Presenting Gender: Changing Sex in Early-Modern Culture

By Chris Mounsey | Go to book overview

Enigmatic Gender in Delarivier
Manley's New Atalantis

RUTH HERMAN

WHEN THE SECOND VOLUME OF DELARIVIER MANLEY'S THE NEW Atalantis1 appeared in October 1709, it caused a sensation. It was perhaps to be expected that a Tory roman à clef that made risqué suggestions about the intimate affairs of the Whig ministers and their families would have made a stir. However, it is not immediately apparent why this text created such a furore. As one modern critic has remarked, it was "no worse" than other contemporary satire.2 It was, rather, the arrest of the author that was remarkable.3 In this essay I shall examine the idea that the Whig ministry's alarm at this text was not at the salacious gossip overtly retailed in Manley's "memoirs," but in the way that she embedded within this hackneyed scandal hints of a Whig culture tainted with male homosexuality. I shall demonstrate how these hints, targeted at a minister open to such suggestions, gave her free reign to illustrate Whig "perversion" of accepted male and female roles. I shall also suggest that Manley's complex scandal strategy, whereby she invented, altered, and subsequently re-gendered stories, enabled her to attack a vulnerable Whig ministry while remaining just within the boundaries of libel, and it is only by addressing this aspect of the text that we can understand New Atalantis's full political significance.

Certainly the Earl of Sunderland, Secretary of State with responsibility for controlling sedition and libel, saw the text as dangerous. He wrote to his mother-in-law, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, "I believe Mr. Manwaring "sic" has given you an account of the Lady, I have in Custody for the New Atlantis "sic" & of the noble worthy Persons, she corresponds with, I "verso" shall spoil their writing, at least for some time for I promise them, I will push it, as far as I can by law."4

It is curious that Sunderland took so much notice of New Atalantis. He seems to have been unconcerned at the other defamatory material circulating at the time, and there is no mention of any similar texts in his correspondence to Sarah Churchill at this date.5 If we turn briefly

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