The author examines the pathological middle-class family of Victorian times: where absent but overbearing fathers ruled with an iron rod; where mothers presided over a stifling and repressed domestic life; where adolescent boys were sent away to authoritarian single-sex public schools which were a cross between a monastery and an army camp.
Small wonder that generations of dysfunctional men were produced, suffering from mother fixation, narcissism and many other varieties of sexual deviation. Many of these men left the motherland to act out their fantasies of domination in imperial adventures.
In an interesting mix of psychoanalytic insight and social history, Rutherford documents the lives of some of Britain’s heroes, villians and mother’s boys, including TE Lawrence, Enoch Powell and Rupert Brooke. Turning to contemporary culture, he argues that the popularity of stars such as Hugh Grant is evidence of the lingering of an attachment to the archetype of the perpetually adolescent, incoherent - yet attractive to some - upper middle-class man.
Jonathan Rutherford is co-editor of Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity (Lawrence & Wishart 1997). He lectures in cultural studies at Middlesex University.