Mary Davys’s The Reform’d Coquet (1724) supplies two logics of social legitimacy. On its surface, it participates in familiar narrative conventions associated with masquerade fictions and marriage plots, subverting stable social norms and then resolving them through marriage. At a deeper level, it concerns itself with the epistemological presuppositions of legitimacy developed by political and philosophical discourses associated with the Enlightenment, especially in the social contract tradition. In this article, I argue for the centrality of Davys’s interest in the conceptual problems of legitimacy—problems that are only begged by the narrative closure of marriage and its implied restoration of gendered virtue. I demonstrate that the humanizing discourses of empiricism and rationalism are central to Davys’s construction of legitimacy, and I argue that Davys draws on such discourses in order to criticize and ironize the conventional resolution of narrative closure.


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pp. 263-285
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