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Reviewed by:
  • Force or Fraud: British Seduction Stories and the Problem of Resistance, 1660–1760 by Toni Bowers
  • Mary Ann O’Donnell
Toni Bowers. Force or Fraud: British Seduction Stories and the Problem of Resistance, 1660–1760. Oxford: Oxford, 2011. Pp. xvi + 365. $110.

Force or Fraud is difficult to review because of its multilayered challenges to readers’ entrenched perceptions. The footnotes alone are an education in the literature of the long eighteenth century. It is the kind of book around which a symposium could be built to allow readers to ask the author for clarification, for defense, for additional observations—and to question each other’s responses. Argue as we would at such a symposium, argue with the author as we most certainly could, the only thing we might agree on is that this is a first-rate book.

This exploration of sexually charged fiction, starting with the Portuguese Letters and The Princess of Cleves, posits the concept that in heterosexual relations, forced acquiescence equates to rape and fraudulent acquiescence equates to seduction. The hidden presumption is that the power and the desire are all on the side of the male. Filmer exposed and extended this presumption when he maintained that Lucretia errs in not submitting to the lawful monarch, an issue that Ms. Bowers discusses well.

However, the sexual politics delineated in this text is complicated by Whig and Tory politics and whig and tory (deliberate lower cases) ideologies as they shape and reshape themselves from the last days of James II to the last days of George II. My first argument begins right here: responses to relationships between men and women were changing decade by decade; what were whig and tory sensibilities in 1688 were not the same as those of 1728 or 1758. What philosophies informed Behn’s Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister in terms of the secularized body and the body politic were not those that informed Richardson, as close as some parallels might come (but, of course, parallels never intersect). The notion of woman as subject to father, brother, spouse is already challenged openly by Behn, slyly by Astell, and slowly by the application of Lockean ideas of personhood to both slavery and marriage. Thus the two conflicting ideologies of self-ownership and of obedience to a higher authority (excluding the deity) come into powerful conflict and are played out over one hundred years in fiction that most readers enjoyed probably just for the titillation and the cliff-hanging of “will she, won’t she,” so well exploited in Richardson’s Pamela.

While Filmer’s Patriarcha was still resonating in terms of the rights of the patriarch, challenges had already been raised. [End Page 262] The author rightly cites the execution of Mervin Touchet, Lord Audeley, Earl of Castlehaven (and brother of Lady Eleanor Davies Douglas, herself of questionable sanity), for the rape of his own wife and her daughter, as a reversal (shocking to many at the time) of the ideal of total female submission. What must have shocked most is not only a wife’s right to conscience, but also the male’s loss of total power within the marriage. Few, however, have noted that while Charles II was enjoying his royal mistresses, Queen Catherine constructed her own household in support of her Catholic religion, creating a female-dominated household outside the law, despite occasional parliamentary restrictions.

The choice of Behn’s Love Letters as the opening major text for exploration does complicate for me the issue of simple force or simple fraud, since Silvia, her sister Mertilla, and Hermione choose their sexual adventures. Mertilla, modeled after Lady Mary Berkeley, wife of Ford, Lord Grey (Philander in the text), freely has an affair, well known in fiction and in reality, with Monmouth (Cesario in the text). Lady Henrietta Wentworth, the model for Hermione, is the long-standing and manipulative mistress of Monmouth. And Silvia, in reality Lady Henrietta Berkeley, sister to Mary and sister-in-law to Ford Grey, sets out to seduce four of the five principal male characters (she ignores Cesario) and proves subject to neither father nor husband. It is difficult then to map a tory...


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