I ran across the word "Stretherism" in Camille Paglia's 1991 essay "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf:"

A final word on the title: I find "Heroes and Their Pals" vaguely queasy-making because its coy academic whimsy is actually a cheap shot at masculine men. There are no heroes; all those jocks who shoved the bookworms aside on the way to the locker room are really getting it on with each other but don't know it. This is rampant Stretherism, the wimp-centered view of the world that blights so much of the new academic discourse on sex.

I can't seem to find any definition (and barely any usage) of the word from an internet search. I did run across the character of Lewis Lambert Strether in Henry James's 1903 novel "The Ambassadors," but the overviews of that book that I found didn't directly address a possible literary eponym.

Is anyone aware of a more "official" definition or usage of the word, especially one not dependent on the context of the quoted Paglia passage? Or is she essentially coining-the-term here, something along the lines of "incorrectly inferring hidden sexual overtones from innocuous or unrelated behavior?"

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's really a literature question, and interpretations of Henry James's work (as well as Camille Paglia's reference to it) can only be opinion-based.
    – Robusto
    Oct 14, 2018 at 20:26
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    Pretty clearly, "Stretherism" is a pseudo-ideology, tossed off by Paglia without any effort to provide a coherent catalog of its characteristics beyond its defining wimpcentricity. I don't know whether this literary fillip is typical of Pagliaism, but as a form of serious criticism it seems far more tendentious than substantive. I recommend enforcing a 5-second/5-minute rule in connection with such turns of phrase: if the author seems to have spent less than 5 seconds coming up with the phrase, you shouldn't devote more than 5 minutes to unearthing its deeper meaning.
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 14, 2018 at 20:44
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    Regarding the off-topic issue: I don't know that it actually is a literature question, though; that would imply knowing that "Stretherism" relates to the character of Lewis Lambert Strether, which is a possible answer to this question. I merely included it because it was the closest thing I could find, but can't even find verification that the term refers to that book.
    – WDO
    Oct 14, 2018 at 20:55
  • @Robusto I think Literature might well consider the same question as a language and usage matter. It's probably in the grey zone for both sites, so I recommend leaving it here, and if no worthwhile answers emerge within a couple of days, WDO can click the "flag" button and ask for moderator intervention to migrate the question to Lit.SE. Oct 14, 2018 at 22:50
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    I found this in Google Groups. Here I copy and paste. I do not attest to it being a true definition of Stretherism. Copy and paste - "Rampant Stretherism, that's what it is, this assumption that any intense relationship between male characters is sublimated or repressed homosexuality".
    – user22542
    Oct 15, 2018 at 16:50

1 Answer 1


After taking a look online, the only references to the word "Stretherism" appear to be those of Camille Paglia and there are only a few of them. I would have to conclude that she coined the term for lack of a better word.

There are several, often long winded, critical reviews or summaries of Henry James' "The Ambassadors" where Lewis Lambert Strether is the name of the main character. From what I gather, the character is a very reserved, stilted, and opinionate individual that would be considered sexually conservative at the very least. Any connections between this conservative perspective of the Strether character (sexual or otherwise) and the characteristics of "Stretherism" proposed by Paglia are unclear to me. I am unfamiliar with any detail of the works of either author.

Below are a couple of links that might summarize things briefly enough for you to be able to form your own conclusions about what can possibly be implied in the term "Stretherism".



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