‘Thou monarch of my Panting Soul’: Hobbesian Obligation and the Durability of Romance in Aphra Behn’s Love-Letters

  • Helen Thompson

Abstract

Aphra Behn’s novel Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1685–87) imagines the conditions of political obligation during Monmouth’s Rebellion, when James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, tried and failed to unseat his Catholic uncle, James II, after the death of Charles II in 1685. Because Love-Letters speaks to both the history of genre and to the history of social contract theory, I suggest in this essay that it must be read as a novel and as political philosophy at once. Behn’s text coordinates the possibility of narrative truth with the possibility of Tory loyalty by representing the partial breakdown of Thomas Hobbes’s vision of political consensus, a consensus Hobbes predicates upon the uniformity of the passion that moves every person to become a subject. Love-Letters’ representation of a political crisis that culminates in 1688 with the forced ‘abdication’ of James II links the failure of Hobbesian political theory, I will suggest, to the voice of the novel’s narrator; this narrator enters Love-Letters locally to determine when its actors might still incarnate passion’s truth.

Keywords

Assure Defend Heroine Concession Carol 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Janet Todd, Who is Silvia? What is She? Feminine Identity in Aphra Behn’s Love-Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister’, in Aphra Behn Studies, ed. Janet Todd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 203.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Donald R. Wehrs, ‘Eros, Ethics, Identity: Royalist Feminism and the Politics of Desire in Aphra Behn’s Love Letters’, Studies in English Literature, 32 (1992), 474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Beyond Incest: Gender and the Politics of Transgression in Aphra Behn’s Love-Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister’, in New Casebooks: Aphra Behn, ed. Janet Todd (London: Macmillan, 1999), p. 159.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. A. P. Martinich (Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 2002), p. 119.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen, ed. Richard Tuck and Michael Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 102;Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Carol Kay’s Political Constructions: Defoe, Richardon, … Sterne in Relation to Hobbes, Hume, … Burke (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988),Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Aphra Behn, Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, in The Works of Aphra Behn, ed. Janet Todd, 7 vols (Columbus Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1993), II, 88.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Janet Todd, ‘Love-Letters and Critical History’, in Aphra Behn (1640–1689): Identity, Alterity, Ambiguity, ed. Mary Ann O’Donnell, Bernard Dhuicq and Guyonne Leduc (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000), pp. 197–8.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Inversely, Silvia can read her own love-letters to defuse the guilt obviously transmitted by their contents. See Alison Conway’s The Protestant Cause and a Protestant Whore’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 25 (2001), 1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 16.
    Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel, 1600–1740 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), pp. 55, 63.Google Scholar

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© Helen Thompson 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen Thompson

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