In ‘William Bennett’s Heresy: Male Same-Sex Desire and the Art of the Eucharist,’ Dominic Janes’ continues to develop his study of the history of Christian ethics and aesthetics—first, in the context of the early Church, and secondly, in relation to the nineteenth century. In Victorian Reformation: The Fight over Idolatry in the Church of England, 1840-1860 (2009), he explored the discourses surrounding ‘idolatry’, which was, in a narrow sense, the worship of idols, but, in a broad sense, could mean worship of or devotion to anything that intervened between the believer and God. In early Victorian England, there was intense interest in understanding the early Church as an inspiration for contemporary sanctity. Many Anglicans began to use a much more complex form of ritual, involving vestments, candles, and incense. Evangelicals and dissenters opposed such ritualism because they believed it represented the vanguard of Popery. In this research his discussion concentrated on the main disputed practices of Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics. Janes contended that renewed attention to such ‘primitive’ religion during this period generated gothic excitement, and its controversial nature inspired various novels, newspaper articles, and other writings. As he explained, the challenging bodily ‘primitiveness’ of medieval Catholic forms of ritual and material culture proved difficult to incorporate into the world of Victorian print media, capitalism, and Protestantism.
It became clear to him that serious anxieties about aspects of gender and sexuality played an important role in the events that he was studying. Through several studies – such as ‘“The Catholic Florist”: Flowers and Deviance in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Church of England’ (Visual Culture in Britain (2011)) – he began to explore the connections between religious and sexual deviance in the material practices of Victorian religion. Recently, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) awarded him a research fellowship for the academic year 2011-12, which has enabled him to develop a book-length study, Queer Martyrdom. This project looks at the development of a subject position of closeted queer servitude to Christ that allowed a certain degree of scope for the expression of same-sex desire within the Church of England.
Queer Martyrdom will examine this issue by presenting a series of thematic inquiries. The first of these considers the liturgical expression of same-sex desire. The second begins by examining the role of religious institutions as locales for the development of queer and alternative families before developing an analysis of the way in which the Biblical story of the love of David and Jonathan could be employed to develop forms of (primarily) chaste same-sex partnerships. Thereafter, the study explores the manner in which artists and writers used ecclesiastical materials to further queer self-expression. Queer Martyrdom will close by looking at the lives and works of Oscar Wilde and Derek Jarman in order to illustrate both the limitations and the on-going significance of Christianity as an inspiration for articulations of same-sex desire. Like these men, the Rev. William Bennett, in his own time, was very much a celebrity. Janes’ work in his new book, and in the upcoming article in JVC, asks us to take another look at Victorian clerics in the context of not only religious but also sexual radicalism.
Dominic Janes is Senior Lecturer in History of Art and Culture at Birkbeck College, University of London. His work focuses on intersections of religion, sexuality and visual culture in Britain since the eighteenth century. In addition to Queer Martyrdom he is currently editing (with Alex Houen) Martyrdom and Terrorism from Antiquity to Modernity which is scheduled to be published by Oxford University Press in late 2013.