Incest and the Literary Imagination

Edited by Elizabeth L. Barnes

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"Its range--both chronological and methodological--as well as the consistently high quality of its essays makes this collection stand out. A timely and important collection . . . on literary representations of incest [that will] become the touchstone for further work in the field."--Teresa A. Goddu, Vanderbilt University

"These original and provocative essays fill a significant gap in our literary histories of sex and gender."--Bruce Burgett, University of Washington, Bothell

This wide-ranging collection tracks the contradictory roles of incest in Anglo-American literature, politics, and culture from the Middle Ages, a period Elizabeth Barnes states is considered unrivaled for its "unblinking acceptance of many varieties of incest," to the present.
Barnes explicates the role of incest in Anglo-American literature and culture, and in doing so sheds new light on the familiar story of incest as a vice of barbarians and a privilege of the elite. This unprecedented critical treatment of the subject speaks comprehensively to the greater attention placed on the occurrence of incest in the last several decades even as it provides a critical grasp of the topic from complex theoretical and historically nuanced perspectives. The essays range across a variety of methodological approaches--including psychoanalytic, cultural-historical, biographical, and queer theoretical.
In this seminal work in the field, Elizabeth Barnes clarifies the role of literature as a privileged site for the inquiry into incest. She links literature's ability to "tell trauma"--a theoretical issue of the book--to the personal, political, and cultural approaches to incest that the volume addresses. The result is a collection, unlike many of such broad scope, whose essays flow seamlessly and coherently from one focus to the next.

Part I. The Royal Privilege of Incest
1. "Worse Than Bogery": Incest Stories in Middle English Literature,
by Elizabeth Archibald
2. Incest and Authority in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, by Susan Frye
3. Sexual and Social Mobility in The Duchess of Malfi, by Frank Whigham
4. Incest and Class: 'Tis Pity She’s a Whore and the Borgias, by Lisa Hopkins
Part II. The Fall of the Fathers
5. The Ambivalence of Nature's Law: Representations of Incest in Dryden and His English Contemporaries, by T.G.A. Nelson
6. Natural and National Unions: Incest and Sympathy in the Early Republic, by Elizabeth Barnes
7. Temperance in the Bed of a Child: Incest and Social Order in
Nineteenth-Century America, by Karen Sanchez-Eppler
Part III. The Silence of the Daughters
8. Incest in the Story of Tancredi: Christine de Pizan's Poetics of
Euphemism, by Elizabeth Allen
9. "Don't Say Such Foolish Things, Dear": Speaking Incest in The Voyage Out, by Jen Shelton
10. "Father, Don’t You See I’m Burning?": Identification and Remembering in H.D.'s World War II Writing, by Madelyn Detloff
Part IV. Incest in the House of Culture
11. Telling Fact from Fiction: Dorothy Allison's Disciplinary Stories,
by Gillian Harkins
12. "Hereisthehouse": Cultural Spaces of Incest in The Bluest Eye, by Minrose C. Gwin
13. Sexual Trauma/Queer Memory: Incest, Lesbianism, and Therapeutic Culture, by Ann Cvetkovich
14. The New Face of Incest?: Race, Class, and the Controversy over Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss, by Mako Yoshikawa

Elizabeth L. Barnes is associate professor of English at the College of William and Mary.

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…a valuable contribution to the study of a vital subject that, until recently, has been too little interrogated…it establishes the importance of incest as an object of literary inquiry…
--Project Muse

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