Representation of Inversion: The Modern Alien in the Works of E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and Djuna Barnes

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Siler, Drew
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Middle Tennessee State University
Representations of Inversion: The Modern Alien in Works of E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and Djuna Barnes
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, sex became a topic of great interest for European scientists, and of special concern were those aspects considered taboo, such as fetishes and sadomasochism. One of the most controversial issues that came from this interest in sexuality was a focus on the study of sexual inversion, a term used by sexologists to define men and women who were attracted to members of their own sex. The ramifications of this scientific and sociological interest in homosexual attractions were felt in a burgeoning cultural awareness of sexual inverts, as literary texts from the time period reveal.
The literary portrayals of sexually inverted characters serve to highlight an alienated social position often thrust upon those whose sexualities were considered aberrant. Three modern novels--E.M. Forster's Maurice (1913), Virginia Woolf's The Waves (1931), and Djuna Barnes's Nightwood (1936)--include sexual inverts as protagonists, and these characters experience stifling isolation because of their sexual orientations, revealing that a narrative of isolation is integral to the experience of the invert in modernist fiction.
Alienation, Barnes, Forster, Inversion, Isolation, Woolf