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Misreading Anita BrooknerAestheticism, Intertextuality and the Queer Nineteenth Century$
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Peta Mayer

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789620597

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789620597.001.0001

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The Aesthete in A Misalliance (1986)

The Aesthete in A Misalliance (1986)

(p.74) Chapter Two The Aesthete in A Misalliance (1986)
Misreading Anita Brookner

Peta Mayer

Liverpool University Press

This chapter mobilises key nineteenth-century aestheticist motifs to render a Sapphic lesbian homoerotic in A Misalliance. Protagonist Blanche Vernon’s nympholepsy is related to the text’s sensual motifs and the intertextual matrix surrounding the ancient Greek poet Sappho. The novel’s early reception is reviewed, including comments by Frank Kermode and John Bayley whose gendered readings obscure the text’s symbolism. On the contrary—emblematic of contested narratives of lesbian sexuality, women’s writing and political subversion in Sapphic texts by Charles Baudelaire and Renée Vivien—Sappho becomes the intertextual springboard for the production of the aesthete. In addition to the sensual motifs of the novel, key behaviours of aestheticism are indicated across the intertextual arc between Brookner’s text and her aestheticist predecessors including Renaissance revival, the desire to live life as art, the homoerotic gaze, the backwards turn, a trans-generational homoerotic and the subversion of bourgeois utilitarianism and family life. The performance of the aesthete is staged across the rhetorical figure of metaleptic prolepsis as supplied by Thomas Bahti’s reading of Walter Benjamin, and Mikhail Bakhtin’s narrative of metamorphosis with its contours of guilt, punishment, redemption, purification and blessedness. Reasserting women’s contribution to Romantic aestheticism, Brookner is read as both women’s writer and aesthete.

Keywords:   A Misalliance, Aestheticism, Sapphic homoerotic, Aesthete, Nymphs, metaleptic prolepsis, narrative of metamorphosis, Renée Vivien, Backwards turn, Women’s writer

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