Desire, Chastity and Rape in the Cavendish Familial Discourse

  • Marion Wynne-Davies
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


The three quotations that head this chapter represent the remarkable shift in the Cavendish discourse during a decade in which cataclysmic changes were to influence not only individual families, but the whole country. The impact of the English Civil War on communities has been traced exhaustively and numerous biographies have attested to the personal bravery or inadequacies of those involved in the combat. This chapter traces the ways in which a single family, with its own specific literary interests, engaged with these national transformations, developing new methods of constructing identity, and, in particular, female self-representation. The quotations from William Cavendish, Jane and Elizabeth Cavendish, and Margaret Cavendish, while representative of overall authorial approach, have been isolated here because they specifically address the way in which women’s sexual roles were constructed. In 1641 when William Cavendish wrote his play, The Country Captain, Charles I was already encountering political difficulties, but the play offers an assured sense of a stable order in which a maidservant, Dorothy, may wish that her master would have sexual intercourse with her, and must reassure herself that this would not be ‘rape’, just ‘fornication in her own defence’.


Lower Class Woman Writer Stock Type Stock Character Dramatic Work 
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Copyright information

© Marion Wynne-Davies 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marion Wynne-Davies
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of SurreyUK

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