chapter  4
25 Pages

Perverse Male Bodies: Simeon Solomon and Algernon Charles Swinburne

Moreover, The Oxford English Dictionary suggests a basis for Swinburne’s reorientation of the term ‘perverse’ from rejection to approval of an artist’s work-the secondary meaning of ‘perverse’ carries over from the domain of moral judgement into that of aesthetics: ‘Not in accordance with the accepted standard or practice; incorrect; wrong,’ as instanced by the usage in R.Ellis’s book on Catullus (1871): ‘The experiments of the Elizabethan writers…[are characterized] by that strange perversity which so often dominates literature…’ (1971:2144). Ellis follows the conventional notion of novelty (in this case, that of the Elizabethans’ metrical experiments) as a ‘strange perversity’, whereas Swinburne attempts to redirect the ‘perverse’ to an avant-gardist aesthetic declaration. The visual work of Simeon Solomon is ‘beautiful and new’; the ‘fair feminine youth’ typical of his art as well as of his prose piece, A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, are ‘suggestive of things hidden in secret places of spiritual reserve’ (Swinburne 1926:456, 447). The ‘perverse’ is aesthetically, perhaps even morally, good-but otherwise than in the usual sense.