Hudson, Benjamin Taylor
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This dissertation considers how a discourse of queer dilettantism developed in England over the second half of the nineteenth-century. Scholars of sexuality and gender have examined this period for its vibrant and shifting discourses of gender; however, they have overlooked the importance of amateurism to this discourse. This is most surprising because dilettantism is enshrined in Pater’s Preface, a text deeply involved in critical evaluations of masculinity in the 1870s, with a quote from Saint-Beuve that upholds “exquis amateurs” as a new ideal. Dilettantism, moreover, not only offers a rubric for understanding a fledgling discourse of sexual identity but also suggests how an appreciation of art was historically constructed as an essential aspect of it. With focused readings of central texts the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, The Renaissance, “The Critic as Artist,” and The Portrait of Mr. W.H., Exquisite Amateurs describes how these works propound an ethos of amateurism to unsteady both the orthodoxies of religion and the growing standards of professionalism, while carving a space to explore new sexual possibility. Finally, it recuperates amateurism as a valid intellectual project that has room to maneuver felicitously through the disciplines and identifies a new figure for historical inquiry—the “dilettante faggot”—who both troubles and supports constructivist accounts of homosexuality.