The Libertine and Sporting Male Culture in the Antebellum South: Threats from Within and Without

Katherine Thompson
UC San Diego

The libertine of nineteenth-century sensational fiction, repeatedly portrayed as a vile seducer, presented a brash disavowal of propriety. Often shown as seducing women sexually and men socially, the enticing nature of the libertine’s attitudes was shown as a pernicious force capable of corrupting the social body. The project contends that the libertine directly referenced a growing sub-cultural group in the antebellum period, sporting men. Sporting subculture was defined by excess; engaging in riotous drinking, sexual promiscuity—while rejecting marriage and civic responsibility— sporting subculture claimed in its print publications to embody the republican spirit of the developing nation. Sporting men and the libertine presented a haunting, and potentially enticing, vision of republican values and capitalist imperatives taken to their ‘natural’ ideological end, threatening the coherence of national ideals and values.