Public Beds in George Thompson’s Venus in Boston: Private spaces and Intimacy in the City

Chen F. Michaeli


Despite his relative contemporary anonymity, nineteenth-century American author George Thompson is regarded by scholars as a prolific antebellum author, a significant contributor to city-mysteries fiction genre and is often compared with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar A. Poe and Herman Melville. In his introduction to Thompson’s Venus in Boston, David S. Reynolds goes so far as claiming these authors “have been influenced by (his) novels” (Reynolds 2002, ix). However, unlike his peers, when describing the tension between public streets and domestic space, Thompson redefines and subverts concepts of performativity, sexuality and spectacle in the city.

His novella Venus in Boston, while sensational in nature, is considered pornographic and remains to this day his most studied work. Controversial and rather explicit, Thompson not only touches upon taboo subjects such as expressions of female sexuality, he is also, according to Reynolds, the first American novelist to openly address homosexuality, lesbianism and transvestism. In Venus in Boston, matters commonly preserved in the nineteenth century for the most intimate boudoirs (such as sexual tendencies) are brought forward to the public city space. Thompson’s city and its milieu are a display of theatricality, sexual perversions and extravaganza. However, once the theatricality of the exterior city invades the interior space, the boudoirs are no longer private but rather an extension of the streets, thus blatantly blurring society’s perceptions of space and social propriety.

Due to their controversial elements, his works have been overlooked by mainstream critics. This paper intends to outline and emphasize Thompson’s contribution to urban literature as well as provide a close analysis of his most infamous work. Drawing from scholars such as Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, Gaston Bachelard and Richard Sennet, the paper will also examine the role of the urban spectator, the urban gaze and the tension between personal and private spaces while addressing one’s sexual facade.

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Riferimenti bibliografici

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