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A Thousand Words

Portraiture, Style, and Queer Modernism

Jaime Hovey

“I found A Thousand Words a pleasure to read, the writing smooth, clear, clever, and provocative. It is one of the freset most interesting approaches to modernism I have read in a long time. Hovey’s innovative mustering of the portrait in relation to issues of self-consciousness and dynamics of desire, accounts for part of modernism’s élan. This book will be an important presence in conversations to come.” —Judith Roof, author of All About Thelma and Eve: Side-Kicks and Third Wheels

A Thousand Words argues that there is such a thing as queer modernism, and that the (mostly) literary portrait—one of the more prominent forms of experimentalism in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century writing—functions as one of its most important erotically dynamic aesthetic mechanisms, one modeled on visual portraiture’s relationships of looking between the artists, sitters, and spectators of paintings. Jaime Hovey looks at how the dynamic structure of visual portraiture was appropriated by modernist writers—including Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Colette, among others, who used the self-conscious literary portrait.

Portraiture speaks to the complex relationship between identity, sexuality, and art, and the presence of so many portraits in this era suggests that sexual, gender, and racial aspects of character, personality, and personal identity were of major concern to most modernist writers. Yet it took most of the twentieth century for critical work to appear that meaningfully explored these themes, and very little has been said about the queerness of literary portraiture. This book demonstrates that literary portraiture is enamored of its own self-consciousness, with the pleasures of looking at itself seeing itself, and that its texts circulate this pleasure between writers, narrators and other characters, and readers as a perverse aesthetics.

Jaime Hovey is an independent scholar who has taught English and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Miami.

Apr 2006
Literary Criticism/American & British; Cultural Studies; Gender Studies
160 pp. 6x9

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