The Low and Godful Man: Masculinity in Charles Kingsley and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Jeremy Cameron Goheen. The Low and Godful Man: Masculinity in Charles Kingsley and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Honors Thesis, University of Washington. 2013.


I explore moments in history and in literature where masculine spaces or identities are inhabited by a kind of Christian spiritualism. Limiting my discussion to primarily Charles Kingsley's 1850 novel Alton Locke: Tailor and Poet and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 1844 poem, "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," I argue that these two literary works offer ways of imagining how a kind of masculinity marked by a poetic and spiritual language concerned with social justice emerges in opposition to a chivalrous and more dominant model of manliness sustained through the preservation of a hierarchical class system. Both Kingsley and Barrett Browning imagine worlds in which lowly born poets emerge as masculine heroes; and that in this imaginary world the terms of this masculinity are very much controlled by women in positions of social power. In their works, class barriers begin collapsing when masculinity reconfigured and redistributed in lowly born males. But where Kingsley is reluctant to sexualize the ideal Christian man (at least in Alton Locke) Barrett Browning affirms this man as an ideal mate. In her writing, we see how the performance of Christian, spiritualized language becomes an acceptable (perhaps preferable) mode of seduction. Ultimately, by locating points in history and literature where masculinity is altered and reconfigured, and by offering possible reasons for why these changes occur, I hope to contribute to a fuller, more complex portrait of masculinity.

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