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3 Unwifely Speeches and the Authority of Husbands "May Wrath Divine then lay those Regions wast[e] Where no Man's * Faithful, nor a Woman chast[e]. " *The Author does not intend by this, any of the English Gentlemen Resident fin the Chesapeake]. " EBENEZER COOKE, The Maryland Muse (noB) AC CORDING T O P O PULAR print culture, the Chesapeake had a healthy population of sexually transgressive women. Daniel Defoe's five­ times married Moll Flanders ( I 722), a prostitute, bigamist, and pick­ pocket, was transported to Virginia for her crimes; and Aphra Behn's Widow Ranter (ca. r 69o) began life in the colony as an indentured ser­ vant, married a planter, inherited his fortune, and openly pursued men younger than herself. The verses of Ebenezer Cooke's The Maryland Muse ( r708) memorialized a variety of sexually dissolute women, in­ cluding "wives and widows" who were well pleased with the "tawny Thighs, " "bosom bare, " and "manly shoulders" of a local Maryland Indian. The Fortunate Transport (ca. I 741-42) relates the story of Polly Haycock, yet another indentured servant shipped to Virginia, who successfully employed her libidinous sexual prowess in an effort to marry up in the world. According to these representations, sexually aggressive women were easily found and, more important, generally tolerated in the early Chesapeake. 1 Official forbearance of certain types of sexual transgressions dif­ fered sharply from the portraits of these printed representations. Vir­ ginia's local church and legal officials rarely tolerated out-of-wedlock pregnancy or interracial liaisons between white women and men of color. Adultery, on the other hand, seemed to be well below the gaze of the colony's legal fraternity. Indeed, grand jurymen, churchwar­ dens, magistrates, and even watchful neighbors were largely unwill­ ing to meddle in matters of apparently consensual sexual relations 68 Brabbling Women between free white Virginians, married or not, as long as pregnancy did not result. This relative indulgence of extramarital sexual activ­ ity, however, was interrupted in the early I 69os in York County, when episodes of adultery riveted the attention of the local neighborhood and legal fraternity. Each episode was extraordinary in its own way: a servant sued his former master for adultery and won civil damages, a cuckolded husband claimed that his wife had attempted to strangle him, and a wronged wife imagined seducing her husband's married fe­ male lover. What pushed these particular sexual infractions into the legal arena when other similar incidents had apparently gone un­ heeded by the court for most of its existence? To a large extent, responsibility for propelling these episodes of adultery through the York courthouse door rested with two brabbling wives. This chapter explores how both women deployed considerable verbal invective and extraordinarily unruly speech, each in an effort to exert power in her marriage and, in the process, master her husband. On the surface, these women occupied antithetical positions. The out­ spoken Elizabeth Slate declared her right to take a lover and openly defied her husband's authority as well as the law. The contentious speech of Joanna Delony, on the other hand, aimed to vilify her hus­ band's lover and, at the same time, shame her husband into honoring their marriage. Yet despite these seemingly different positions, both women verbally resisted their conditions, refusing to passively accept their roles as subordinated wives. Slate and Delony were quintes­ sential disorderly women, active agents who, through ungoverned speech, asserted their autonomy and attempted to repress their ad­ versaries. Their ungoverned speech allowed them to assume powers that in theory and practice were supposed to belong to free Anglo-Virginian men. Because of this, both women explicitly-and with significant consequences-challenged fundamental assumptions about early modern Anglo-American gender roles and basic tenets of domestic pa­ triarchy. Elizabeth Slate claimed the power of mastery not simply by engaging in an adulterous affair but by verbally boasting that her hus­ band would not "controle" her. By early modern standards, wife adul­ tery in particular was accounted as a serious moral and legal breach; and Slate's words openly violated cultural values of wifely submission. In the process, they also shamed her husband, making him the an­ tithesis of husband and master. Joanna Delony even more explicitly laid claim to the power of a free man. She verbally fantasized about Unwifely Speeches and the Authority of Husbands cross-dressing: she spoke of impersonating a man, seducing her hus­ band's lover, and exposing the latter's infidelities...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780801469930
Related ISBN
9780801440526
MARC Record
OCLC
857065590
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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