Abstract

In this hitherto unpublished manuscript essay (c. 1848), Thomas Carlyle uses ancient Dionysian ritual as a symbol for a complex of contemporaneous social tendencies that he deplores. Foremost among these tendencies is the displacement of piety and duty by the exaltation of sensualism and romantic love, which Carlyle associates with revolutionary France, George Sand and her epigones, and circulating-library fiction more generally. “Phallus-worship” represents a jointure between Carlyle’s humane youthful writings and the authoritarian jeremiads of his old age, combining the literary virtuosity of the former with the caustic perspective of the latter. More broadly, “Phallus-worship” is a textual locus of the shift between early and mid-Victorian sensibilities, as Carlyle’s own residual puritanism marked the limits of his capacity to engage with the literary and cultural developments that interested a rising generation of Victorian men and women of letters.

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