This is the first extensive study of literary swooning, homing in on the swoon’s long, rich and suggestive history as well as its potential for opening up new ways of thinking about the contemporary. From the lives of medieval saints to recent romance fiction, the swoon has had a pivotal place in English literature. This study shows that swoons have been intimately connected to explorations of emotionality, ecstasy and transformation; to depictions of sickness and of dying; and to performances of gender and gendering. A literary history of swooning is therefore also a history of crux points for how we imagine the body, and for evolving ideas of physiology, gender, and sexuality. Tracking the history of the figure of the swoon from the thirteenth to the twenty-first century, this study suggests that the swoon has long been used as a way to figure literary creation and aesthetic sensitivity: from the swoons of early mystics to contemporary literary-theoretical depictions of destabilised subjects, literary faints have offered a model of overwhelming, aesthetic, affective response. In the work of Chaucer and Shakespeare, swoons are seen as moments of generic possibility, through which the direction of a text might be transformed. In romantic, gothic and modernist fiction, this study focuses on morbid, feminised swoons used by writers who reject masculinist, heteronormative codes of health. In contemporary romance fiction, irony, cliché and bathos shadow the transformative possibilities of the swoon. This book offers an exciting new way to examine the history of the body alongside the history of literary response.
individual experience. Perhaps more significantly, and as
the work of activists and scholars at the intersection of queer and criptheory have demonstrated, performance signals how knowledge of
illness, disability and impairment might be undone through a disruption
of propriety’s representational and narrative norms. In suggesting how
illness and disability might be ‘done’ differently, such work also brings to
light the ways in which normative regimes of embodiment rely upon the
orderly distribution of affect –such as that bodily propriety is
same-sex desire as a kind of sickness. Highsmith's novel anticipates critical work of the twenty-first century that has sought to challenge heteronormativity and constructions of health concurrently – Robert McRuer's work developing ‘criptheory’,
for instance, which shows us that normative versions of sexuality have depended on normative versions of the healthy body. Highsmith valorises her own faintness and fever in order to challenge the construction of ‘health’; and these same norms will be tested by Therese
, ‘Spectrality, strangeness and stigmaphilia’, in A. Hall (ed.), Routledge Companion to Literature and Disability (London: Routledge, in press) .
4 M. Warner, The Trouble with Normal (New York: Free Press, 1999) ; E.K. Sedgwick, ‘Queer performativity’, in D. Hale (ed.), The Novel (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), pp. 605–21 ; R. McRuer, CripTheory (New York: NYU Press, 2006) , pp. 35–6.
5 H. Love, Feeling Backward (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007) , pp. 3–4, 19.
6 S. Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010
vulnerability in working through sexual stigma and violence. For
her, sexuality and sex are areas which necessarily make the body vulnerable,
but where that vulnerability also offers profoundly transformative vistas for
political and personal agency. Examining practices, memories, and documentation of butch-femme sexualities and AIDS activism, among others,
Cvetkovich suggests that the power of queer vulnerability lies in openness
to pleasure and care as well as injury (2003: 66–7, 202–4).
In queer disability studies, or criptheory, the double edge and potential of
Recognition: Subjectivity, Suffering, and Agency ’, Sociological Theory , 26 : 3 , 271–296 .
McRuer , R. ( 2006 ) CripTheory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability ( New York and London : New York University Press ).
Menjivar , C. and D. Kantstrom (eds) ( 2014 ) Constructing Immigrant Illegality: Critiques, Experiences, and Responses ( Cambridge : Cambridge University Press ).
Petersen , A.R. ( 2017 ) Migration into Art: Transcultural Identities and Art-Making in a Globalised World ( Manchester : Manchester University Press ).
Highsmith describes her experience of a near-faint as the precursor to the composition of this novel. I suggest that Highsmith deploys fainting in a way that anticipates the work of ‘criptheory’ in challenging norms of sexuality and the healthy body concurrently: she valorises elements of sickness in order to challenge ‘health’ as construed by a heteronormative, homophobic culture. In doing so, she has produced a groundbreaking queer romance text, as well as a stimulating version of writing being produced from overwhelmed states and ill
, Queer, Crip (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2013); R. McRuer, CripTheory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (New York: New York University Press, 2006).
Sekula, ‘The Body and the Archive’; J. Ellenbogen, Reasoned and Unreasoned Images: The Photography of Bertillon, Galton, and Marey (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012