Holly Furneaux, “Charles Dickens's Families of Choice: Elective Affinities, Sibling Substitution, and Homoerotic Desire” (pp. 153–192)
This essay focuses upon one particularly rich strategy through which Charles Dickens and his contemporaries articulated the queer possibilities inherent within the putatively heterosexual family: in-lawing, in which prohibited desire for a member of the same-sex is quite transparently redirected or extended to an opposite-sex sibling. Such plots, which expose both female and male homoerotic motivations for courtship narratives, proliferate throughout Dickens's work. Focusing on Dickens's early career (The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit), the essay suggests that explorations of in-lawing reflect and contribute to wider contemporary literary and biographical discourses about how Victorian families could accommodate same-sex desire. Dickens leans on—and then proceeds to expose the homoerotic possibilities within—two central Victorian beliefs about siblinghood: the expectation that sisters will imitate and fulfill their brother's desires, even and especially in the selection of a husband; and the perception of sibling parity or interchangeability, which was strikingly demonstrated in the Deceased Wife's Sister controversy. Recognizing the pervasiveness of homoerotic in-lawing in nineteenth-century works and lives, this essay builds upon recent developments in queer theory and histories of sexuality to propose that heterosexual bonds were not the only, or indeed the primary, erotic determinant of family formation in this period.