The Man of Letters in Middlemarch
In her essay Christine Crockett Sharp addresses the body as afflicted by a debilitating search for knowledge and truth, which runs against the doctrine of Victorian muscular masculinity. Masturbation, Sharp demonstrates, provoked horror in the nineteenth-century mind because of its association with a deliberate self-incapacitation. The weakness and impotence that it was believed to induce, allied to its suspiciousness as a solitary pursuit, runs counter to the imperatives underpinning imperial and commercial vigour. In Middlemarch, Casaubon is an etiolated husk of a man not primarily because of the impossibility of his intellectual task but because of his self-inflicted moral wound.
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