Naomi Booth
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Lovesick, lesbian swoons and the romantic art of sinking
in Swoon
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This chapter considers feminine swooning in romance fiction by female writers in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, arguing that the swoon offers the possibility of innovation and transformation, but also risks cliché and bathos. This chapter examines Carol (1952), Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking queer romance text, suggesting that Highsmith deploys fainting in a way that anticipates the work of ‘crip theory’ to challenge norms of sexuality and the healthy body concurrently: she valorises elements of sickness in order to challenge ‘health’ as construed by a heteronormative culture. In contrast to Highsmith’s work, E. L. James’s depictions of feminine sinking in the Fifty Shades of Grey (2012) novels are presented alongside Alexander Pope’s Peri Bathous, or the Art of Sinking in Poetry (1728) to argue that the sinking James depicts might be understood as a form of bathos or disappointed hope: a falling into cliché ideas of gender submission. James’s work sets itself up in relation to several historical works of literature, including Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), but travesties its literary precedents into bathos. Nostalgia – the desire for temporal sinking back – is embedded in these novels as the eroticisation of past female powerlessness, largely produced through (mis)readings of iconic literary moments, including swoons. As a final contrast to James’s bathetic approach to the past, this chapter considers Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ (1979) and a reimagining of gender relations that hinges on a depiction of female faintness.

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A poetics of passing out


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