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‘Now—for a breath I tarry’: Breath, Desire, and Queer Materialism at the fin de siècle

Riddell, Fraser (2021) '‘Now—for a breath I tarry’: Breath, Desire, and Queer Materialism at the fin de siècle.', in The Life of Breath in Literature, Culture and Medicine: Classical to Contemporary. , pp. 345-365. Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine.


Riddell explores how tropes of breath and breathlessness articulate the relationship between materiality, desire, and loss for queer subjects in Victorian literature. The essay presents readings of A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, John Addington Symonds’s Memoirs, and Walter Pater’s ‘Sebastian van Storck’ (from Imaginary Portraits). It also examines nineteenth-century sexology (including writings by Magnus Hirschfeld) to demonstrate how certain modes of breathing were directly associated with non-normative sexuality in the period. Riddell draws upon insights from contemporary queer theory, in its turns toward negative affect and phenomenology, to examine precarious forms of embodied subjectivity in the history of homosexuality. By doing so, he demonstrates how experiences of embodiment are never universal but closely bound up with individual subject positions (such as sexuality and gender).

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Publisher statement:This chapter is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this chapter are included in the chapter’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the chapter’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.
Date accepted:03 January 2020
Date deposited:14 January 2020
Date of first online publication:02 October 2021
Date first made open access:18 October 2022

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