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  • Erotic Interiors in Joseph Addison’s Imagination
  • Kathleen Lubey (bio)

The interiors of the eighteenth-century mind housed a singular and celebrated faculty that endowed each subject with a self-contained capacity for excitement, appreciation, and pleasure: the imagination. The pleasures of the imagination, writes Joseph Addison, edify and diversify a subject’s autonomous capacity for delight because they allow him to “converse with a Picture, and find an agreeable Companion in a Statue. He meets with a secret Refreshment in a Description, and often feels a greater Satisfaction in the Prospect of Fields and Meadows, than another does in Possession. It gives him, indeed, a kind of Property in everything he sees, and makes the most rude uncultivated Parts of Nature administer to his Pleasures: So that he looks upon the World, as it were, in another Light, and discovers in it a Multitude of Charms, that conceal themselves from the generality of Mankind.”1 Addison’s famous lines describe the polite aesthetic stance of the Spectator’s presumably refined and self-conscious readers. The imagination, portable and ever available to the subject’s own use, accommodates an interior, “secret” life replete with beautiful spectacles, narrative engagement, and the satisfaction of virtual ownership, a “kind of Property” in all visible things. Addison envisions an infinitely renewable dynamic of pleasure between a man and his world, one in which the realms of rational discourse [End Page 415] are extended by his ability to generate “conversations” with the beautiful objects that traverse the boundary between his exteriors and his mind. In short, this scene describes an English gentleman whose imagination orders his body and mind, offering him the energy of internal action, the calm of bodily composure, and the pleasures of feeling as though he masters his surroundings.2

Eliza Haywood, like Addison, associates imaginative engagement with beauty, possession, language, and excitement. But all these features, when brought to the interiors of an enamoured mind, create fevered delusion rather than rational exchange in Haywood’s order of things. The sage narrator of Love in Excess finds in the unconscious dream-state the limits of the imagination’s capacity to remain polite: “Whatever dominion honour and virtue may have over our waking thoughts, ’tis certain that they fly from the closed eyes; our passions then exert their forceful power, and that which is most predominant in the soul, agitates the fancy, and brings even things impossible to pass. Desire, with watchful diligence repelled, returns with greater violence in unguarded sleep, and overthrows the vain efforts of the day.”3 This omniscient reflection swiftly gives way to a florid scene of a virgin’s brush with seduction. The dashing D’elmont has sneaked into Melliora’s bed chamber as she sleeps: “Imagination at this time was active [for Melliora], and brought the charming Count much nearer than indeed he was, and he, stooping to the bed, and gently laying his face close to her’s, (possibly designing no more than to steal a kiss from her, unperceived) that action, concurring at that instant, with her dream, made her throw her arm (still slumbering) about his neck, and in a soft and languishing voice, [End Page 416] cry out, ‘Oh D’elmont, cease, cease to charm, to such a height—Life cannot bear these raptures.—And then again, embracing him yet closer, —O! too, too lovely Count—extatick ruiner!’” Within a few lines, D’elmont has “tor[n] open his wastcoat, and joyned his panting breast to her’s,” and, not surprisingly, Melliora’s virtue comes close to being lost (116). A knock at the door—not the triumph of our virgin’s good sense—interrupts the amorous tumult. The shifts here among main sentence, parenthetical insight, and ecstatic confession render the real and dreamed events nearly indistinguishable for us as they are for Melliora. D’elmont is actually present near her bed, though Melliora’s inflamed imaginative state “brought [him] much nearer than he indeed was”; and her imagined “conversation” with him takes the form of actual spoken dialogue—which, while manifestly condemning his advances, is accompanied by her increasingly passionate embraces. As the syntax performs the convergence of Melliora’s secret desires...


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pp. 415-444
Launched on MUSE
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