Crime, Gender, and Sexuality in Criminal Prosecutions

By Louis A. Knafla | Go to book overview

Book Reviews

Jocelyn Catty, Writing Rape, Writing Women in Early Modern England: Unbridled Speech. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. vi 276 pp., index. $49.00

Crime and sexual offenses have been a popular topic of historical research and writing in Europe and North America. Dominated by scholars of criminology, history, law, and justice studies, it has taken on a life of its own. Largely unnoticed on the landscape of these professions has been the rise in women’s literature on the same subject since the mid-1990s. Utilizing legal records as representations of women’s contemporary attitudes in early modern Europe, Miranda Chaytor has provided a foundational work. 1 A number of new editions of original women’s writings on sexual offenses in the era has contributed to a rich outcrop of literary studies on the subject. Drawing upon some of the threads woven by Kathryn Gravdal for medieval France, 2 and utilizing new editions of contemporary writings for early modern England such as that of Diane Purkiss, 3 the author has produced a book that will be of significant interest to anyone working on the history of crime and sexual offenses in early modern Europe. 4

What is not here are criminal records and the criminal law. What is here is considerable evidence and insight into the crimes of murder, rape, ravishment, seduction, and suicide, and the contemporary problems of chastity, conduct, madness, resistance, voyeurism, and wantonness. In Part I, “Writing Rape,” Catty summarizes the meanings of rape in contemporary writing (chap. 1), rape in romance and prose fiction (chap. 2), Elizabethan poetry (chap. 3), and Renaissance drama (chap. 4). In Part II, “Writing Women,” she assesses women reading and writing rape (chap. 5), the translations of Lady Jane Lumley and Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke

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