Consent, Coquetry, and Consequences
designed to familiarize you with paradigms, questions, and arguments in literary criticism or historiography. Also, your reading and review of the source article “Consent, Coquetry, and Consequences” should spur you to evaluate the novel reading of “The Coquette” by Hannah Webster Foster in light of critical arguments, historiography, theory, etc. While similar to reviews published in scholarly journals, your assignment does not require an evaluation of the work in light of existing scholarship (thus, you don’t have to read everything else published on the topic). However, you should emphasize how the work under review illuminates the primary texts and how it changes your interpretation.
• What is the main argument or thesis of the article?
• Summarize the work in a short paragraph, especially focusing on scope and support for the thesis/argument!
1) What is the methodology?
a) What kind of evidence does the article use? Especially, what kind of research does the article rely on? (Primary, archival research vs. derivative, secondary research?) How does the article use evidence?
b) How would you position the article in disciplinary terms? Does it follow a strict literary approach? Does it use interdisciplinary tools, e.g. by drawing from history, American studies, sociology, art history, anthropology, etc.?
c) How does the article connect internal, literary, and formal elements (of a primary source) and external, i.e. sociological, cultural, political, historical contexts?
• Do you agree or disagree with the articles argument and/or methodology?
• How does the article influence or change our reading of the novel “The Coquette”?
• What kind of an audience is the article addressed to? Is it effective in appealing to that audience?
• What should/would be the articles primary application or use? (scholars, undergrads, grad students, general public, etc.)
• What are the text’s limitations and drawbacks?
Paragraph 6 (Conclusion)
Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia 1730-1830. By Clare A. Lyons. Chapel Hill: Universityof North Carolina Press. 2006. 420 pp. $55.00.
Sex among the Rabble presents a historical account of gender and sexuality in Revolutionary Philadelphia through the lens of popular print culture, legal records, and various other governmental and popular sources. For those interested in early American literature, Lyons’ analysis is particularly helpful as a supplement to Cathy Davidson’s Revolution and the Word, as it extends and occasionally contradicts Davidson’s cultural analysis of the reader in America’s earliest days. Lyons’ sources range from William Hogarth’s visual depictions of the English lower classes to mid-century ditties about American married life. By compiling and explaining these documents in one extensive text, Lyons allows the reader to get a visceral sense of some of the generalizations and assertions Davidson brings forth in her work.
Considering the proliferation of seduction narratives in the mid to late 18th century, Lyons book becomes an essential tool in understanding the reasons for the popularity of this literature. Novels like The Coquette and Charlotte Temple address premarital pregnancy and condemn sexuality out of wedlock for women. Lyons’ research indicates the reasoning behind such didactic literature, but also challenges the assumption that premarital or nonmarital sexuality was condemned by the larger society. According to the chapter on “The Fruits of Nonmarital Unions”, a shocking 1 in 38 adults was the parent of a bastard child in Philadelphia between 1767 and 1776 (64). By this period, bastardy was not only common, but generally accepted as well. Lyons presents multiple sources such as almanacs, tall tales, erotic literature, and traveler’s accounts as well as legal documents dealing with child support to make her argument. Contrary to what we may assume based on the novels of Foster and Rowson, nonmarital sexuality was an option for both men and women, at least in the urban setting of Philadelphia.
Much like Davidson, Lyons relies heavily on literature and readership to make her arguments about social understandings of sex and gender. Lyons cites specific documents from the four lending libraries of pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia. These sources suggest that a whopping 40% of library patrons were women, most often young and unmarried. These libraries also opened the door to readers from lower classes to engage with popular and classical literature in ways traditionally reserved for the literate, ruling class. Lyons contributes to our understanding of a changing readership by citing four main reasons for a boost in access to print material in the 1760s- “Philadelphia’s four lending libraries, a dramatic increase in the importation of books after mid-century, the initiation of a successful reprint trade…and a rising literacy rate” (146). With her discussion of print culture in Philadelphia, Lyons not only expands our understanding of the early American novel’s emergence, but she also reasserts the importance of seduction fiction in our history. Lyons argues that young people most often gained sexual knowledge from reading classical texts and erotic novels (149), paving the way for didactic seduction fiction later in the 18th century.
As Lyons constructs the complicated and changing terrain of sexuality in Philadelphia, she reveals the gradual decline of sexual freedoms. Closer to the end of her book, Lyons begins to discuss the changeover from a relatively liberated sexual culture before and during the Revolutionary War, to the strictly monitored and defined sexuality of the 19th Century. Still within the framework of seduction fiction, Lyons discusses the changing understandings of women and nonmarital sexual expression through reform efforts of the early 1800s. After the huge success of The Coquette and Charlotte Temple, reformers and society at large began to see ways of vindicating “fallen women” and prostitutes from their sexual transgressions. According to Lyons, however, attempts to reform and accept career prostitutes did not last long. With her discussion of the Magdalen society and other reform groups in Philadelphia leading up to 1830, Lyons reveals the ways in which emerging class distinctions brought together the sexual freedom of the Revolutionary period and the restricted sexuality of 19th Century true womanhood. By allying prostitution with poverty, even though it remained the highest paying role for women in the city, the upper class was able to create an upper class “ideal” womanhood in contrast to a lower class “other”. Lyons argument effectively addresses the seemingly drastic change from 18th to 19th century heterosexuality in Philadelphia.
Overall Lyons’ book provides incredible insight into the readership of early American fiction, as well as the cultural backdrop informing that fiction. By bringing together such a multitude of sources, and presenting numerous excerpts and images to her readers, Lyons brings this time period to life. While students of literature may find the read challenging, the book functions as a great historical and cultural resource. Sex among the Rabble’s greatest strength comes through in the sheer shock value of some of Lyons’ findings. By painting a vivid portrait of sexuality in the revolutionary period, Lyons reasserts and challenges our understandings of sex, gender, and power in early America.
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