a practising poet and novelist who has close experience of the subject matter and has published creative work in the areas being examined, Sexual Violence and Literary Art is a wide-ranging study, covering carefully selected works from Ovid through Shakespeare, to Pope, Richardson, Shelley, Hardy, T.S. Eliot, Nabokov and beyond. It addresses the necessary complicity of any representation in what is represented, by examining ways in which canonical male writers have attempted to evoke and address representations of sexual violence in poetry, prose fiction, and poetic drama. Representation has to involve itself with what is represented, and, in this sense, it is not possible to address in literature sexual violence without taking on the complicity of the representation with what is represented. The chosen works of literary art are understood not only as locations in which the showing of pain and cruelty inflicted through sexually acts occurs, but also as occasions to activate means at these writings’ disposal to work upon those representations of pain and cruelty towards possible readerly benefits. The book draws substantially upon recent criticism and theory written by philosophers, theorists, art historians, and literary critics including Martha Nussbaum, Catharine A. MacKinnon, Susan J. Brison, Mary D. Garrard, Griselda Pollock, Nancy J. Vickers, and Coppélia Kahn. Writers very may well wish to determine the cultural meaning and ideological implications of their work, but for many reasons, including the necessary role of reader response and interpretation in the literary process, the meaning of a work cannot be entirely or finally fixed. Among the consequences of this is the fact that interpretations of literary works are always transactional negotiations with circumscribed perspectives. In light of these convictions, Sexual Violence and Literary Art subjects the literary artworks it addresses to close scrutiny derived from various generations of women’s writing on rape and upon the critical vicissitudes of the works studied. While recognising only too well the continuing presence of male violence in sexual relationships, this book’s aims include the identification of what roles literary art may play in its understanding, amelioration, and transformation. In these ways it offers a response to historical problems incurred through the inheritance of damage caused by the exercise of unequal power relations, and it offers an account of how literary art may work to overcome them.


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Author Information

Author of many books of poetry, translation, fiction and literary criticism, Peter Robinson is a professor of American literature at the University of Reading and poetry editor for Two Rivers Press.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Experience and Point of View; 2. ‘And Still She Cried’: Two Allusions to Ovid; 3. Talking Yourself to Death: The Rape of Lucrece; 4. Innocence, Sincerity, and Bodies in The Rape of the Lock; 5. Private Violence and Public Meaning: Clarissa; 6. ‘Touched Very Delicately’: Shelley’s The Cenci; 7. ‘A Blank to Me’: Thomas Hardy and the Loss of Meaning; 8. ‘Readings Will Grow Erratic’ in Philip Larkin’s ‘Deceptions’; 9. The Rape of Dolly Haze; or, Rorty on Nabokov; 10. ‘And Still the World Pursues’: Conclusions; Bibliography.


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