‘That wonderful phænomenon’: female body hair and English literary tradition

Carolyn D. Williams

in The Last Taboo

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780719075001
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702567 | DOI:
‘That wonderful phænomenon’: female body hair and English literary tradition

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Writing on female body hair in English literature goes against the grain: everything below eyelash level has been subject to so much total or partial erasure that it would be easier to write on it behind, beneath, outside or even despite English literary tradition. The erasure is often redoubled in passages where, realistically speaking, depilation must have been involved: the removal of something whose existence has never been acknowledged cannot be mentioned without a breakdown in logic. This chapter first examines the erasure of female body hair in general from polite literature, followed by the special status of pubic hair, and the means by which writers seek to convey its presence without incurring charges of obscenity. There follows an analysis of more direct treatments of pubic hair, ranging from writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the modernists James Joyce (1882–1941) and D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930). Special mention is accorded to another project, the Arabian Nights.

Keywords: body hair; pubic hair; English literature; erasure; depilation; James Joyce; D. H. Lawrence; Arabian Nights

Chapter.  10594 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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