“Shall I bite it?”: Sexuality and the Biting Male in Dickens

Colette Ramuz

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It is a common claim that in Dickens’s novels alimentary pleasures are substituted for sexual ones. I argue, however, that oral pleasure is not a substitution but is meant to be read as an expression of material sexuality and as a primal negotiation between self and other. In this paper, I examine the erotic energy of Dickensian mouths through the phenomenon of biting as an expression of male sexual appetite. Biting is associated with the impulse to penetrate the desirable object; in Dickens’s writing the semiotics of biting signify a fetishised sexual behaviour but it is also one that progresses from the grotesque to a normalized stage of masculine psychosexual and social development. Examining the Dickensian men who bite or threaten to bite their objects of desire, I focus on how patterns of eroticized comic cannibalism in the early novels develop into a more mature expression of male sexuality in later works. Dickens not only explores psychosexual conflict but also expresses it in the form of a taboo act, situated firmly in the middle-class home. In this new reading, I identify the centrality of the mouth in Dickensian sexuality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-94
Number of pages22
JournalDickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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