Perversion, purity societies, and discursive control in fin de siecle England

Harmes, Barbara and Harmes, Marcus (2011) Perversion, purity societies, and discursive control in fin de siecle England. University of Bucharest Review, 1 (1). pp. 65-72. ISSN 2069-8658


The moral and sexual supervision of boys and young men became formalized in the purity movements which proliferated at the end of the century. Perhaps the most notable example was the Church of England Purity Society which was formed in 1880. The Church of England Purity Society was one part of the discursive controls which represented responses to continued calls for an attempt
to redefine masculine ideology. Most importantly, it was a way of aligning the male body with the body of Christ. Moral authority was vested in the Purity Society, which provided exemplars for young men but responsibility for careful supervision was placed with middle-class parents. This paper will address the effectiveness of these discursive controls, arguing that rather than improving the morality of the middle classes, they succeeded only in foregrounding and intensifying preoccupation with
perverse sexuality. It argues that the writings and actions of moral campaigners, clergy and sexologists show an awareness of a society in transition and a sense of anxiety of sexual order turning into sexual disorder. The purity societies mobilized confession and surveillance as devices of sexual normalization, yet a reading of nineteenth-century textual evidence shows complex reactions to these
devices, and suggests their own transition from devices of normalization to sites of resistance.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information (displayed to public): Permanent restricted access to published version due to publisher copyright policy.
Depositing User: Dr Marcus Harmes
Faculty / Department / School: Current - Open Access College
Date Deposited: 22 May 2012 01:52
Last Modified: 12 Mar 2015 22:22
Uncontrolled Keywords: Church of England Purity Society; White Cross League; purity; surveillance; deviance; sexuality
Fields of Research (FoR): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200205 Culture, Gender, Sexuality
21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210305 British History
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO): E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

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