18th-Century Camp

#ASECS16 #18thCamp



Serious Camp

Fiona Brideoake

American University


Following their 1778 elopement from Ireland to North Wales, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, known as the Ladies of Llangollen, undertook a picturesque Welsh tour before settling in a modest cottage outside of the village of Llangollen. Having visited Chirk Castle, Wrexham, the fourteenth-century seat of parliamentarian Richard Myddleton, the self-described “Fugitive Ladies” described Chirk’s two “State Bedchambers, one furnish’d with Crimson, another with Yellow Damask Very Old-looking.” The title given to these grand chambers was later applied to their guest bedroom, its four-poster, carved oak bedstead covered with “a Fawn colour Cloth.” The disparity between this grandiose epithet and the modest scale of their cottage discloses the inherently camp nature of Butler and Ponsonby’s assertion of landed status, camp being defined by Susan Sontag as a sensibility in which extravagantly stylized cultural productions undermine their own seriousness by being “too much.” This is not to suggest that Butler and Ponsonby’s improvements were not undertaken earnestly; by contrast, Sontag declares, “The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious.”

In my presentation, I will explore the gendered dimensions of eighteenth-century camp, focusing on the tonal differences between Butler and Ponsonby’s Gothic improvements and those of Horace Walpole, Lord Orford, the son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole. The gleeful inauthenticity of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and “little Gothic Castle” of Strawberry Hill was enabled by his social and financial security, this lightness of touch, at once literal and figurative, contrasting sharply with the gravity of Butler and Ponsonby’s architectural and social endeavors. Walpole crafted his home from cardboard and trompe l’oeil, causing eighteenth-century wits to remark that England’s inclement weather led him to outlive four sets of papier mâché battlements; Butler and Ponsonby instead buttressed their cottage with carved oak traded with their neighbors, shielding their household of sexually suspect Irish exiles behind a literal façade of virtuous Welsh historicity. The seriousness of their eighteenth-century camp reveals this ostensibly artificial aesthetic to be inflected crucially by axes of gender, sexuality, and class, the political implications of which Butler and Ponsonby recognized as all too real.

Mother Camp: Walpole, Clive, and the Pleasures of Distress

Joseph Roach

Yale University

Milan Kundera defines kitsch as the complete absence of shit. Think Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom. Camp, by contrast, means kitsch with the shit self-consciously and artfully restored. Think Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party. Camp is the stylization of attitudes, not artifice alone, but faux artifice, arms crossed fiercely, wrists limp. Think Charles Ludlam’s Camille, shivering melodramatically in her garret at the Theatre of the Ridiculous: “Nanine, put another faggot on the fire.” Camp places quotation marks around everything (Sontag), but it remains in earnest about its insincerity, an exclamation point disguised by a question mark. Think Charles Ludlam’s Hedda Gabler, hairy chest heaving above the lace-trimmed décolletage: “I’m burning your child, Thea!” Camp presents itself as too important ever to be taken seriously: beneath its thin veneer is a thin veneer, papering over life’s ever-accumulating embarrassments of affect with flocked-velvet bravado.

Whatever else it may do, camp must always put on a show. It assumes that there is role to be played in a scene that must be set on a stage that constantly repeats this fabulous performance: the magic of doubling as an alternative to the tyrannically unitary normal; not as escape, because complete escape is impossible, but as relief; not as breech, because transgression is not total abandonment, but as expansion. Think lip-syncing. Camp reveals no hidden depths because what is hiding in plain sight needs all the therapeutic recuperation it can get. Think hand-colored pornographic postcards from the primal scene with no return address: “Wish You Were Here.”

“Mother Camp” refers to cultural anthropologist Esther Newton’s classic ethnography of female impersonators. The stories she assiduously gathered from the performers she interviewed led her to this aphoristic insight:”Camp humor ultimately grows out of the incongruity between the sacred, idealized Mother, and the profane, obscene woman.” That stagy conflict, generative of dark humor and outrageous performances of excess, suggests a connection to the peculiar and sometimes inexplicable turns within works by Horace Walpole, especially his tragedy, The Mysterious Mother, and his Disneyesque estate. Evoking Gothic fairylands built, written and performed, “the pleasures of distress” refer to Walpole’s project of housing a beloved comic actress at Strawberry Hill, the tragicomic precinct of incestuous fantasy, and enlisting her in the semi-public staging of his not-so-secret desires in the format of the house tour. The tragedy of incest was suppressed and remained unperformed. The tour was a high-camp blockbuster.

The question of Horace Walpole’s sexuality remains open. In Between Men, Eve Sedgwick says that his character aligns itself with homosexuality “iffily” (93). In Men in Love: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Eighteenth Century and Queer Gothic, George Haggerty movingly employs the hermeneutics of circumspection in accounting for Walpole’s male friendships as representative of the complexity of a love that dares to speak its many different names. In Queer Gothic, Haggerty further details the extent to which erotic love in Walpole’s sexual economy seems to circulate in the form of incest fantasies. In The Gendering of Men, 1600-1750, Thomas A. King tentatively locates Walpole’s sex life among his life-long school chums under the regime of “residual pederasty,” an aristocratic atavism of British public school and Oxbridge education, enacting the coveted perquisites of the class system as much or perhaps even more urgently than same-sex desire for its own sake. Others draw similarly suggestive but refreshingly unsettled conclusions. With the exception of straight-ahead Timothy Mowl in Horace Walpole: The Great Outsider (1996), everyone else knows that the word homosexuality is anachronistic when referring to the eighteenth century.

But speaking of anachronisms, what about camp?

Sontag finds the pre-history of camp in the eighteenth century. She notes the importance of artifice, stylization, and surfaces to the aesthetics of the period—and well she might. The Look is of the essence: Sir Fopling Flutter can’t find himself in a room without a mirror; Boucher and Fragonard applique their best Rococo work as wall treatments; Kent and Brown perfect Nature by planting dead trees in Picturesque gardens. Walpole’s persona is best viewed from this psychologically foreshortened but aesthetically lively perspective. What indeed can be known for certain about the inner life a man who, assiduously cultivating surfaces, coined the modern usages of the words patina and serendipity? Walpole’s biography, accessible in unusual detail through a lifetime of letters (4,000 of them, collected in forty-eight volumes), offers some hints but no epiphany. Walpole adored his mother. Yet she packed him off to live with his cousins at age eight, thence to Eton at nine. This datum is neither to be ignored nor overemphasized. At age 16 he wrote stoically to Lyttelton about the scene of her deathbed but unburdened himself theatrically to Conway (Mowl, 36). Then, first at school and later in adulthood, Walpole fiercely declared his love for other men in letters to them and in letter to others about them. This datum might count for more, but in what ways? As Wilmarth S. (“Lefty”) Lewis wrote long ago in Rescuing Horace Walpole, answering the imputation of homosexuality on the basis of Walpole’s passionate epistles to Conway and Lord Lincoln, “extravagant letters written in the effusive style of the time are not proof of ‘overt behavior’” (47).

Leaving inclinations in the background, overt behavior is a crux for historians of camp. What can be said with certainty about Walpole’s? This much is clear: he generally preferred the company of women, unless they were monsters. Chief among the women whose company Walpole preferred, the actress Katherine “Kitty” Clive shone forth as exemplary. Brilliant in comedies, her own as well as Cibber’s and Garrick’s, and angel voiced in oratorios, including Handel’s, Clive made up in personal charisma what she lacked in physical beauty. Even in her youth, as depicted by Jeremiah Davison in a portrait of 1735, she looks more maternal than nubile, holding open a score on her lap as if she is conducting a music lesson. Unusually among the actresses of the period, Clive never overtly associated herself with an admirer, even though her marriage had failed at the outset of her long career, leaving her as available as any of the prominent public women of the day. When she retired from the stage in 1769, however, Walpole offered her a house to live in as her own on the grounds of his estate at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham. It became known as “Little Strawberry Hill” or “Clive’s Den.” She occupied it happily until her death in 1785. For fifteen years she and Walpole routinely played cards together after supper and gossiped chattily into the evening. On special occasions, they arranged theatrical entertainments together. Town and Country Magazine coupled them romantically in a risqué Tête à Tête, but Walpole shrugged off the idea that she was his mistress. He offered the very unromantic explanation that they were both too old for that sort of thing, at least old enough to know better.

Certain other women’s company Walpole did not prefer. Chief among these female monsters Walpole numbered Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, tainted in every disgusting vein by “poxed, foul, malicious, black blood!” Warming to his theme, he elaborated his revulsion at the very idea of Lady Mary in theatrical, Oedipal, and Biblical terms:

I have gone alone in a coach with her too, and felt as little inclination to her as if I had been her son. She is a better specific against lust than all the bawdy prohibitions of the Fathers. She comes up to one of Almanzor’s rants in a play of Dryden—The thought of me shall make you impotent! (Correspondence, 30: 10-11).

Jill Campbell, in an article of great subtlety and prescience, points out that this attack on Lady Mary erupts in the context of a letter to Lord Lincoln in which Walpole professes his love for him and several other male friends. Campbell overlays these expressions of same-sex love on hypothesized sexual revulsion in rejected incest—Walpole “felt as little inclination to [Lady Mary] as if I had been her son”—to create a many-layered reading of sexual complexity and ambivalence. The passage in the letter to Lincoln ends with Walpole’s fantastic image of Lady Mary’s bloated body drowning her lovers in a sea of “black blood,” swallowing them in a trackless expanse with neither a coast nor a bottom (Campbell, 248-9). In this grotesque marine-scape of misogyny, Lady Mary might be nominated as a candidate for the title of “profane, obscene woman,” avatar of shame and disgust, as described by Esther Newton in Mother Camp.

An old Italian saying goes, “All women are whores except my mother, who is a saint.” In the Disney-like precincts of Strawberry Hill, the childless Clive seemed well cast in the role of the idealized Mother. As the singer of oratorios, she even had a claim on the sacred, though Walpole enjoyed her sometimes bawdy humor. Clive’s purpose as the live-in comic Muse on the premises seems to have been to help makeover the kitsch and upgrade it to camp. In the decades-long project of building and decorating Strawberry Hill, 1748-1790, Clive provided skilled help with the décor as well as domestic companionship and entertainment. In the year before Clive’s death, house-proud Walpole produced a guide book to inform the tourists who had begun to frequent his Gothic Revival folly. A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole at Strawberry-Hill near Twickenham, Middlesex might be interpreted as camp performance itself. Like the Haunted House at Disney World, every room is curated with a preconceived program of what the experience of the visitor will be like. “You first enter a gloomy hall,” Walpole explains, “paved with hexagon tiles, and lighted by two narrow windows of painted glass” (8). Through the labyrinth of catalogued curiosities and themed galleries the tourist walks and gawks. The architectural details quote famous originals: the chimney piece in The Round Drawing Room is taken from the Tomb of Edward the Confessor; the ceiling piece, designed by Mr. Adam, knocks off the “round window in Old Saint Paul’s,” and so forth (20). After the Great Parlour but before the Armoury, the tourist enters The Blue Bed-Chamber: “Hung with plain blue paper; a linen bed; eight chinz chairs; a toilette worked by Mrs. Clive; a looking glass in a tortoiseshell from, ornamented with silver” etc. (12).

The increasing intimacy of the sights and tchotchkes along the way builds suspense for the voyeuristic climax of The Beauclerc Closet, the last room on the tour and the sanctum sanctorum of over-the-top exhibitionism. Supposedly off limits except to especially favored guests, the Closet is in fact described in detail in the guide book available to any visitor for 6p: “The closet is hung with Indian blue damask and was built on purpose to receive seven incomparable drawings of Lady Diana Beauclerc for Mr. Walpole’s tragedy of The Mysterious Mother” (26). Locked away in a special cabinet, a copy of the play awaited perusal by the elect at Walpole’s invitation. Unproduced but circulated in manuscript, The Mysterious Mother features an action of double incest across two generations: young Edmund, duped by a bed trick, “clasps” his mother, the Countess of Narbonne, instead of his lover. But Walpole goes Sophocles one better—Oedipus at Colonnus with a sexual twist. As a result of this one night of incestuous love, the Countess gives birth to a daughter, Adeliza, who ends up years later partnered with Edmund, her father and brother. As the ideal mother and obscene woman, trapped within in the one body of the Countess, tear themselves apart at the terrible moment of discovery, a kind of fission reaction takes place that produces a mushroom cloud of camp:

Confusion! Frenzy! Blast me, all ye furies!

Edmund and Adeliza! When! Where! How!

Edmund and Adeliza! Quick, unsay

The monstrous tale—oh! Prodigy of ruin!

Does my own son then boil with fiercer fires

Than scorched his impious mother’s madding veins!

Did reason reassume its shattered throne,

But as spectatress of this last of horrors?

Oh! Let my dagger drink my heart’s black blood,

And then present my hell-born progeny

With drops of kindred sin!

The phrase “black blood” links this hyperventilated soliloquy to the terms of Walpole’s revulsion at the tainted liquid coursing through another set of “madding veins,” namely those belonging to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
The retrofitting of modern and contemporary behaviors and concepts to eighteenth century works will (and should be) scrutinized with due skepticism. But the particular features of camp performance, luxuriating in the pleasures of distress, seem to illuminate the otherwise perplexing tonal shifts in Walpole’s works. The key to Walpole’s campiness resides in his greatest work, the house and grounds of Strawberry Hill, haunted by the mysterious mother, a closet drama, but performed by the resident comedienne.

Men in Drag: Camp and the performance of Englishness in East Indian Domains

Kathleen Wilson

Stony Brook University


If camp is the performance of a culture in quotes, to paraphrase Susan Sontag, then the theatrical practices of East India Company employees abroad must surely qualify as one of the most ‘English’ of templates for how that worked on the ground. In settings such as Calcutta and Bengkulu, Sumatra, earnest, all-male casts of EIC employees performed the comedies and tragedies of the London stage for mixed-race and cross-gender audiences who were well-attuned to the everyday performances of alterity, artifice and exaggeration all around them.  At the Calcutta Theatre, gender-specific dressing rooms aided in the suspension of disbelief (or at least avoided surface reality to prepare for the expression of a truth of character). The performance however, whether behind the scenes or on the stage, revealed a degree of titillation and comfort with gender ambiguity, artifice and exaggeration, not to mention sexual fluidity, that exceeded conventional alignments. Here, in the changing room, ‘Calista [was] calling for her Barber, in the gruff voice of a Boatswain, or knocking down her Sirdar Bearer, with the dexterity of a Broughton, for neglecting to bring her Shift.’ There (on the stage) ‘the Audience are as sparing of their applause, as if it cost them money, and [were prone] ‘to laugh even in the deepest Scenes of Tragedy’, so that ‘the entrance of a Sciolto all pale and bloody, when he comes to expire on the Stage’ was laughed at more heartily than ‘Scrub himself’. And then to the streets, where muslin-clad throngs of Indian men in gold earrings ‘present[ed] to the mind…the idea of an assembly of females’: theatrical and social performance intertwined to show the ease through which gender and cultural ambiguity in colonial contexts presented forms of ‘camp’ which continue to influence our own.

Jane Austen Camp 

Devoney Looser

Arizona State University


[View or download a PDF of this paper]

AustenAt first glance, and seen in a certain light, Jane Austen (1775–1817) might be judged the furthest thing from long-eighteenth-century camp since John Bunyan. But anyone looking hard at the 1870s imaginary portrait of her, flashing that wedding ring, must leave the act of observation wondering if he or she’d just been to Austen camp.1 This portrait may or may not have been campy when it first appeared, when the cornerstone of Austen’s reputation as prim maiden auntie was first being laid. Now we can easily recognize this St. (or Mrs.?) Jane as a fabulously campy fabrication. We may—perhaps even should—laugh at this portrait, albeit not in a sneering way. Today we can appreciate its exaggerated absurdity. Indeed, we early 21st-century readers of Austen may see more clearly the appropriateness of that response than any generation before us.

But if that was the 1870s, and this is now, then what about the 1790s or the 1810s? Was Jane Austen campy in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? Austen camp has become prevalent, even omnipresent, today, in visions and versions of her and her fiction, using them as a canvas for zombies, porn, or roller derby. Some of it may be kitsch, but it’s arguably camp. Investigating Austen as camp is a valuable way to understand her humor and her social criticism, as we now understand camp as a positive literary and social practice. But rather than asking if and when camp is “there,” for Austen or for her past readers, we might instead investigate what aspects or elements of her reputation or her writing we notice differently when we elect to see her as campy. What do we miss out on by doing that sort of noticing? Finally, once you start to see Austen camp, can you, or how can you, un-see it? 

Offering an opinion on these questions may require a shared understanding of what camp and Austen mean, separately and together. Susan Sontag famously defined camp as a sensibility that purveys a failed seriousness, a “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration,” “a spirit of extravagance” (283), a “sweet cynicism” (291), and she located its origins in the eighteenth century (280).2 She later revised her sense of camp’s necessary apoliticism, suggesting instead that camp could have feminist implications.3 Subsequent critics have reclaimed camp’s feminist potential to function “as a form of gender parody.”4 Austen seems most directly to engage in feminist literary camp when she humorously and exaggeratedly reuses and recycles gendered plots, characters, and tropes, in order to remake and reconfigure (Robertson 142).

Surely I’m not the only panelist who reread Sontag and opened up the OED. The word there is dated to 1909, in its meaning of “ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual; pertaining to or characteristic of homosexuals.” Its etymology is, appropriately, described as “obscure,” but that OED first-recorded source indicates that the word is “probably from the French.” (Even if you snicker at the “probably” here, it’s important to note that scholar Mark Booth has traced this meaning of camp back to late 17th-century France and “se camper.”5) The dictionary cited by the OED is James Redding Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase (1909). The OED doesn’t include the first sentence of Ware’s definition of camp: “Actions and gestures of exaggerated emphasis”—but it does quote Ware’s last sentence: “Used chiefly by persons of exceptional want of character. ‘How very camp he is.’”6

 The search for possible connections between Austen, camp, and alleged “want of character” (likely code here for male homosexual) could take us back to the London Review of Books’ unanswerable question— the headline that launched a thousand kerfluffles—“Was Jane Austen Gay?” (1995).7 No matter how you think that question should be answered or what you make of the conversations it engendered, I hope we can agree that mass produced visions of Austen’s camNotorious JennyApiness have become far less controversial over the past two decades. It’s a very different time to ask that question for any literary figure but especially for Austen. The “Notorious Jenny-A” t-shirt pictured here might serve as our Exhibit A. Also changed are our conceptions of Austen as queer (in its expansive sense), sexual (although not perhaps in its most knowing sense), and theatrical (in its traditional sense). These changes are about our changed—and, I believe, deepened—understandings of life and writings but also about her critical and popular image.

Austen’s fiction is where we ought to dig in for more concrete ways to recognize changing perceptions of her campiness. You don’t have to believe that Austen intentionally made her female characters tell sodomy jokes, that she wrote elliptically about masturbation, or that she implied (wink-wink-nod-nod) that girls who rode horses were sex fiends to be convinced that her fiction flirted with camp. D. A. Miller has helped us to re-see Sense and Sensibility’s “puppy” Robert Ferrars’s buying an ivory, gold, and pearl toothpick case, as he demands admiration from the Dashwood sisters as a campy scene. (We’re told that Elinor raises an eyebrow and Marianne is oblivious to him.)8 What Miller calls “style” here we might rechristen as “camp.” Other Austen moments, too, seem ripe for re-evaluation. How can we not view Emma’s odious Mrs. Elton’s suggestion that she’ll find a donkey to ride fashionably to the party at Donwell Abbey—as Mr. Knightley cunningly insults her by assuring her he wants “every thing to be as much to your taste as possible”—as camp? The conjured-up image of Mrs. Elton riding in on an ass, with her husband promenading beside her, is priceless and is about the furthest imaginable thing from Mary and Joseph. One gets the sense that, as much as such an act would annoy the character of Mr. Knightley, he would also delight in being horrified by such a scene. So would—or should—the astute reader. Seeing this sort of camp in the so-called mature novels makes the juvenilia that much less of a surprise.

If such examples are definable as Austen camp, they are, however, a particular take on it, one that’s perhaps best described as Vanilla Camp. Sontag is useful for inviting further reflection on this notion, too, suggesting the most effective forms of camp do not knowingly present themselves as such. This may seem almost oxymoronic: you can’t create high quality camp on purpose. Sontag would have it that the best camp is artifice exaggeratedly pointed out with innocence and naïvete. That would seem to suggest vanilla camp as a superior kind. Yet armed with our background in eighteenth-century novel’s heroines, we might raise an eyebrow at that ourselves. (Are we on the same ground here as “How do novels teach eighteenth-century female readers to be artless?”) If we were forced to classify Austen on one pole or the other, would we find her writing campy-artless or campy-knowing? The juvenilia seems the latter, with the novels harder to define. We could make a case for Austen’s setting out to be a Queen of Vanilla Camp. But is vanilla camp, pace Sontag, even really camp? Isn’t the point of camp that it’s exaggerated and unsubtle, calls attention to itself, and generally doesn’t give a shit? What’s gained by being/doing camp as naïve, as Camp Lite? (There may be an answer in here that could help make sense of Austen’s enduring appeal with both critical and popular audiences.)

  JaneAustenSexBoutiqueWe could debate this further—and I hope we will—but it seems to me that much of today’s Austen-derived camp—even the most ostentatious, showy, and outrageous takes on her—continue to cluster around the vanilla. Some like to claim that contemporary Austen campiness takes us too far afield from her fiction in its content, and that somehow she’d be offended by it, but these new campy texts may be keeping with her writing in kind. A case in point is this cartoon from the 1992 Sunday Telegraph. It reads, “Jane Austen’s Sex Boutique: We’re in the Extremely Chaste Sex Shop Guide.” What can be campier, or vanilla campier, than an Extremely Chaste Sex Shop? Austen’s novels are so chastely and exaggeratedly sexy that generations of readers and critics have missed that quality, even more often than her humor and irony. In today’s incarnations of Austen, such residually mistaken assumptions (“There is no sex in Jane Austen”) are adorably, artificially, and exaggeratedly old-fashioned, transformed into ur-vanilla caricatures of literary history (i.e. “Oh, how cute. Classic novels used to try to hush up sex.”)

Two quick examples from today’s popular culture might also launch further discussion. How campy, or what kind of campy, is Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (2016)? The film was a disappointment at the box office, not because it wasn’t cleverly exaggerated or ostentatiously artificial but because in the scenes that took themselves too seriously, the result was too tame for horror/zom-com audiences. Not even P&P&Z’s Hot Topic product tie-ins could overcome the second-half of the film’s self-seriousness and its PG-13 rating. P&P&Z’s camp arguably hadn’t gone far enough or been sustained long enough. It was only half-vanilla camp. Today’s Austen porn, too, tends in that direction. Much of it is painted with the same brush as Mommy Porn, à la Fifty Shades of Grey, only funnier. It’s often difficult to imagine that we’re supposed to do anything other than laugh at Austen porn. I’ll leave you with just one line from the Clandestine Classics version of Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen and Desiree Holt: “Tilney’s expression heated as he watched her. ‘Do you fancy the taste, then?’ Catherine nodded mutely.”9

Finally, I’ve leave off with a few questions that might launch discussion on Austen’s fiction and camp: Is Mansfield Park the least campy of her novels? Is Northanger Abbey the most? Lady Susan is certainly camp extraordinaire. (It seems no accident that we are living in the moment of its screen emergence, as Whit Stillman’s Sundance-debuted film, Love and Friendship.) How campy is Sanditon? Did Austen’s fiction become less campy as she aged? What is the relationship, if any, between Austen and/or long eighteenth-century youth, age, and camp? I very much look forward to our conversation, in large- and small-groups, at the session.


  1.  The portrait first appeared in Evert A. Duyckinck’s Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America. 2 vols. (New York: Johnson, Wilson & Co, 1873), I: 408. Claudia Johnson discusses this image, concluding that the engraver “manifestly has no idea who Jane Austen is, other than the fact that she is a woman and an author.” See Johnson, Jane Austen: Cults and Cultures (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2012), 44.
  2. Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp” (1964) in Against Interpretation: and Other Essays (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1966), 275–92. All of Sontag’s examples of camp authors from the late 17th to the 19th centuries are male.

  3. Sontag argues, “Camp’s extremely sentimental relation to beauty is no help to women, but its irony is: ironizing about the sexes is one small step toward depolarizing them. In this sense the diffusion of camp taste in the early ‘60s should probably be credited with a considerable if inadvertent role in the upsurge of feminist consciousness in the late 1960s” (40). One might say the same about Jane Austen’s impact on the later nineteenth-century women’s movement. See Susan Sontag, Robert Boyers, and Maxine Bernstein, “Women, the Arts, and the Politics of Culture: An Interview with Susan Sontag,” Salmagundi 31-32 (Fall 1975-Winter 1976), 29-48.

  4. Pamela Robertson, Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 10.

  5. Mark Booth, “Campe-Toi! On the Origins and Definitions of Camp,” Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader. Ed. Fabio Cleto (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1999), 66-79 . Sontag, too, notes this connection and indicates that the Oxford French Dictionary translates camper as “to posture boldly.” See Sontag et al., “Women, the Arts,” 41.

  6. James Redding Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian era: a dictionary of heterodox English, slang, and phrase (London: George Routledge, 1909), 61. An earlier dictionary gave it far different meanings, “to go to camp, to go to bed, to take rest” (Australian), “to take into camp, to kill” (common) and “To camp, to surpass, floor” (Australian). See John S. Farmer and W. E. Henley, Slang and its Analogues: Past and Present, Vol. 2. (Privately Printed, 1893), 23. A later edition notes that “a Camp-follower” was a prostitute. See Farmer and Henley’s Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English (London: Routledge, 1905), 85. 

  7. Terry Castle, “Sister, Sister” [“Was Jane Austen Gay?”] London Review of Books (3 August 1995): 3–6.

  8. D. A. Miller, Jane Austen, or, The Secret of Style (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003), 26.

  9. Jane Austen and Desiree Holt. Northanger Abbey (Lincoln, United Kingdom: Clandestine Classics, 2012), 206.

That Evangelical Drag: Methodism, Camp, and the Camp Meeting

Misty G. Anderson

University of Tennessee

[View or download a PDF of this paper]

Samuel Foote made history in 1760 with The Minor, a play that teased its audiences from the beginning with the prospect of “one of those itinerant field orators” for dessert, a reference to the wildly popular Whitefield, whom Foote regarded as a “public performer…like myself” and whom he proceeded to mock as Dr. Squintum. The debate would continue to rage for generations about the dangers of enthusiasm, especially hypocrisy and the transfer from religious to sexual excitement, versus the good that Methodists did in their communities and for their folanderson1lowers, but one debate was settled: the Methodist preacher had become, by 1760, a style, a readable and reproducible theatrical set of practices. The gestures, tropes and props to this day remain signatures of revival preaching, among them the preacher’s tear, the open bible, the extended arms, the upturned face, were already present and carried with them the twin temptations of entertainment and mimicry. And in fact it is this dazzling play of copyAnderson2 and original, of blasphemy and true belief, that make Whitefield’s and Foote’s performances so fascinating. The shock was a contemporary impersonation (at which Foote excelled) leveled at a member of the clergy. But the strategy, camp, tied closely to drag, shone a klieg light on the unsettled relationship between inward identity and outward affect that put both Methodism and queerness in the same camp.

Anderson3I use the term camp in the full knowledge that it was not a category through which the period thought itself, even as I would argue that we can see the affective and performative styles of period beginning to produce camp’s discursive and kinetic architecture. I am embracing Sontag’s claim that camp, in addition to its signature hyperbolic performativity, depends on “a shared set of beliefs, dispositions, prejudices, preferences” that fosters “a shared feeling…a kind of love, love for human nature.” (291) While campy iterations of Methodist preachers depended on shared prejudices about Methodists and preferences for the containment of their theatrical excess to the theatre proper, they also implicitly registered the shared feelings and counterpublics that Methodism itself generated. These practices require both the presence of actual communities and the public iteration of those communities as parodic versions of themselves. In an age with an insatiable appetite for proto-campy performance (witness: the fop, the macaroni, big hair, drag and breeches roles), Methodism’s big arms and occasional jazz hands fit right into the blend. But Methodism also offered an affectively compelling model of community, cross-class, emotive, uncontained, and occasionally utopian, that held out the promise of meaningful belonging in the midst of modern alienation.

Anderson4It is in this strange camp of love, performance, and the willingness to sacrifice good taste to affective pleasure that Methodism and queerness find a strand of shared origins. Methodism, which is notoriously difficult to pin down theologically, was nonetheless clear about the object of its human interest: the inward self. Yet its kinetic style, especially as practiced by Whitefield, was effusive, demonstrative, and full of observable and public somatic evidence— tears, outstretched arms, loud singing, and other outbursts. The account of the hidden self and its movements, its difference, its motivations, and its deviance from normative culture are the framework to correlating list of liabilities and social anxieties that both early Methodists and early queer culture generated: fear of recruitment; failure of scripts of class; practices counter to an emerging heteronormativity; and bodies that failed to contain themselves. That Foote mapped his critique of Methodism onto Mother Cole, a drag act that Anderson5referenced both Mother “Jenny” Douglass, the evangelical madam of Covent Garden, and Christopher Smart’s Mother Midnight, strikes me as more than theatrical accident. Methodist and queer bodies both flout containment; they exaggerate scripts of class, gender, sexuality, and affect in an often campy display of the artiface involved in the body’s bourgeois, heteronormative discipline. Camp, going back to Sontag’s definition is “one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon…not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice.” (Against Interpretation, p. 275). As a strategy, it involves displacement, exaggeration, and masquerade in order to tell the truth but tell it slant by mimicking the performative terms of a given present. Most theorists of camp have tacked hard in the direction of drag, a term useful for thinking more specifically about the parodic destabilization of the still-emerging norms of sex and gender in the eighteenth century. So without leaving drag’s critique of gender identity and its unstable basis behind, I want to take the term camp to camp, specifically, the camp meeting, the early breeding ground of Methodists and the emergent performances of evangelical selfhood that they staged. Our time at camp will include a field trip to the Tabernacle, Whitefield’s meeting house in London, which reproduced some of the evangelical styles and kinetic excesses of the Bristol outdoor meetings that boosted the popularity of early Methodism. These spaces are part of the territorialization of bodies (otherwise known as the production of “good taste”) through exile, permission, abjection, and humiliation. In curious ways, both Foote’s aristophanic theatrical subculture and Methodism’s anti-theatrical theatricality both agree with Edith Sitwell, that “good taste is one of the worst vices ever invented.”

The repertoire of gestures that constituted mid-eighteenth-century counterpublics of camp and the camp meeting can help us understand performance as multiple, overlapping, and the trace of historical substitutions over time. Thomas King’s discussion of performance and camp in The Gendering of Men, 1600-1750, vol. 2, illuminates the strange intersection of evangelical Methodism and the prehistory of camp that becomes visible in the wide circulation of Foote’s imitation of Whitefield through his drag act with Mrs. Cole:

“What networks of institutions and discourses intersect in the performance space? How does a specific performance mark and facilitate the movement of these discourses from one interaction/setting to another? How is any one performance simultaneously located in multiple social spaces?….The key activity of performers is not the reproduction of an original, underlying, or transcendent signified but the reproduction of all the embodied skill and practical knowledge necessary for the appropriation and resignification of the spaces, techniques, and relations of performance” (v. 2, 22)

anderson6I am interested in taking these questions about overlapping networks of performance to three locations: first, the spaces of Methodist and queer performance, both the camp or field meeting and Whitefield’s London Tabernacle; second, their shared kinetic vocabulary of gestures, props, and ticks that are the “choreographies of meaning” that Diana Taylor argues make up performance and its repertoire; and finally, the accounts of their non- normative status, from the scurrilous to the violent, as the sign of their constitution as counterpublics. In my time on the panel, I hope to outline briefly the overlap between the representational and gestural economy of both Methodism and early queerness in eighteenth- century Britain, where these unlikely bedfellows are “camped out” together.

Neoclassicism and Camp in Sir William Hamilton’s Naples

Ersy Contogouris

Université du Québec à Montréal

[View or download a PDF of this paper]

On most evenings after dinner, Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to Naples, famously treated his guests to a performance of Attitudes, wherein Emma Hart (later Hamilton) donned classical garb and adopted poses that brought to mind mythological, religious, and literary figures from classical statuary, grand master works, and paintings found on ancient vases and on the recently excavated walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum. What is perhaps less well known is that in the afternoons, Sir William paid young boys to splash in the shallow waters for the benefit of his guests assembled at his seaside villa in Posillipo. Goethe, whose laudatory account of Emma’s Attitudes is often quoted, also described these latter displays:

The day before yesterday I visited Sir William Hamilton in his Posillipo villa. There is really no more glorious place in the whole world. After lunch, a dozen boys went swimming in the sea. It was beautiful to watch the groups they made and the postures they took during the games. Sir William pays them to give him this pleasure every afternoon.1

Both during the day and at night, Sir William thus continually stimulated his guests’ erotic gaze with spectacles that can arguably be labelled as camp. My contention is that these formed part of a continuum of experiences in the lives of Sir William and his circle, a continuum that included the sublimated judgements of universal and timeless beauty expounded by the champions of the developing Neoclassical aesthetic, the homoerotic and pederastic scenes discovered on walls and vases at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the erotic poses and dancing performed by prostitutes in high-class London brothels.

Grand Tourists had long considered Naples as too far south to be visited, too poor, too dangerous, and lacking edifying classical sites. But by the second half of the eighteenth century, this had changed, due, in great part, to the ongoing excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii. Sir William’s home was a hub of activity, welcoming European aristocrats, diplomats, Grand Tourists, artists, poets, essayists, French exiles from the Revolution, and all those interested in the archaeological explorations that were feeding the development of Neoclassicism. And Emma was at the centre of that activity. In her Attitudes, she presented a collage of characters that she appropriated from high culture and that she combined with the lewd poses that she had learnt to perform during the time she worked at Miss Kelly’s, an upper-class London brothel. Her spectators, many of whom patronized Miss Kelly’s and other similar establishments, would have recognized both sources.

Emma performed her Attitudes with overblown emotionality and theatricality. An etching made after a drawing by Pietro Antonio Novelli shows her extreme gestures and facial expressions.

Novelli Hamilton image
Francesco Novelli (1767-1835), after Pietro Antonio Novelli (1729-1804), The Attitudes of Lady Hamilton, 1791. Etching, 20.4 x 32.5 cm. London, Victoria and Albert Museum.

This exaggeration and general over-the-topness were met with rapturous applause,2 although they were also criticized by some, such as Horace Walpole, who noted that it ran contrary to the restraint usually associated with classical statuary. In spite of this departure, Emma’s Attitudes were used to disseminate Neoclassicism throughout Europe, thanks, in part, to the hugely popular set of twelve etchings after drawings by Friedrich Rehberg. Rehberg’s Neoclassical pedigree is impressive. He went to Rome in 1777 and trained with Anton Raphael Mengs. There he also made plaster casts in the Académie de France, where he befriended Jacques-Louis David. To etch the plates, he hired Tommaso Piroli, who had executed the previous year the prints for John Flaxman’s two Homeric series, which display the same linear purity and simplicity characteristic of the Neoclassical aesthetic.

Rehberg’s images are the best known and most reproduced visual representations of Emma’s Attitudes. He manufactured a version of Emma’s performances that watered down their campiness in order to comply with and promote the Neoclassical values of permanence and universality.

Piroli after Rehberg
Tommaso Piroli (c. 1752-1824), after Friedrich Rehberg (1758-1835), Drawings Faithfully Copied at Naples…, 1794. Plate III, IV, and V. Etching, 26.9 x 20.8 cm. Cambridge, MA, Houghton Library.

He did this in several ways. He broke the continuity between the poses: plates III, IV, and V show Emma sitting, standing, and then reclining, and coiffed differently from one pose to the next. Her face bears little expressiveness. The format of the series, a bound volume, forces the spectator to turn the pages between the attitudes, enhancing discontinuity (whereas Novelli’s drawing represents what we imagine as successive attitudes on the same page). Rehberg’s hermetic enclosure of each print within a frame Contogouris3Contogouris4communicates a frozen, static impression, as does the very dry line that he uses. What we have here is an evacuation of the Attitudes’ campiness and exuberance that had been at the heart of Emma’s performances in favour of a fixed version of Neoclassicism that communicated ideals of universal and timeless and beauty, or, to quote Winckelmann, “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur.”

A similar sublimation is at work in the performances of splashing boys. Goethe’s stated appreciation not for the campiness of the spectacle but for the aesthetic experience it provided couches a specific set of circumstances. Naples had a reputation as a place where boys were available to tourists for hire. The economic hardship of so many Neapolitan families likely made many young boys vulnerable to prostitution. Moreover, the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum had brought to light a particularly large number of homoerotic and pederastic scenes on walls and vases, as well as phallica and other erotica. In his examination of the importance of this imagery in the development of Neoclassicism, Whitney Davis has shown that “the modern sensus communis, same-sex or not, [had] long agreed that pederastically determined objects were…and remained beautiful images of (beautiful) masculinity.”3 Davis argues that with Winckelmann, the foundational judgement of artistic beauty was homoerotic and in fact specifically pederastic. At the core of western art history – and as an optimal offering in Sir William’s house of delectation – pederastic desire was similarly sublimated into judgements of universal beauty and “non-sensuous (rational and moral) approbation and admiration.”4 The aesthetic veneer was so convincing that it rendered the spectacle permissible even for women to witness,5 but this had been done through an evacuation of the queerness and campiness of the spectacle.

Recognizing the camp dimension of these performances alerts us to the issues of desire, gender, sexuality, and class at the root of Neoclassicism; and although this dimension has been evacuated in favour of the Neoclassical conceit of a supposedly purely aesthetic appreciation of timeless and universal beauty, instances of campiness re- emerge in the works of later artists associated with the classical tradition. Such is the case in the following century, when the Neapolitan fisherboys became a trope of nineteenth- century sculpture. In these works by classically trained sculptors such as François Rude, Francisque-Joseph Duret, and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, what Fred Licht has called “the equivocation between high ideal and raw sexuality”6 reflects an assimilation of the aesthetics / erotics of Sir William’s circle.

Rude Neapolitan fishing boys
François Rude (1784-1855), Jeune pêcheur napolitain jouant avec une tortue, 1833. Marble, 82 x 88 x 48 cm. Paris, musée du Louvre.Francisque-Joseph Duret (1804-1865), Jeune pêcheur dansant la tarentelle. Souvenir de Naples, 1833. Bronze, 158 x 67 x 58 cm. Paris, musée du Louvre.Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75), Jeune pêcheur à la coquille, also known as Le Pêcheur napolitain, 1856-58. Plaster, 91 x 47.4 x 54.9 cm. Paris, musée du Louvre.

The boys are naked, or nearly so, but for the traditional Neapolitan fisherman’s bonnet on their heads. Resembling Ganymede’s Phrygian cap, it associates the fisherboys with Zeus’s young paramour and thus sanctions same-sex, and here specifically pederastic, desire.7 These works are not incidental to the sculptors’ oeuvres: each was produced at a foundational moment in their respective careers and helped establish their reputations.8 The sculpting of a Neapolitan fisherboy seemed to have become a rite of passage for nineteenth-century classically trained sculptors.

Gloeden Land of Fire
Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Land of Fire, c. 1895. Albumen silver print from glass negative, 30 x 40 cm. Private collection.

The intersection of classicism and camp can be found again in the photographs of Wilhelm von Gloeden, whose use of classical props legitimatized the erotic representation of the (often ephebic) male body. Although characterized by Roland Barthes as kitsch rather than camp,9 photographs such as von Gloeden’s c. 1895 Land of Fire of a terrace in Posillipo hark back to Sir William’s splashing boys and testify to the thread of camp that had been repressed in the late eighteenth century and that survived nevertheless within the classical tradition.


1 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey [1816-17], Harmondsworth, 1982 (1996), p. 353.
2 According to the Comtesse de Boigne, for instance, they drew “passionate applause.” Éléonore-Adèle d’Osmond, Comtesse de Boigne (1781-1866), Récits d’une tante: Mémoires de la Comtesse de Boigne, née d’Osmond, 5 vols., Paris, 1921-23, vol. 1, p. 107.
3 Whitney Davis, “Homoerotic Art Collection from 1750 to 1920,” Art History 24.2 (2001), ed. Michael Camille and Adrian Rifkin, issue on “Other Object of Desire: Collectors and Collecting Queerly,” p. 251.
4 Ibid, p. 252.
5 Éisabeth Vigée-Le Brun recounts seeing these boys on display when she stayed in Posillipo with the Hamiltons. See her Souvenirs [1835-37], Paris, 2009, p. 177.
6 Fred Licht, in David Finn and Fred Licht, Canova, New York, 1983, p. 186.
7 John Goodman, “Paris with Ganymede: A Critical Supplement to Damisch’s Judgement,” Oxford Art Journal, 28.2 (2005): 227-244. Identified, after 1789, with the French Revolution, the Phrygian bonnet might also have signalled a form of liberation from restrictive social and cultural mores. Neil Hertz, “Medusa’s Head: Male Hysteria under Political Pressure,” Representations, 4 (1983): 27-54.
8 Rude’s fisherboy became one of the most successful sculptures of the nineteenth century. Duret received the Legion of Honour when he showed his at the Salon. And Carpeaux presented his Pêcheur napolitain – a strategic homage to the earlier sculptors – as his envoi de Rome, the second-year project at the Academy.
9 Roland Barthes, Taormina, Naples, 1978.

List of images

  • Francesco Novelli (1767-1835), after Pietro Antonio Novelli (1729-1804), The Attitudes of LadyHamilton, 1791. Etching, 20.4 x 32.5 cm. London, Victoria and Albert Museum.
  • Tommaso Piroli (c. 1752-1824), after Friedrich Rehberg (1758-1835), Drawings Faithfully Copied atNaples…, 1794. Plate III, IV, and V. Etching, 26.9 x 20.8 cm. Cambridge, MA, Houghton Library.
  • François Rude (1784-1855), Jeune pêcheur napolitain jouant avec une tortue, 1833. Marble, 82 x 88x 48 cm. Paris, musée du Louvre.
  • Francisque-Joseph Duret (1804-1865), Jeune pêcheur dansant la tarentelle. Souvenir de Naples,1833. Bronze, 158 x 67 x 58 cm. Paris, musée du Louvre.
  • Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75), Jeune pêcheur à la coquille, also known as Le Pêcheur napolitain,1856-58. Plaster, 91 x 47.4 x 54.9 cm. Paris, musée du Louvre.
  • Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Land of Fire, c. 1895. Albumen silver print from glass negative,30 x 40 cm. Private collection.

“HERCULES, turn’d Beau”: Charles Churchill’s Camp Satire

Declan Kavanagh

University of Kent

[View or download a PDF of this paper]

He started up a Fop, and, fond of show,

Look’d like another HERCULES, turn’d Beau.[1]

In his essay, ‘Performing “Akimbo”: Queer pride and epistemological prejudice’ (1994), Thomas A. King outlines how Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on Camp’ ‘took for granted the eighteenth century’s polarization of surface and content, artifice and nature, frivolity and sincerity’.[2] Sontag’s description of the ‘basic camp maneuver as the blocking out or emptying a thing of its content’, according to King, fails to acknowledge that the very issue of surface and depth was energetically interrogated throughout the period.[3] Rather than an apolitical performative mode, King argues that the camp displays of early eighteenth-century sodomites, such as the mollies, might instead be read as ‘political practices [which] deploy[ed] the surfaces of the body oppositionally against the accruing bourgeois capacity for shaping … the subject through his or her interiority’.[4] Following on from King’s querying of Sontag, my presentation departs from the subject of the camp queer to examine how the discourse of camp informed constructions of the heteronormative in the period. An ambient xenophobia, along with a steady anti-effeminate rhetoric, exercised shaping influences on Charles Churchill (1732-1764) more profoundly than on any other eighteenth-century satirist. Characterizing his authorial self as a foppish Hercules in his poem Independence (1764) counts as just one instance of Churchill’s camp re-appropriation of the anti- effeminate criticism that was levelled at his newfound creative and financial independence.

Churchill’s poetry actively interrogates divisions between surface and content, artifice and nature, frivolity and sincerity. Critics have consistently noted how the body, in particular the poet’s own mass, literally and figuratively weighs in on the poems. Raymond J. Smith remarks that “Churchill’s energy was in direct proportion to his size”, while Conrad Brunström views “Churchill’s proud physicality [as] part of a rhetorical moment that celebrates blunt Englishness”.[5] Churchill’s ursine characteristics were a source of pride, and moreover, a confirmation of his own embodied substantiality. As a result of his mocking of the artist in An Epistle to William Hogarth (1763), Hogarth would be prompted into caricaturing Churchill as a bear in tattered clerical dress in: “The Bruiser, C. Churchill (once Reverend!) in the character of a Russian Hercules”, published 1st August 1763.[6]

Hogarth's portrait of Churchill, 'The Bruiser'
William Hogarth (1697-1764). The Bruiser 1763. Print. 376 x 282 mm. London. British Museum
Churchill responded in his poem Independence by announcing the aged (though at that time still very much alive) Hogarth’s death and recuperating the image of tattered clerical bands with pride.[7] Hogarth’s depiction of Churchill as ‘The Bruiser’ betrays the way in which a straight-camp aesthetic is always open to its own undoing; machismo is dangerously campy; as a performance it enfolds the potential to be undermined by its own success. The political arena is one such space in which machismo is notably campy. The alarming spectacle of real estate tycoon Donald Trump’s campaign to secure the Republican presidential nomination is a daily reminder of the emasculating effect of straight camp performance.

Watching any recording of Trump’s speeches, we are reminded of his hand gestures, facial expressions, and cosmetic interventions all register as excessive cultivations of camp surface over meaningful depth. All masculinity is by definition camp, however, straight men risk being unmanned by their attempts to maintain masculinity in ways that gay men do not.

In Independence, Churchill pits the robust physicality of the bard against the slight frame of the Lord; bardic depth wins out over the camp surface of aristocratic display. However, whilst the Bard’s physicality may seem stable, the speaker reveals throughout the poem that such stability is in fact in flux. There is a movement from the position of cleric to that of dandy, from “graver fool” to fop, until the Bard seemingly settles into the category of a “HERCULES, turn’d Beau”.[8] The figure of the Bard incorporates and therefore disarms the potential effeminacy of the fop. Oddly enough, Churchill adopts the decidedly queer tactic of taking a negative cartoon of himself and consciously inhabiting and owning it:

Brown Cassock which had once been black,

Which hung in tatters on his brawny back,

A sight most strange and awkward to behold

He threw a covering of Blue and Gold.[9]


The fashionable covering of blue and gold, foppish as it is, is proudly displayed by Churchill as part of his decidedly unfashionable autonomous social position. As Brunström notes, Churchill celebrated his own failures and the criticism that was levelled at him as a way of “forstall[ing] serious satiric opposition”.[10] As a decidedly anti-effeminate poet, he was often criticised for his own foppish literary ambitions. Samuel Foote satirised the incongruity between Churchill’s literary life and clerical office in the figure of Manly in a revision of his play, Taste, performed at Drury Lane on April 6th, 1761. Not surprisingly then, the type of masculinity that Churchill’s Bard embodies has a capacity that effectively neutralises any emasculating threat. Camping it up in foppish dress is a way of paradoxically invigorating one’s masculinity. Furthermore, the Bard’s free movement between various social roles presents a straight camp that is distinguished for its mastery of surfaces.

In Independence, Churchill locates the effeminacy of the aristocratic elite as a condition of the present, projecting backward to a time when the Lord was, among other things, “Plain in his dress, and in his manners plain”.[11] Patronage is bound up with an effeminate sense of fashion, and Lords “keep a Bard, just as they keep a Whore”.[12] The poem clearly presents the deficiencies of the ruling elite as a failure of the proper regulation of the sexual body. Intriguingly, when threatened, Churchill’s bard, though “still at large, and Independent” is but a “melting mass of flesh”.[13] Campy surface is surpassed here as straight camp surface gives way to spiritual transcendence. The bodily masculinity, presented to the reader earlier, is oddly no longer tangible and what finally resists and eludes the control of the ruling elite is the Bard’s “Soul”.[14] This soul or spirit promises a transcendence of the bodily, along with the virtual formation of a patriotic community:

O my poor COUNTRY — weak and overpow’r’d

By thine own Sons — eat to the bone — devour’d

By Vipers, which, in thine own entrails bred,

Prey on thy life, and with thy blood are fed,

With unavailing grief thy wrongs I see,

And, for myself not feeling, feel for Thee.

I grieve, but can’t despair — for, Lo, at hand

FREEDOM presents a choice, but faithful band

Of Loyal PATRIOTS, Men who greatly dare

In such a noble cause, Men fit to bear

The weight of Empires; Fortune, Rank, and Sense,

Virtue and knowledge, leagu’d with Eloquence,

March in their ranks; FREEDOM from file to file

Darts her delighted eye, and with a smile

Approves her honest Sons, whilst down her cheek,

As ’twere by stealth (her heart too full to speak)

One Tear in silence creeps, one honest Tear,

And seems to say, Why is not GRANBY here?[15]


In this penultimate stanza, the English body-politic is “devour’d” by vipers resting in its very bowels, an image that suggestively conflates a triumvirate of aggressors: aristocrats, Scots, and sodomites. An abstracted Freedom knowingly approves of Churchill’s independent patriots, who long for the imminent return of the Marquis of Granby, the military commander who replaced the disgraced George Sackville. In this way, Granby links the patriots of Independence with the woman-lover patriot of The Times (1764) by embodying properly manly patriotic virtue.

In the final stanza, Churchill, in a militant tone, advises these men to “Be as One Man”, a call for solidarity and, in a way, for male gender conformity.[16] The organisation of this group of men is based on their authentic maleness, on their secure sense of their own English masculinity and shared heteroreroticism:


Be as One Man — CONCORD success ensures —

There’s not an English heart but what is Your’s.

Go forth — and VIRTUE, ever in your sight,

Shall be your guide by day, your guard by night —

Go forth — the Champions of your native land,

And may the battle prosper in your hand —

It may, it Must — Ye cannot be withstood —

Be your Hearts honest, as your Cause is good.[17]


Paradoxically, Churchill’s anti-effeminate satire calls for men to join closer together. Offering the obverse of the Scottish shepherds’ relationship with the Goddess Famine in his mock-pastoral, The Prophecy of Famine: A Scot’s Pastoral (1763), Churchill figures England here as the injured mother in this stanza, in need of help from her “duteous” sons. The bardic freedom that opened the poem is here broadened out in an imagining of the patriotic bonds shared by a minority of independent men. Independence condemns the aristocratic elite as campy, while simultaneously situating the ‘middling sort’ of man as the true bearer of a patriotic masculinity, which although equally campy, is reassuringly shown to have hidden depth.



[1] Douglas Grant, ed., The Poetical Works of Charles Churchill (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956), 417.

[2] Thomas A. King, ‘Performing “Akimbo”: Queer pride and epistemological prejudice’, in Moe Meyer (ed.) The Politics and Poetics of Camp (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 23.

[3] Ibid., 23-24.

[4] Ibid., 24.

[5] Raymond J. Smith, Charles Churchill (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977), 14; Conrad Brunström, “‘Be Male And Female Still’: An ABC of Hyperbolic Masculinity in the Eighteenth Century”, in Presenting Gender: Changing Sex in Early Modern Culture, Chris Mounsey, ed. (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2001), 44.

[6] Grant, 518-19.

[7] Ibid, 417. Link to “Independence” via Accessed 22 March 2016.

[8] Ibid, 417.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Brunström, “‘Be Male And Female Still’”, 43.

[11] Grant, 419.

[12] Ibid., 423.

[13] Ibid., 427.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 427-428.

[16] Ibid., 428.

[17] Ibid.

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