The purpose of this book is to address two principal questions: 'Was the concept of masculinity a topic of debate for the Victorians?' and 'Why is Victorian literature full of images of male deviance when Victorian masculinity is defined by discipline?' In his introduction, Dowling defines Victorian masculinity in terms of discipline. He then addresses the central question of why an official ideal of manly discipline in the nineteenth century co-existed with a literature that is full of images of male deviance. In answering this question, he develops a notion of 'hegemonic deviance', whereby a dominant ideal of masculinity defines itself by what it is not. Dowling goes on to examine the fear of effeminacy facing Victorian literary men and the strategies used to combat these fears by the nineteenth-century male novelist. In later chapters, concentrating on Dickens and Thackeray, he examines how the male novelist is defined against multiple images of unmanliness. These chapters illustrate the investment made by men in constructing male 'others', those sources of difference that are constantly produced and then crushed from within gender divide. By analysing how Victorian literary texts both reveal and reconcile historical anxieties about the meaning of manliness, Dowling argues that masculinity is a complex construction rather than a natural given.