Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Blocked of outlets, Romanticism turned more and more to fantasy: the Gothic horrors of the Castle of Otranto were succeeded by the echoing caverns of Xanadu. And since growing public Puritanism denied the frank expression of libidinal motifs, the imagery became more and more generalised and more and more allusively sexual. Nineteenth’s century poetry is full of waves beating on rocks: the alternatives are an infantile pretence that babies are found under gooseberry bushes or a retreat to the unpublishably pornographic. And since we have seen how, in periods of repression, the death instinct becomes excited by the repressed libido, it is not surprising to find a prolonged Romantic Decadence. The Movement which started-out with such noble hopes, terminates in the degraded attempt to gain an extra ‘frisson‘ from perversion. If the doctrine that one must feel powerful emotions was responsible for such incidents as Byron’s trying to wreck his wife’s peace of mind by insinuating that he was living incestuously with his sister, and the Princess Belgiojoso keeping the embalmed body of her lover, Gaetano Stelzi, in the cupboard, the doctrine that one must conceal them was responsible for the even more depressing flagellatory poetry of Swinburne and the appalling sadistic fancies of de Lautreamont. (192)

Nevertheless, to the Romantics belongs the fame of having placed the ideal of romantic love within marriage on a respectable footing. It was a major achievement.