"Mans more obscene part": Feculent masculinities in eighteenth-century satire

Lauren Puccio-Scavuzzo, Fordham University


This dissertation shows how eighteenth-century satirical literature represented the sexual and excretory body in the context of contemporary sanitation, changing social mores, and more stringent censorship laws. Beginning in the early modern era, increasing standards of civility put pressure on men and women to conceal their body parts and functions. By the end of the Restoration, writers also struggled with greater expectations in decorum, as stronger law enforcement measures against obscene language influenced their use of language. Authors and editors excised direct descriptions of sexual organs and activities, for such representation presumably incited immoral behavior. Terms for excretory activities, accommodations, and ailments were also considered offensive, but not prurient. I argue that satirists used the diction of excretion to replace frank allusions to sexuality in the eighteenth century. The manner in which authors use excretory language to portray sexual bodies corresponded with societal expectations of gender. Poetry and prose depicted women who transgressed proper conventions of cleanliness and chastity through denigrating fecal imagery. In contrast, from the early modern era to the late seventeenth century, society condoned male sexual prowess and tolerated their more lax bodily evacuations; literature accordingly portrayed male body parts and fluids in positive sanitary terms. But as eighteenth-century civility increasingly shamed libertinism and supported the rise of polite gentlemen, the language describing reckless male sexual expenditures changed as well. Satirical works responded to rising expectations of male decorum, ridiculing deviant and aberrant masculine erotic activities as dirty and contaminating. By analyzing the poetry and prose of John Rochester and Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-1767), and Tobias Smollet's The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771), my work locates a new figure on the masculinity continuum: the "feculent father." This man violates normative sexual expectations, and his negligent waste of sexual fluid pollutes society in the form of sickly, unwanted children.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Puccio-Scavuzzo, Lauren, ""Mans more obscene part": Feculent masculinities in eighteenth-century satire" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3544406.