April’s hottie of the month is William Beckford (1760-1844), the eighteenth-century novelist, critic, and politician.
This portrait is of the 21-year-old Beckford. It is an engraving by T. A. Dean after a portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Like Rochester and Sedley, Beckford is a true hottie and not just an opportunity for me to spout off about some aspect of eighteenth-century studies.
Beckford is probably best known for writing Vathek, published in 1786. Vathek is a rather bizarre “Arabian tale,” as its subtitle tells us, that depicts its protagonist’s quest for supernatural power. It’s a crazy little novel; I taught it last year in my graduate course. My students seemed to find it really interesting, and several of them wrote their final papers on it.
Beckford is also of interest to scholars because of his eccentricities, which apparently included queer sexual interests. George Haggerty, for example, has a chapter on Beckford, called “Beckford’s Pederasty,” in his book Men in Love: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Eighteenth Century. One of my graduate students last year couldn’t get beyond the title of this chapter to see what Haggerty was actually arguing. He seemed to think it was some sort of celebration of pedophilia, which isn’t at all what the chapter’s about.
I probably won’t be teaching Beckford again for quite some time. He’s not major enough to teach in my undergraduate courses, and the next time I teach a grad class on the late eighteenth century I will probably focus it on a different topic. While I don’t have a continuing professional interest in Beckford or his work at the moment, his portrait alone demonstrates why he’s this month’s hottie!