Literature Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

what are the most important points in Keran Harvey's text The Century of Sex? Gender, Bodies, and Sexuality in the Long Eighteenth Century.

Karen Harvey’s book examines the widespread influence of erotica in eighteenth-century culture. Harvey highlights how erotica was defined and dominated by men and masculine perspectives. For example, female bodies were discussed much more than male bodies, and men were expected to discuss erotica in homosocial settings while women were not. She also explains how literary discussions of erotica impacted relationships, such as how literature equated heterosexual sex with patriotic duty.

Expert Answers info

Quinn A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseProfessional Tutor, Teaching Assistant

bookB.A. from Fordham University


calendarEducator since 2020

write472 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

Karen Harvey’s text explains the prominence of erotica in eighteenth-century culture and underlines how it existed in a masculine framework. It is important to note that Harvey defines erotica as material about bodies and sexual pleasure through illusions and metaphors. In other words, erotica is not pornography. This is a distinction that helps readers understand how eighteenth-century erotica reinforced ideologies of male dominance, female inferiority, and heteronormativity.

Ultimately Harvey unpacks how erotica in eighteenth-century culture constructed and reproduced gender norms and expectations. She explains how erotica was a part of men’s way of life and in particular their way of socializing. Men could and were expected to discuss erotica in homosocial settings, often commenting on and analyzing women’s bodies among one another. These sorts of interactions were not a part of women’s way of life, and thus erotica was a male-dominated and male-defined concept.

Harvey also analyzes texts from this period to show how erotica was disseminated throughout society. For example, she examines how literary discussions of erotica associated sexual relations with patriotism. These descriptions instilled a sense of cultural responsibility in males to have heterosexual relations. The impact that eighteenth-century literary portraits of erotica had on men and women’s identities shows how influential literature is in shaping culture.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial