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  • Libertine Spaces and the Female Body in the Poetry of Rochester and Ned Ward
  • Mona Narain

Worthy Sir,
London, farewell, and all thy vain Delights,
That burry our Days, and Drown our Nights.
Adieu, Fair Miss, and all your tempting Airs,
With Freedom now I can disdain your Snares;
No study'd smile, or Kind inviting look,
Shall please my Eye, or draw me to your Hook;
Nor shall the Charms of beauty, join'd with Wine,
Rob me of Reason that is more Divine.
Truth I'll pursue, and rural Pleasures court.1

In Edward (Ned) Ward's poem "The Young Libertine's Answer to His Uncle," London, in the form of a consuming, coy mistress and ensnaring woman, is vividly described as the young female body that the poet must escape. The evocations of death by drowning in the poem and of the burial ground, which is the final space that consumes the human body, serve to further the metaphor of consumption in the text. It is space and place represented as woman, even the conflation of woman with place that enables the gazing, departing subject to define his own masculinist rationality and survival.2 In a sense, this place is unspeakable because it is described by corporeal gestures, not so much by names. The "study'd smile" and the "tempting Airs" that please the poet's eyes describe an experience of a world or original space that precedes thinking; hence its opaqueness to analysis. It is the linguistic act in the medium of the poem, the articulation of departure from the pathological city and the pathological woman, that enables the libertine to walk away toward truth and reason.

In this article I explore the active role played by geography in the configurations of sexuality and gendered subjectivity in selected late seventeenth-century poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and Edward Ward. I start with the basic premise that anxieties about newly emergent class and gender identities in this period are particularly visible in the spatial economies within the poems. Both Rochester's and Ward's poems encode sexuality, space, and meaning correlatively, [End Page 553] so that the spatial representation of the female body becomes a site of conflictual ideologies. Whether saliently or covertly, space is an active location where the performative dance of constructing, regulating, and rejecting whole or partial subjectivities is enacted in these poems. Specifically, the active locations for subject construction in the poems are the spaces of the city, fashionable suburban watering holes and spas, the aestheticized landscape of the English countryside and country fairs. Through an examination of the complex topographies of sites of conflicts, I propose that these spaces are particularized as heterotopic, abject and fertile, domestic, and, finally, as carnivalesque. I go on to demonstrate that spatial particularity is achieved via gendered embodied representations, wherein the fetishized female body is metaphorically and metonymically written as a dialectical substitute to describe the experience of space and subjectivity. Ultimately, these visual and textual forms define both subjectivity and space in the poems.

I. Embodiment and the Feminization of Space

Early modern positivist science saw the concepts of time and space as a duality and defined them in terms of binary oppositions. Time is the active force, representative of masculine energy that acts upon the human body, whereas space is the passive feminized receptacle, ready to be domesticated, constructed, and changed by human energy. However, some postmodern scholars have sought to destabilize such a reading of space. In particular, Henri Lefebvre's project of retheorizing modern spaces is also an attempt to demystify capitalist social spaces, such as the modern city and urban environments, by tracing their inner dynamics and generative moments, which, he suggests, are "in fact a process."3 Lefebvre does not see space as dead or inert, but organically alive and fluid, colliding with other spaces. In Lefebvre's vision each of these spaces has its own temporality that gets superimposed upon another. As such, each present space is "the outcome of a process with many aspects and contributing currents."4 Lefebvre describes a general European transition in the sixteenth century during which the impact of capitalism produced the...


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