In a new book published by Oxford University Press, Dr Laura Eastlake, Senior Lecturer in English at Edge Hill University, explores Victorian relationships with the ancient Roman world and what these relationships can tell us about Victorian masculinity.

Ancient Rome and Victorian Masculinity begins with a series of case studies of some of the 19th Century’s most prominent men styling themselves after Roman historical figures. From a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte as the Roman god Mars, to Oscar Wilde’s infamously bad haircut which was coiffed to look like one of Rome’s most notoriously bad emperors – Nero, this book begins by asking what ancient Rome could signify for Victorian masculinity.

Headshot of Oscar Wilde with cropped hairstyle that mimics Nero's.

The book goes on to look at how the Victorians used the ancient past to construct a range of masculine ideals across the century – from the man of letters to the imperialist and the dandy – and makes modern-day parallels for thinking about how gender is constructed today using the past.

Whenever any culture tells stories about the past – whether it be Shakespeare writing about Julius Caesar or Cleopatra, or Ridley Scott’s Gladiator looking back to Antonine Rome – those works often tell us more about the society that produced them than the ancient past they’re depicting. Writing about the past is usually a way of holding a mirror up to the present, and I wanted to find out what the Victorians were saying about themselves by writing about ancient Rome.

Dr Laura Eastlake

Dr Laura Eastlake’s research focuses primarily on constructions of masculinity and how Victorian writers respond to and redeploy texts and images from the ancient Greek and Roman worlds to construct gender ideals. She has published works on decadent masculinity and the Victorian city, imperial manhood, and Wilkie Collins’s historical Roman novel Antonina.

Ancient Rome and Victorian Masculinity