Secret Selves

Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography

By Oliver S. Buckton

282 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, notes, bibl., index

  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6062-5
    Published: November 2000
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4702-2
    Published: June 1998

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Focusing on the representation of same-sex desire in Victorian autobiographical writing, Oliver Buckton offers significant new readings of works by some of the most influential figures in late-nineteenth-century literature and culture. Combining original research, careful historical analysis, and contemporary theories of autobiography, gender, and sexual identity, he provides nuanced studies of confessional narratives by Edward Carpenter, John Henry Newman, John Addington Symonds, Oscar Wilde, and, in an epilogue, E. M. Forster.

By examining the "confessional" elements of these writings, Buckton brings "secrecy" into focus as a central and productive component of autobiographical discourse. He challenges the conventional view of secrecy as the suppression of information, instead using the term to suggest an oscillation between authorial self-disclosure and silence or reserve--a strategy for arousing the reader's interest and establishing a relation based on shared knowledge while deferring or displacing the revelation of potentially incriminating and scandalous desires. Though their

disclosures of same-sex desire jeopardized the cultural privilege granted these writers by Victorian codes of authorship and masculinity, their use of secrecy, Buckton shows, allowed them to protect themselves from Victorian stigma and to challenge prevailing constructions of sexual identity.

Originally published in 1998.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

About the Author

Oliver S. Buckton is associate professor of English at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.

For more information about Oliver S. Buckton, visit the Author Page.


"Buckton [has a] welcome ability to merge theoretical dexterity and attentive studies of texts in his own highly readable narrative."--Victorian Literature and Culture

"Dense and closely argued . . . opens a new door in both Victorian and autobiographical studies."--South Central Review

"In an extremely readable and well-written study, Buckton provides original readings of the relationship between secrecy and autobiography in major Victorian works. Secret Selves is historically informed and compelling. It will break new ground in the area of Victorian autobiography."--Mary Poovey, New York University

"In this major new study, Oliver Buckton widens the range of canonical works within Victorian autobiography by making a convincing case for the importance of John Addington Symond's Memoirs and Edward Carpenter's My Days and Dreams in addition to more familiar titles such as Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua and Wilde's De Profundis. Buckton demonstrates the special importance of this genre in the social construction of modern homosexuality and the fact that desire between men is a much more varied phenomenon, more closely tied to particular rhetorical strategies than is usually taken to be the case. This book will change the course of both Victorian and gay studies."--Richard Dellamora, author of Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism