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Music Physiology, Erotic Encounters, and Queer Reading Practices in Teleny

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2021


While music often appears as a “code” for sexual desire in Victorian literature, this article explores music's presence in a text for which no veiled language was needed: the anonymously published pornographic novella Teleny (1893). The authors of Teleny invoke emerging scientific discourses about music physiology to draw explicit parallels between musical and sexual encounters—as when the protagonist Camille orgasms in response to the vibrations of his lover's piano music. In such moments, Teleny offers an insistent defense of queer desire as a natural process rooted in the organic and often involuntary actions of the muscles and nerves—a particularly powerful intervention at a time when sexual “inversion” was most often denigrated as unnatural. In its use of biological science in the service of sexual representation—science that many twenty-first-century queer theorists might deem “essentialist”—Teleny presents a compelling challenge to scholars grappling with conversations about normativity, resistance, utopian desires, and idealized cultural objects.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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