John Wilkes’s Closet: Hetero Privacy and the Annotation of Desire

Kavanagh, Declan (2016) John Wilkes’s Closet: Hetero Privacy and the Annotation of Desire. In: De Freitas Boe, Ana and Coykendall, Abby, eds. Heteronormativity in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture. Routledge, London and New York, pp. 77-95. ISBN 978-1-4724-3017-5. E-ISBN 978-1-315-58676-2. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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Abstract

Since the publication of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s foundational Epistemology of the Closet (1990), readings of the homosexual closet have been a shaping leitmotif in much queer scholarship. While Sedgwick acknowledges the importance of the closet as “subject of interrogation,” she crucially adds the caveat that such interrogation should not simply focus on representations of closeted individuals but also extend to the subjects of “heterosexist culture” who “enjoin it and whose intimate representational needs it serves.” Sedgwick’s caveat provides a useful entry point for thinking about the closet-or rather the closets-in eighteenthcentury Britain. In discussing the politics of privacy, this chapter argues that the eighteenth century is the period that began to structure our modern regime of heteronormativity around the discourse of the closet. If, as Sedgwick argues, the homosexual closet serves the “representational needs” of heterosexist culture at large, then we might also say that the hetero closet provides, in the first instance, the necessary basis in the eighteenth century for the autonomy and coherence of such representation. In what follows, the political persecution and sexual scandal associated with John Wilkes (1725-97) illustrates the changing politics of the eighteenth-century heterosexual closet. Wilkes is most often remembered as a radical libertine Whig who, in the 1760s, satirized the British parliament and crown with the North Briton, No. 45, and libeled Bishop Warburton in the pornographic poem An Essay on Woman. In 1769, after a short exile in France and Italy, Wilkes returned to Britain only to generate further controversy when the parliament refused to recognize his successful Middlesex election based on in absentia charges for which it had convicted him in 1764.2 Wilkes’s political incapacitation during his ensuing two-year imprisonment at the King’s Bench engendered fractious debates about the sovereignty of parliament and the rights of an electorate to choose its representatives. After 1770, however, Wilkes’s notoriety wanes, and he becomes a “respectable” member of the City establishment-holding positions first as London’s Alderman (1770) and later as Lord Mayor (1772).

Item Type: Book section
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of English
Faculties > Humanities > School of English > Centre for Gender, Sexuality and Writing
Depositing User: Declan Gilmore-Kavanagh
Date Deposited: 17 May 2016 10:57 UTC
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2018 13:36 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/55456 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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