Queer Privilege: Telepathy and Sadomasochism in the Nineteenth Century Novel

Anthony Michael D'Agostino, Fordham University


In nineteenth century novels, depictions of mind-to-mind communication or telepathy are often structured in terms of dominance and submission. This recurring interpersonal and intersubjective dynamic is magnified and typified in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and The Lifted Veil by George Eliot where telepathy and sadomasochism are depicted as co-constitutive. In these novels, this conceptual dyad, what Queer Privilege refers to as “telepathic sadomasochism”, registers a non-normative or queer subjectivity predicated on the notion that erotic investment in the other alters and empowers the self in ways that transgress categories of identity like gender, class, and sexuality. In Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Lifted Veil, this non-normative register of thought, erotics, and being is characterized as a superiority of power and access; in Henry James’ terms, telepathic sadomasochism is a “queer privilege”. Therefore, telepathic sadomasochism is positioned as a sense of empowerment in and through marginalization, a kind of ideal that supersedes the normative. Queer Privilege exploits telepathic sadomasochism as an intertextual site wherein three key Victorian authors hold a discussion regarding the ethics of a sexuality and subjectivity predicated on the eroticization of power and the queering of the self.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

D'Agostino, Anthony Michael, "Queer Privilege: Telepathy and Sadomasochism in the Nineteenth Century Novel" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10621344.