‘A Scheme of Virtuous Politics’: Governing the Self in ‘Assaulted and Pursued Chastity’ (1656), The History of the Nun (1689), Love Intrigues (1713), and Love in Excess (1720)

  • Marea Mitchell
  • Dianne Osland


The term ‘amatory fiction’, or sometimes ‘the amatory novel’, is now loosely applied to a diverse range of texts written by women in the period from the mid-seventeenth century to the first few decades of the eighteenth century in which a heady mix of sentimental love and sexual intrigue is let loose in narratives that confront with a new explicitness the predicament of not simply the wooed but also the wooing woman. It is a term that, as David Oakleaf suggests, captures, albeit unintentionally, a certain ambivalence towards the nature of the narrative project in which these writers are engaged. It suggests, for example, that these works, while not synonymous with romance, at least bear a family resemblance — ‘romantic’ and ‘amatory’ both signifying to the modern reader that a love affair is at hand — though at the same time distancing the frankly sexual passion of these works from the fey otherworldliness associated with ‘romance’. For Oakleaf, the widespread use of the Latinate term can be explained by its ‘safely donnish’ dignity that still acknowledges a preoccupation with sexual love,1 though for others it is not dignified enough, the ‘amatory’ label trivializing narratives that allowed women, not simply to tell love stories, but also to ‘enter public discourse and, through narrative enactment and projection in fictional characters, publish their opinions on the most absorbing topics of the day: the intersections of religion and politics, the family and marriage, the nature of woman and female sexuality, the limits and abuse of authority, and the rights and obligations of monarchs’.2


Female Character Sexual Politics Feminine Ideal Virtuous Politics Sexual Passion 
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  1. 1.
    David Oakleaf, Introduction to Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess; or The Fatal Enquiry, 2nd edn (Peterborough: Broadview, 2000), p. 23.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Paula R. Backscheider and John J. Richetti, Introduction to Popular Fiction by Women 1660–1730: An Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. xv.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See, for example, Ros Ballaster, Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992)Google Scholar
  4. Toni Bowers, ‘Collusive Resistance: Sexual Agency and Partisan Politics in Love in Excess’, in The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood: Essays on Her Life and Work’, ed. Kirsten T. Saxton and Rebecca P. Bocchicchio (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000), 48–68Google Scholar
  5. Kathryn King, Jane Barker, Exile: A Literary Career 1675–1725 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000)Google Scholar
  6. and Deborah Burks, ‘Margaret Cavendish: Royalism and the Rhetoric of Ravenous and Beastly Desire’, In-between: Essays and Studies in Literary Criticism 9.1 & 2 (2000): 77–88.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    John Richetti, The English Novel in History 1700–1800 (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 20.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    Dorothy Osborne, Dorothy Osborne: Letters to William Temple, 1652–54, ed. Kenneth Parker (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), p. 182.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    Aphra Behn, The Fair Jilt, in Two Tales: The Royal Slave and The Fair Jilt (Cambridge: The Folio Society, 1953), p. 147.Google Scholar
  10. 30.
    Amanda Vickery, The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 82.Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters (1774; rpt. New York: Garland, 1974), pp. 80–1.Google Scholar

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© Marea Mitchell and Dianne Osland 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marea Mitchell
  • Dianne Osland

There are no affiliations available

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