Report on How to Keep Your (Georgian) Man, 17 Mar 2015

Fifty Shades of CRECSThere was an excellent turn out to this hotly awaited addition to the CRECS programme, which set out to explore the (fifty?) shades of grey that existed in eighteenth century attitudes to sex, gender and domesticity.

Participants gathered around the tables in Special Collections and Archives, upon which were scattered extracts from the texts for discussion. First, we heard from Melanie Bigold, introducing Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or Love in a Maze (1725). A radical rewrite of the typical ‘persecuted maiden’ tale, Haywood attributes sexual desire, cunning and power to her female protagonist. Our heroine, an upper-class lady from the provinces, newly arrived in London, decides to impersonate a prostitute, upon observing the relaxed, easy conversation they seem able to hold with men. In this guise, she successfully engages the rakish Beauplaisir in conversation, an encounter which ends in her rape. Melanie Bigold reading from Fantomina.Undefeated, yet concerned for her reputation, she creates a false identity, ‘Fantomina’, and continues to pursue Beauplaisir. He quickly tires of her, and in response to this inconstancy, Fantomina turns once more to her dressing up box. She dons a series of disguises in order to engineer multiple seductions of Beauplaisir, posing as different women. There is no mention of Fantomina’s hope or need for marriage; she is solely motivated by desire, and possibly the power-play and revenge implicit in routinely tricking Beauplaisir into sex. Participants took turns reading sections of Fantomina aloud, to fully immerse themselves in Haywood’s prose style. Continue reading

Next event—How to Keep Your (Georgian) Man, 17 Mar 2015

Our next CRECS event turns to the eternal question of sexuality, gender and domesticity (in the eighteenth century). Christian Grey may be the man of the moment (unfortunately), but the Georgians had their own—characteristic, shall we say?—view of romance and sex, which might raise a few eyebrows even today. The literature, drama and art of the eighteenth century offer myriad  views of sexual mores that are as complex and contradictory as our own, ranging from prudence to prurience, from respectability to rakishness.

Women, in particular, found themselves at the heart of a paradox. On the one hand, they were expected to comply with ideologies regarding the correct modes of female behaviour, which was always under scrutiny and strictly regulated. On the other hand, women were objects of unflinching male desire and transgressive passion: the controlling gaze of the father could transform into the illicit voyeurism of the lover. Continue reading