« PreviousContinue »
In descanting upon sex, as a wise man once said, one must begin with definitions. In treating such a topic as Sex Expression in Literature that need is not less importunate.
In defining our purpose, it is important in the beginning to note that the problem of sex expression in literature has been treated hitherto as an individual phenomenon, a phase of temperamental idiosyncrasy, or it has been met by expurgation or avoided altogether. Our approach, on the other hand, is social. Our task is to relate sex expression in literature to its social origins. Instead of studying the individual, we have studied the group. Instead of stressing the repressions of an individual, we have stressed the compulsions of a class.
Our purpose has not been to examine the biological basis of sex, clarify the catastrophes of sex conflict, illuminate the sex-mysticism of Saint Teresa, or trace the spiritual vision of a wistful Madonna pining after phallic scenery and Priapian architecture. This is not meant, however, as an adverse reflection upon the psychology of Freud. Psycho-analysis and psycha
nalysis are significant in their place in the study of the individual mind. But it is not their technique that will elucidate the origin and development of moral trends in literature. It is not their technique that will explain the economic conditions which create the sex attitudes of groups, or the social factors which cause the individual conflicts which their therapeutics endeavor to dispel. That explanation must be relegated to sociology.
The question—why is the book called Sex Expression in Literature when in so many chapters there is comparatively little mention of sex expression?—will undoubtedly rise in the minds of many. In the chapters where sex expression is given but brief discussion, it is because those periods of literature were notably sexless in substance. Where sex realities were obscured by euphemisms and mossy-leaves of phrase, or perverted into sickening romance, sex expression in literature was reduced to a eunuchoidal gesture. In other words, where sex expression is not dealt with, it is because there is no sex expression—because it has been subdued or repressed, castrated from literature. In this reference, it is also hoped that the reader will remember that social and economic trends are emphasized, because it is only through them that changing sex attitudes in literature are explicable. This study of sex attitudes and their expression, it
is significant to add by way of conclusion, does not pretend to completeness. It is a pioneer and not a final attempt. In flashing a new light upon many phases of sex expression in literature, it is hoped that it will open the way to more extensive studies in the sociological method.
It only remains for me to thank those who have so generously aided in the tedious and uninviting tasks of reading proof and making an index-Frida Ilmer, George Shugar, Irving Sollins, Alan Klein, Sophia and Meyer Steinbach. For infinite other helps I am deeply indebted to Bessie Peretz. To Helen Calverton my gratitude is beyond acknowledgment.
V. F. CALVERTON.