Controlling Death and Sex: Magnification v. the Rhetoric of Rules in Dickens and Thackeray

  • Carol Hanbery MacKay


Perhaps because sex and death involve such intense, primal emotions, the rhetoric of each often comes to resemble that of the other — that is, an intense poetic rendering of death may assume an erotic cast, while a rhetorical amplification of sexual desire frequently evokes images of death and dying. From Cupid’s arrow to the Elizabethan slang term for sexual climax, ‘to die’, we witness this melding. My point here is primarily a rhetorical one, borne out especially well by Victorian fiction, but we can recognise a similar psychological tension existing in both desire and death — the tension between attenuation and completion — and presume that rhetoric, faced with the problem of expressing such opposite extremes in human experience, might be forced to conflate the two. Georges Bataille pursues the connection one step further in his basic formulation: ‘eroticism is assenting to life even in the face of death’ (Bataille, p. 11). By eroticising death, an Editor makes of death not


Reading Text Death Scene Public Reading Christmas Tree Sexual Element 
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© Regina Barreca 1990

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  • Carol Hanbery MacKay

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