- Interpreting Sexual Violence, 1600–1800 ed. Anne Greenfield
Anne Greenfield and the other contributors to this collection of essays are to be congratulated on the flair, energy, and originality with which they demonstrate the richness and complexity of their topic, and its relevance to surprisingly varied aspects of life and thought in the long eighteenth century. In the process, they deal with distinctions, and perilous elisions, between rape, ravishment, seduction, marriage (forced and voluntary), sodomy, wife-pandering, and the purely metaphorical violence inflicted on a girl’s pride and modesty when she falls in love. They draw on a wide range of material, from canonical literary texts such as Pamela, Clarissa, and Tom Jones to relatively unfamiliar works, including verse (much of it satirical), drama, familiar letters, and periodical essays; the interplay between visual art, classical literature, and early modern culture is also included in “The Horror of the Horns: Pan’s Attempted Rape of Syrinx in Early Eighteenth-Century Visual Art” by Melanie Cooper-Dobbin. Obviously, in a work which must be heavily based on textual rather than physical evidence, the emphasis lies not on interpreting sexual violence itself, but on reading allegations of sexual violence, as well as the various methods of portraying it in more creative forms of literature in the context of legal and cultural history. There are also some interesting studies on its use in drama as an example, or symbol, of tyranny and corruption. Jennifer L. Airey shows how resourcefully dramatists could apply this versatile material to the service of various political causes in “Staging Rape in the Age of Walpole: Sexual Violence and the Politics of Dramatic Adaptation in 1730s Britain.”
An extremely useful feature, particularly for specialists in disciplines other than law, is the attention paid to documents on legal matters. Extracts from trial records, always fascinating and often harrowing, feature prominently; the most original treatment is Misty Krueger’s “The Rhetoric of Rape: William Blake’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion as Eighteenth-Century Rape Trial,” which shows how the lamentations of the rape victim Oothoon correspond to “narratives of alleged rape victims in England: the real-life Daughters of Albion,” such that “we can even recognize our own presence in the readership of the text as filling the role of jury” (155). Relevant statute law, however, is sparse in this period. As Mary R. Block observes, in “‘For the Repressing of the Most Wicked and Felonious Rapes and Ravishments of Women’: Rape Law in England, 1660–1800,” the best way to overcome this handicap is [End Page 387] to consult legal treatises, which are “not laws but explanations of them”; they “reflected cultural sentiments about sex, violence, women and women’s natures and they merged those sentiments rather seamlessly into the law” (24). Other contributors also pursue this strategy. Consequently, this book will provide guidance on cases, both real and fictitious, which may have seemed almost as bewilderingly ambiguous to eighteenth-century readers as they do to scholars in the present day.
A mark of a successful collection is the frequency with which topics raised in one essay reverberate with others. For example, in “Researching Sexual Violence, 1660–1800: A Critical Analysis,” Julie Gammon observes that “the historiography of rape has yet to give serious consideration to the men accused of rape” (22). Yet the consideration devoted to men in this book suggests that help may be on the way. Anne Greenfield, in “The Titillation of Dramatic Rape, 1660–1720,” argues that dramatists of the period assumed that audiences would derive “erotic pleasure” from rape scenes because “the desire to rape” was seen, not as “a warped urge felt only by the perverse,” but “a natural impulse shared by most men” (62). Robin Runia, in “‘What do you Take me for?’: Rape and Virtue in The Female Quixote,” shows how Charlotte Lennox uses her heroine’s inability to distinguish between predators and protectors to highlight “the real danger of sexual violence against women” (107). Finally, Nichol Weizenbeck provides a brilliant reading...