Fashioning Adultery: Gender, Sex, and Civility in England, 1660-1740

Fashioning Adultery: Gender, Sex, and Civility in England, 1660-1740

Fashioning Adultery: Gender, Sex, and Civility in England, 1660-1740

Fashioning Adultery: Gender, Sex, and Civility in England, 1660-1740

Synopsis

A major survey of representations of adultery in later seventeenth and early eighteenth-century England brings together a wide variety of literary and legal sources, it charts and explains shifts in the understanding of marital infidelity. It examines, in particular, challenges to religious perceptions of sexual sin and the development of a more rational understanding of the causes and consequences of adultery.

Excerpt

In the summer of 1679 a pamphlet was printed in London relating the sordid life of a Dorset bricklayer named James Robinson. Despite being born of 'good Parents' and 'well Educated in consideration of such an Employ', Robinson developed from an early age a 'head-strong humour', which led him into the debauched company of 'leud and wicked women'. At length his parents persuaded him to marry a 'beautiful and civil Maiden', hoping that her virtuous entreaties and the duties of conjugal fidelity would 'wean him from his darling vice'. But Robinson was soon led astray 'by the Devil' and by 'the insnaring delusions of a wicked Harlot'. Together the 'Secret Caball contrived between himself, his Mistris and Infernal Friend' plotted the murder of his wife by breaking her neck. Disguising the killing in such a way as to make it look as though his wife had died accidentally by falling out of bed, Robinson 'passed free from Justice'. But his success was short lived. Debating with his 'Gang' of alehouse companions one evening the various merits of rival ways to silence a scolding wife's tongue and puther 'to eternal silence', 'his own tongue betrayed his life, for say she, Turn but a Scolding Wives Neck round, and her Continual Clapper will no more allarm you, tho' it be placed right again; and to secure yourselves from the suspicion of the people, you may give out that she Dyed of sudden Fits.' Suspicions soon followed that his wife might have met her death in this way and Robinson was arrested. Brought before the local Justice of the Peace, he strenuously protested his innocence, declaring that 'if he was guilty, Divine Vengeance might light upon him, and that he might Rott alive'. Once again loose talk was to cost him dear, 'for on a sudden all his limbs began to swell with exceeding pain, and to rot by degrees'. Such torments at length persuaded him to make a full confession and repent his life of sin. the account ended with a description of Robinson's execution on 5 August in the hope that his 'lamentable Example' would warn all 'desperate and wicked minded persons' against 'dy[e]ing their impious hands in . . .

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