While I post all the really serious stuff right here on the blog, there are quite a lot of things I don’t feel quite fit here but make for a good post on Facebook. If you don’t already, check Discourses of Suffering on Facebook for tidbits and fun stuff!
Mary Beth Rose, Gender and Heroism in Early Modern English Literature (University of Chicago Press, 2002), makes the important point that ‘the terms which constitute the heroics of endurance are precisely those terms used to construct the early modern idealization of women: patient suffering, mildness, humility, chastity, loyalty and obedience. Contending that the heroics of endurance ultimately takes precedence over the heroics of action, I am also claiming that, by the end of the seventeenth century, the terms in which heroism is constructed and performed as the endurance of suffering is predominantly gendered female’ (pp. xv-xvi). Her central conclusion is that ‘the powerful, dominant mode of literary heroism at the end of the seventeenth century is the endurance of suffering, represented in female terms’ (p. xxii).
This is closely related to the thesis of female gendering of the male politic subject which Melissa Sanchez develops so eloquently in Erotic Subjects (OUP, 2011), and which I build on in ‘Suffering and Gender’, the final part of Pain, Pleasure and Perversity, and anyone interested in the subject matter of those works should take a look at Rose’s book. She notes that, as opposed to the heroics of action, ‘the heroics of endurance often commends to our attention rape, self-mutation, solipsistic desire, slavery and unwanted death’ (p. xxii). She illustrates her thesis through an examination of (mostly) non-religious texts, ranging from plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson to the speeches of Queen Elizabeth and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. I could have wished for her to discuss the subject in relation to religious ideas about suffering, particularly the imitation of Christ’s suffering, which is, after all, the central paradigm of the period, but I nevertheless found plenty to interest and engage me.
There is a frustrating ambiguity to Jeremy R. Carrette, ‘Intense Exchange: Sadomasochism, Theology and the Politics of Late Capitalism’ (theotherjournal.com, An Intersection of Theology and Culture, April 2, 2006). To some extent this is deliberate; Carrette wants to ‘refuse the either/or mentality of Christian binary epistemology and to recognise that in complex worlds we can at times both simultaneously abuse and liberate in the same action’. Ultimately, though, he is working within the framework of logical discussion, which is rooted in either/or distinctions; if sadomasochism and Christianity are connected, then ‘either Christianity was distorted and needs correcting, or … power lies at the heart of all intimacies, or … God is at [the] heart of all affliction’. Since he poses these alternatives the reader has some right to expect him to choose among them, or synthesize them in some way, but this he refuses to do.
The conclusion of Carrette’s paper is a rallying call to action; ‘our pleasures are all we have to free ourselves from the modes of alienation so prevalent in our world’, and Christian communities have for so long read sexual exchange as the surplus commodities of transcendence, to be claimed in another world, it is now time to realize the redemption of our pleasures in this world and free our gendered bodies from the market of global exploitation.
In order to understand what kind of action Carrette is talking about we need a clear statement of whether, in his view, sadomasochism is part of the problem or part of the solution, but this is where he refuses to commit; he is prepared to go no further than saying that S&M ‘can be both oppressive and liberating’, which doesn’t really make it clear whether it is a help or a hindrance in redeeming pleasures or freeing gendered bodies from global exploitation.
Part of the problem lies in the subject matter itself and in the tools Carrette chooses to work with. A set of practices that codifies personal relationships so absolutely in terms of power may reasonably be assumed to have a political dimension, but in his exploration of the issues Carrette goes a step further and asserts that, in order to understand the role of S&M in relation to Christianity, it is necessary to understand ‘the political ideology behind its varied manifestations’. To say that S&M has a political dimension and to say that it has a political ideology are very different things, and if Carrette fails to find a coherent underlying political ideology it is probably because there isn’t one.
On the one hand, S&M is right wing and conservative, rooted in contractual power arrangements that mirror all that Carrette feels is wrong with modern capitalist society; ‘S&M subcultures take images [from] WW2 Germany and flourish in the market economy of the USA’ and maintain ‘the power structures of hegemonic patriarchal sexuality’. On the other hand, S&M has a subversive side, seen in ‘the surrealist films of Artaud’, ‘the avant-garde novels of Klossowski and Bataille’, in ‘its forms of political resistance in the gay leather scene’, and (although he downplays the significance of this) ‘in the subversive and sensual tactics of theologians and writers delighting in the connection between S&M and the history of Christianity’.
A set of practices that is at once conservative and subversive is necessarily resistant to binary classification, and to that extent Carrette has little option but to conclude that S&M ‘functions … as both a site of resistance [to] and compliance with global capitalism’. But this leaves him in something of a quandary.
Similarly irreconcilable opposites pervade Carrette’s discussion of ‘The obvious links between the history of Christianity and S&M’. On the one hand, ‘at some level religious suffering and S&M may constitute a parallel event’, but on the other, ‘we must be wary of the association made between the erotic and spiritual, which more often than not turns to a kind of New Age fluff’, and ‘there are huge epistemological quandaries in understanding the erotic experience of S&M as religious or theological’. At the same time as asserting, following Mark Jordan, The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism (University of Chicago, 2000), that ‘Christian theology can learn from the contemporary site of S&M practice’, and S&M is ‘powerfully illuminating to theology’, he makes it plain that he has little time for so-called Christian sadomasochists ‘bizarrely sanctioning S&M through the biblical texts on submission’. If there is, as he insists, stable ground on which a spiritual understanding of the world may learn from and build on sadomasochistic practices, where is it to be found?
Part of the reason why Carrette appears unable to resolve the paradoxes he so cogently describes may lie in his refusal to see S&M as anything other than ‘a recent discourse’, a ‘modern invention’, dating back no further than Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis (1886). I would query this on two counts. The first is that sadomasochism is both a discourse and a set of practices. The second is that it is much older, both as discourse and as a practice, than its codification in the nineteenth century. We know that, in the seventeenth century, there were ‘flogging cullies’ who achieved sexual arousal by being beaten, and Krafft-Ebing is building on earlier discourses, from Sacher-Masoch (1870) to Pico della Mirandola (1496). References to biting, scratching and slapping as ways of heightening sexual pleasure in the 2000-year-old Karma Sutra, and Jerome’s fourth-century tale (complete with erotic strangulation) of a Christian bound and aroused by a prostitute is just one of a number of texts suggesting that, while the term sadomasochism may date from the late nineteenth century, it defines something that has roots going back much further than that.
By denying or ignoring the historical (and, though it lies outside my scope, psychological) roots of sadomasochism Carrette allows no other context for it than that of late modern capitalist society. His insistence that it is a product of modern society forces the conclusion that it is susceptible to analysis only within the framework of that society. Would he apply this reasoning more generally, and insist that all discussion of sexual identities should begin with their taxonomy in the nineteenth century and be seen only in the context of late modern capitalism? This seems to me an unwarranted limitation of the subject matter, imposing a concomitant limitation on the kinds of enquiry that he considers legitimate, and leading to what, to me, feels like an unnecessary and rather unhelpful narrowness of interpretation.
Carrette’s other works – notably Religion and Culture, 1999, in which he critiques Foucault, and Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, 2004, coauthored with Richard King – make it clear that he is pursuing a radical agenda, seeing religion primarily as prostituted in the service of capitalism by the political right, and his paper needs to be seen in the context of his general approach. He disparages Christian apologists for sadomasochism (he does not mention the infamous ‘Christian Domestic Discipline’ and ‘spanking for Jesus’ directly, but this is clearly the kind of thing he has in mind), because, in Gordon’s words, S&M is a ‘commodification of bodies and selves’, isolating ‘sacrifice, self-sacrifice and expressions of humility’ from their true roles as ‘part of veneration and worship of God, the Spirit’ (Bridges: Metaphor for Psychic Processes, Karnac Books, 1993, p. 274) – in other words, at this level, S&M is a part of the hijacking of religion by capitalism. At the same time, ‘Even in its sub-cultural commercialisation S&M can still be a site/sight of politic resistance’.
The emergence of proto-pornographic discourse in the seventeenth century is inextricably bound up with anti-religious polemic, not necessarily from an atheistic perspective, but as an attack on the supposed hypocrisy of particular denominations; the puritan minister who flagellates his maid – ‘he told me he must chastise me for the good of my soul’ – in Francis Kirkman’s The Presbyterian Lash (London, 1661, sig. B2v), or the Catholic priest for whom a mother and daughter strip and prostrate themselves in front of the altar in order for him to whip them – ‘She herself removes her underclothes to [bare] her loins, and goes down on her knees before the altar. Do not spare my impure flesh, holy man, she says’ – in Nicolas Chorier’s Satyra Sotadica (s.l., c. 1660, p. 202; my translation from the Latin) are satirical creations, specifically designed to ridicule a hypocritical asceticism. In order for them to work, there has to be recognition of the phenomenon of inflicting and undergoing pain for sexual pleasure.
Equally, as Melissa Sanchez ably demonstrates, the seventeenth century abounds in texts which discursively feminize the male political subject, and, of course, hagiography and the Petrarchan sonnet ‘both see suffering, not joy, as evidence of true love’ (Erotic Subjects, Oxford, 2011, p. 5). We can go back several hundred years and find proto-sadomasochistic discourse being used, on the one hand, to subvert religious models and, on the other, to reinforce political ones, while, at the same time, the early modern flagellant who engages the services of a prostitute or maid to beat him into a state of sexual arousal (depicted a number of times in seventeenth-century prose and verse) is no more making a statement about religion or politics than his counterpart today.
Once one accepts that sadomasochistic practices and discourse both have a considerably longer pedigree than Carrette acknowledges, the need to separate the discursive functions of sadomasochism from the actual practices of the sadomasochist becomes much clearer. That, at least, is my take. Carrette’s might be different, but I feel his analysis could only be helped by a greater awareness of the genealogy of sadomasochistic practices and discourse.
In early modern literature, the powerful, dominating female is frequently depicted as a temptress, an agent of evil, enticing her victims to ruination, but torment and destruction can come at the hands of the virtuous as easily as at those of the wicked. A man loses his head to the righteous Judith just as surely as to the capricious Salome, and the chasteness of the virginal saint can mask a sexual coldness that is just as capable of cruelty as Jerome’s hot and lustful prostitute or Gracián’s cool and nonchalant Volusia.
The Life of the Blessed St. Agnes (London, 1677), attributed to Daniel Pratt, is the story of a child, ‘not yet fully arriv’d to the Thirteenth Year of her Age’ (p. 121) – though she consistently speaks and behaves as an adult – who has vowed to be a bride of Christ and hence rejects her earthly suitor. Although probably not actually a Catholic work, Pratt’s text has elements of catholicity in its style and content. Some clues to its cultural context are to be found in the dedicatory epistle to Robert Stafford of Bradfield, a noted beau (David Loggan, ‘Robertus Stafford, de Bradfield’, line engraving, 1676. National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG D29992, carries a Latin inscription eulogizing his beauty). Granger notes that ‘a gentleman of this name’ was mentioned by Sir William Musgrave as ‘a great friend of Col. Sackville and of Mr. Dryden’ (A Biographical History of England , London, 1824, p. 181), whom Pratt mentions in the epistle dedicatory. Although there is no evidence that Stafford was actually a Catholic, it is fairly safe to assume, given his friends and family background, that he had Jacobite leanings and, perhaps, Catholic sympathies, and these were, in all likelihood, shared by the author who so admired him.
In the epistle dedicatory Pratt bemoans the fact that Stafford has remained unmarried, and presents Agnes as
a Lady…whom not to Love; would not only be ignoble but impious, and I doubt not (if you shall do me the honour to peruse this life,) but that the noble Agnes will revenge all those fair Females; whose charms you have hitherto so stoutlie resisted. I do not therby intend to make the Chast Saint a Bawd to any impure Love … but only to animate you to the search of some Heroine …
This deconstructs in all sorts of uncomfortable ways. The main narrative interest of the story is that a young man, ‘the son of one Symphronius, the Governour of the Citie’, falls unrequitedly in love with the chaste Agnes and, in consequence, suffers terribly. Is this what Pratt wants for Stafford? Or, having lamented Stafford’s lack of a wife, does he want him to deflect a bride of Christ from her devout purpose and bed her? Is he urging him to find a woman (or girl) and idolize her? Or is the author, by drawing the parallel between Stafford’s resistance to the female sex and Agnes’ imperviousness to the male sex, merely indulging in a bit of bantering with a confirmed homosexual, knowing that he will just shrug it off?
Different – but equally perplexing – difficulties arise when Pratt attempts to invoke God’s grace on the final page, ‘that we may imitate the Holy Life and Constant Death of his Blessed Martyr Saint Agnes’. Should we be set alight and not burn? Or be beheaded? Should women coldly spurn their suitors, or contrive to be led naked to a brothel and, when their suitors follow them there, watch on while ‘the Devil by the Permission of the Almighty’ strangles them to death?
There is really very little performativity in Pratt’s text, either for Stafford or for the general reader. That in itself places it outside the tradition of Catholic hagiography and, at that level, Pratt’s book is a failure, but that is beside the point. What makes this narrative remarkable is the protagonist’s switches, from caring to cold-heartedness, from imperiousness to vulnerability, from child to woman – ‘the most beautiful Lady in Rome’ – and from woman to transcendent being, in ‘her Heavenly Vestment, and her surrounding Glory’.
These features form a disturbing subtext to the book’s overt purpose. In Pratt’s Life of St. Agnes religious sentiment is reduced – whether consciously on the author’s part or not – to a vehicle for a narrative of sustained but implicit eroticism. Even when Agnes is at her most vulnerable – ‘commanded…to be stript of all her Cloths, and then to be led Naked to the common Bordelli, and there to be exposed to the lust of all comers’ – modesty is preserved, ‘for [miraculously] her hair fell down so long, so thick, and shady, that not the least part of her Body could be seen’. Her domination over her suitor is equally chaste; despite inflicting such suffering on him that at one point he pines nearly to death, it is inconceivable that she would sully her hands by physically harming him and when he dies by strangulation she simply stands before him, as remote and unattainable as ever, andwatches on as he dies.
Most of these details are culled from various accounts of Agnes’s life; her martyrdom comes within a late classical hagiographical tradition of portraying the deaths of women (and girls) with ‘an almost unabashed eroticism’ (David Frankfurter, ‘Martyrology and the Prurient Gaze’, Journal of Early Christian Studies, 17.2, 2009, pp. 215-245; p. 225), but Pratt adds to his source material, investing Agnes with a systematically cruel capriciousness and a terrifying coldness. His narrative moves at a brisk pace, and he wastes little time in preamble before introducing his chaste protagonist. He prepares the stage for one who will triumph over ‘vain assaults of lust and cruelty’, young, but old beyond her years and ‘allready ripe for heaven’, and launches into an account of the first time her handsome suitor, ‘that might have enslaved any Soul but St. Agnes’s, unfortunately chanc’d to see her’, falling in love with the beautiful maiden at first sight. After ascertaining that she is of noble birth, he arranges, with ‘hopes and fears’ to meet her and declare his love, whereupon,
looking upon him with an eye that at once pitied and condemned his passion, she thus answer’d him.
… I think more Charitably of all Men, then to think any one can be so much mistaken … as to Love her, who may justly be contem’d of all the World … for that very Love’s sake, you say you have for me, forgo it utterly, banish it, and with it all the train of Jealousies, Fears, Hopes, and other Distractions, that will undoubtedly pursue it …
She then reveals that she has already promised herself to another – ‘my Soul is prepossess’d, and being engaged elsewhere cannot comply with your desires’ – but when the young man, having assured her that he will continue to love and adore and serve her, takes his disconsolate leave,
St. Agnes pitying his misfortunes … pul’d him back and sweetning all that Rigour she had put on not long before; Stay dear Sir, said she, And pardon me that seeming cruelty, which you think me guilty of … I esteem you, Sir; and will love you too, but as a Sister … my choice cannot, must not be alter’d; He must have my whole Affection, that’s only worthy of it … and you must no longer pretend to her, that will acknowledge no other Lord and Master, but him that Heaven hath already assing’d her.
The narrative thus far contains numerous switches, mainly hinging on the notion that the one who is beloved has power over the one who loves. The young man might enslave almost any woman with his looks, but he chooses instead to love Agnes, and so she comes to have power over him. When he, being rejected, is at his most crestfallen, she calls him back, supposedly out of pity, and begs pardon for her ‘seeming cruelty’, only to deliver the same cruel message – that she is betrothed to another, who alone is worthy of her affections – even more sternly than before. So far from being assaulted by ‘lust and cruelty’, she has been approached with love and responded with cruelty, for, of course her words provoke the ‘train of Jealousies’ of which she speaks, and the young man departs, ‘rowling in his Breast revenge on his unknown Rival’, while she ‘bestow’d a Shower of Tears on his Misfortunes, which though unwillingly, she was the cause of’, and for the next five pages reaffirms her pledges to Christ and soliloquizes in verse on the suffering she so unwillingly inflicts on her suitor.
‘Whilst the blessed Saint does thus entertain her Pious Soul, let us see how our passionate Gentleman spends his hours’. Locking himself in his room, he reflects,
I am doom’d to my misfortunes, by a person notwithstanding all her cruelty; so dear and agreeable to me, that even Death it self would not be unwelcome when it proceeded from her: I will however have some Companion in my unhappiness, and involve my envied Rival … in that Calamity, she hath damn’d me to.
Decrying Agnes as a ‘Base and Ungrateful Woman’ (he, too, switches frequently, alternately idolising her and despising – or attempting to despise – her), he sets out to discover the identity of his rival. At the same time, he ‘made her several Presents, and spoke to her very often too’, but his gifts do not move her; ‘She despised them all, and continually told him what Noble Presents her Spouse would make her’. After these visits, she ‘pour’d all her sorrows into the Bosome of her Blessed Saviour, for whose sake she was thus Cruel in appearance; She prai’d for her Loving Enemy; She pitied him’.
Whether or not the author intended it, it is hard not to perceive an irony in that expression, ‘entertain her pious soul’. How empowering it must be to hold the young man in thrall; how poignant that she has no choice but to torment him for the sake of her Lord. ‘In what strange labyrinths I am’, she exclaims, in one of her poetic soliloquies, and indeed this is strange entertainment – receiving an admirer only to spurn him, pitying him while she torments him – for one supposedly so devout.
When all the young man’s efforts to find his rival prove vain, he starts to think that there is no such rival, and entertains ‘some hopes, that only out of Design, and Artifice she had told him so, when really it was otherwise’. This prompts him to pay Agnes another visit. On receiving him, ‘she trembled, she changed her Colour, but still for the better, and her very amazement and surprisal, did very much increase her Beauty, and renderd her more Lovely in the eies of our Young Amorist, that alas was but too too Lovely to him before’. He puts it to her that there is no such rival as she pretends, but she assures him otherwise:
… did you know what sinceritie I always make use of you would not have doubted the truth of that, which I assur’d you of. Oh! Madam, answer’d the Lover hastely, why should you so soon … disbuse me of an oppinion so advantagious to my repose? I am not acquainted with those Arts, reply’d the Lady very sharply, that abuse Men into happiness. Know fond Man, thou hast a Rival; Know I Love him, and prefer him to all the World; and when thou know’st this, if thou wilt still pursue a fruitless passion, never expect anything from me but scorn and contempt.
Agnes has power over the young man because he loves her; he loves her for her beauty; her beauty increases as he enters her presence; he loves her all the more and her power over him grows greater still. No wonder she trembles; he would die for her – will die for her. It must be a very heady feeling. She speaks of ‘sinceritie’, but this (like her use of ‘charitie’ before) seems a strange word to describe the complex pattern of cruelty and sentimentality she has brought to their relationship – hurting him and then pitying him, allowing him to bring her gifts, then despising them, spurning him, but continuing to meet with him – and, for all her sincerity, while she will not ‘abuse’ him into happiness with a lie, neither will she disabuse him with the truth. Pratt may be making use of a Christian motif – she cannot tell him his ‘rival’ is Christ because she will be persecuted (though this is never stated directly, and she is happy enough to avow her faith and die for it later on in the story) – but there is very little Christian kindness or charity here.
The rest of the story – the intervention of the young man’s father, distraught at the sight of his son pining to the point of death out of unrequited love, the discovery of the identity of his ‘rival’, Agnes’s trial and martyrdom – is of less relevance, though one or two details stand out. The role-switching, as she is led naked to a brothel and the young man, his love turned to lust, is sent to defile her, is just one more twist in the power game that goes on between them. She trumps him one last time, watching on as ‘the Devil by the permission of the Almighty, strangled him’, on the one hand ‘extreamly troubled’, but on the other admiring the ‘infinite Power and Goodness’ of her Lord. Strangulation here signifies the feminization of the man by rendering him powerless and depriving him of a voice, and hence of an identity.
In response to the pleas of his distraught father, Agnes prays for his life to be restored and he is resurrected as a Christian. He regains his voice in order to proclaim his faith and then – apart from the author’s speculations about what may have become of him after Agnes’s death – disappears from the narrative. Theologically, all the young man’s suffering is justified because, in the end, his spirit is made whole. In terms of the narrative of domination that runs through the text, though, his resurrection as a Christian is Agnes’s final triumph over him. Agnes asserts her power by abdicating it – turning her slave over to her master – and the young man, seemingly bereft of individual will or personal identity, exists purely as a servant of her Lord. The homo-eroticism of such a reading is reinforced by references to the imperviousness of the dedicatee to the charms of women in the epistle dedicatory.
Agnes, meanwhile, her heart burning ‘with a noble ardor’, is ‘brought to the Stake’, but such is her pulchritude that she emerges unscathed from the flames and submits meekly to lay ‘her fair Neck on the Block’ on which she is beheaded. In this case, beheading does not represent the woman being ‘silenced, discredited, transformed into body’ (Marketta Laurila, ‘Decapitation, Castration and Creativity in Elena Garro’s Andamos Huyendo Lola’, in Michael J. Meyer, ed., Rodopi Perspectives on Modern Literature, 31, Literature and the Writer, 2004, pp. 19–41; p. 41. ); on the contrary, she is transformed into spirit, ascends into glory and reappears, in corporeal form, to speak words of comfort to her grieving parents. Rather, her beheading carries connotations of castration, to which, as a woman, she can submit unconcernedly. For the young man, however – who, resurrected, is presumably among the crowd witnessing her death – the spectacle of the woman who has emasculated him having her head chopped off is tantamount to his own castration.
The eroticism in Pratt’s text lies hidden beneath its pious surface, and it is debatable whether he actually set out to subvert the genre of saintly biography or whether he thought he was writing a devout piece of work and his unconscious found expression through his pen, but without his control. Of the two, the latter seems more likely, but there is perhaps a third possibility, somewhere between them. Where Burrus speaks of a ‘countererotics’ (The Sex Lives of Saints, p. 3) – an eroticism that culminates, not in an endorsement of the sexual energy it generates (as pornographic or lascivious narratives do), but in forcing the reader to confront moral and theological imperatives while in the grip of that energy – perhaps what Pratt is doing here could be described as a ‘counterromance’, in which the themes and conventions of romance are woven into the narrative only to be thwarted, not in the way that Romeo’s love for Juliet is thwarted, or Don Quixote’s for Dulcinea, but by imposing the exigencies of a higher love onto the framework of an earthly one.
If the narrative is perceived in this way, its erotic subtext is neither fully conscious nor fully unconscious, but seeps, as it were, through the cracks between the two genres (romance and hagiography). Agnes’s inflexible purpose subverts the young man’s romantic love, turning it first into a jealous desire to take revenge on his ‘rival’, then into agonising grief, and finally into lust – at the height of which he is strangled to death. Several times during this narrative Pratt stresses the youth’s misfortune in ever crossing Agnes’s path. While he may not be Catholic himself, the greater exuberance and uninhibitedness of the Catholic tradition clearly lends itself to this kind of expression, especially when the narrative is set in the pre-Reformation past, and the constraints of realism are relaxed; by telling a tale of long-ago events the author is able to give rein to the imagination in a way that presages the Gothic novel of the following century, and expresses underlying sexual tensions and anxieties in much the same way.
Adapted from Pain, Pleasure and Perversity: Discourses of Suffering in Seventeenth-Century England (2013), Chapter 8, ‘The Emergence of the Dominatrix’.
Linda Tirado, Night Cook, Essayist, Activist, This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense
Lots of pain here, not much pleasure, and a fine explanation of why decisions that may seem perverse or self-destructive make perfect sense to the people who make them.
Edward Topsell, The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes (London, 1607), says ‘0f the Tatvs, or Gvinean Beast’ that ‘The Merchants as I haue herd and Cittizens of London keepe of these with their garden wormes’, and in the following entry, ‘Of the Aiochtoctch’, ‘There are of these as I haue heard to be seen in Gardens of London, which are kept to destroy the Garden wormes’ (p. 706).
The illustration accompanying his ‘tatus’ is borrowed, he says, from Gesner’s Historiae Animalium (p. 705), and is fairly recognizably an armadillo:
Enquiring minds might be wondering why they didn’t want worms in their gardens. This would presumably be because they hadn’t had the benefit of Darwin’s observations about the value and crucial significance of worms in the history of the world (The Formation of Vegetable Mold Through the Action of Worms, 1881).
They might also be asking, if the tatus is an armadillo, what is the aiochtoctch (or aiotochth, as Topsell also spells it)?
It looks as if Topsell may have got his wires crossed and described the same beastie twice. George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), tells us in his Histoire Naturelle that ‘le tatou’, or armadillo, is known as ‘Aiotochli au Mexique, tatu ou tatupeba au Bresil, chirquinchum à la Nouvelle Espagne’ (1799 edition, volume 3, p. 188). He would also appear to have miscatalogued it, since he includes it in the sections which treats ‘Of Animals Common to Both Continents’ (i.e., the Old World and the New).
I can’t find any other accounts of armadillos in early modern England, but it’s a fascinating thought. Not having access to a proper research library right now, I don’t have access to Egmond, F. and P. Mason (1994), ‘Armadillo in Unlikely Places. Some Unpublished Sixteenth-Century Sources for New World Rezeptionsgeschichte in Northern Europe’, Ibero-Amerikanischens Archive 20: 3-52, but it’s a wonderful title, and sounds like just the thing for the whacky enquirer who wants to find out more!
Maybe armadillos turned up in all sorts of odd spots in those days. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, or even given them much thought until a tweet by Conversion Narratives caused me to drop whatever pointless task I was engaged in and turn my attention to this pivotal issue:
Question: Topsell says armadillos and duck-billed platypi both kept to eat worms in C16th/17th London gardens. Any (other) evidence of this? ConversionNarratives (@conversiontales) November 8, 2013
UPDATE June 2020: The tweet appears to have disappeared (if that makes sense!)
Here is a useful little paper on early modern perceptions of the passions of Christ, originally published in Sabrina Ebbersmeyer, Emotional Minds: The Passions and the Limits of Pure Inquiry in Early Modern Philosophy (Walter de Gruyter, 2012), pp. 179-206:
There’s some interesting detail on Victoria Buckley’s blog about the calamitous events of November 5th, 1623, when nearly a hundred Catholics were killed after the floor gave way in a garret where between two and three hundred had assembled to hear a sermon:
Crowds quickly assembled, many to assist in the rescue of survivors, others merely to taunt the unfortunate Catholic victims…
UPDATE June 2020: It seems this blog has disappeared…
Far from originating in the Jamaican ska scene of the 1960s, rude boys (and girls) were flourishing in the seventeenth century, gaining particular note for their attacks on Quakers, to the extent that George Foxe recommended ‘that some Friends be appointed at every Meeting to keep the Doors, to keep down rude Boys and unruly Spirits; that so the Meetings may be kept Civil and Quiet’ (George Foxe, A Collection of many Select and Christian Epistles, London, 1698, volume 2, part 1, p. 276).
This is not just a chance one-off coupling of the two words; rude boys ‘were a recognizable group’ (John Miller, ‘”A Suffering People”: English Quakers and Their Neighbours c.1650-c.1700’, Past & Present, 188, 2005, pp. 71-103; p. 98. Miller’s paper, which also gives references for ‘rude girls’, and rude people generally, can be downloaded here), and the expression occurs in more than two dozen early modern texts.
Miller focuses on the use of this expression in Quaker contexts; ‘rude boys’, he says,
maltreated a small group of Quakers, most of them
women. They pelted them with missiles, beat them, dragged
them through the mire and forced dirt into their mouths. One
old woman nearly died.These youths showed a taste for
sadistic violence… (Miller, p. 97.)
Apparently, the rude boys were encouraged to perform these acts of violence by the constables and even by the clergy. At Hull in 1661–2 the governor ordered that some Quakers who had been arrested should be handed over to the “rude boys”‘, and ‘In Truro in 1670 a
constable “set on the rude boys” to pelt an old woman with
stones and dirt’ (Miller, 98; Miller’s source for these snippets is
Joseph Besse, A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers 2 volumes, London, 1753).
Miller notes that there were also sympathizers, particularly towards the end of the century, who helped to pick up the pieces and even sheltered Quakers against attacks of this kind. He also explores the fascinating line between the Quaker assertion that suffering was ‘easy, sweet and pleasant unto their souls’ (p. 76, citing the Great Book of Sufferings, Friends’ House Library, London, 1650-1790, 6/2, p. 436) and the active seeking out of suffering. The records of the Meeting for Sufferings, a weekly meeting held by Quakers in London from 1676 on,
depicted Friends as having no option but to act as they did. The light within them, Christ Himself, commanded them to meet at specific times and places, to ignore interruptions and to continue the meeting until the spirit told them that it was time to bring it to an end. By contrast, those who attacked them and disrupted their meetings did so out of choice — and out of the wickedness to which the ‘people of the world’ were all too inclined. (P. 74.)
As Miller shows, the behaviour which the early Quakers felt constrained by their God to engage in included disrupting church services, denouncing the ministers as ‘false teachers’ and the congregations as living ‘in envy and malice’, reproving people in the street for profaneness, and going naked (p. 75).
In addition to Miller’s piece, there’s a fairly good account of early Quakers here.
This is wonderful!
This has only just come out, and I have not yet read it, but it looks as if it may turn out to be a significant contribution to early modern gender studies. Since a large part of my own work hinges on the relationship between gender and suffering I am hoping for some useful insights here!
Click here for a detailed programme of events. Please don’t contact me in connection with this event, since I am neither organizing it nor taking part in it! I am simply passing on the information. If anyone does attend it and would like to pass on some feedback to me, that would be very welcome!
UPDATE: Although I was unable to attend the conference, I was delighted to be invited to be invited to contribute to the publication that grew out of it.
Watch out for Robert Boddice, ed., academia.edu. Mostly focuses on more recent history, but there is at least one paper on the early modern period., (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014). The contents page can be viewed on
The Text Creation Partnership is a text-searchable database developed from the Early English Books Online database, making it possible for the first time to get a fairly accurate idea of the frequency and distribution of lexical items and expressions. I make extensive use of this database in my own work. For example, there is an entire section on the satirical use of the expression “pleasant spectacle” to describe a scene of suffering or atrocity; before TCP putting together a set of collocations like this would have taken years, and I would not have been able to write the book in its present form without access to this database.
I came hoping to learn a bit more about the technical side of the interpretation of statistics. For example, if there is an increase in the occurrence of a particular usage during the last twenty years of the seventeenth century, how should we allow for the increase in the number of publications during this period? To make it more complicated, suppose the occurrences mainly occur in a particular genre (such as devotional literature). To evaluate the significance of these occurrences we would need to know whether publications within that particular genre have increased or not.
EEBO TCP makes possible the analysis of patterns across a range of text. The challenge is, how to draw valid inferences from the range of information the TCP makes available.
Rather than developing from native English discourses, the association of Catholicism with sexual flagellation in late seventeenth-century England is mainly a product of the same southern/Latin/Catholic culture that produced the lives of the saints. Most of the same ingredients as are to be found in English writings – political and/or religious polemic, increasingly frank accounts of various permutations of sexual flagellation – can be seen in these foreign works, but there are also significant differences, the most notable being that, where the English accounts are mostly bawdy (that is, they poke fun at licentious behaviour, and the main response they aim to provoke is ribald laughter), the imported narratives are more clearly erotic.
The first such work, Chorier’s Satyra Sotadica, appeared in or around 1660. Turner considers this work so seminal that ‘Modern sexuality could be understood as a footnote to Chorier’, and tells us that – despite being available only in Latin (Sarah Toulalan, Imagining Sex:
Pornography and Bodies in Seventeenth-Century England, Oxford, 2007, p. 7, notes that an English version ‘was available by c. 1684’, but no copies appear to be extant) – by 1680, it ‘had penetrated so far into English society that schoolboys were reading it in a London dissenting academy’ (James Grantham Turner, Schooling Sex: Libertine Literature and Erotic Education in Italy, France and England, 1534–1685, Oxford, 2003, pp. 167 and 165). Like other works in the whore dialogue tradition, the discourse is between a more experienced older woman (Tullia) and a younger one (her maid, the fifteen-year-old Octavia), the former instructing the latter mainly in the pleasures of lesbianism but also – and this is one of the features that make Chorier’s text stand out – in the supposed delights of whipping and being whipped.
While Octavia’s main initiation is into lesbian love, the book takes in a variety of encounters in a generous embrace, and on several occasions their conversation strays into observations about the nature of pain, the first being Octavia’s comment that ‘incentivum factus est dolor pruriginosæ libidini’ (‘pain becomes an incentive to lascivious desires’), to which Tullia replies, ‘voluptatis confinium est dolor, ita & doloris voluptas’ (pain is at the edge of pleasure, and pleasure [at the edge] of pain’). Octavia then launches into a detailed account of herself and her mother Sempronia being whipped before the altar by the priest, Theodorus:
Well, says Theodorus, we will soon see which [of you] has the more valiant heart. Prepare yourself, Sempronia. Lend me your help, daughter, my mother says, that I may swiftly acquit myself of this pious duty. I take off her undergarment, her dress and her gown. She herself removes her underclothes to [bare] her loins, and goes down on her knees before the altar. Do not spare my impure flesh, holy man, she says …
(Nicolas Chorier, Aloisiæ Sigææ Toletanæ Satyra
Sotadica de Arcanis Amoris & Veneris [A scurrilous satire of the secret love and sex life of Luisa Sigea of Toledo], circa 1660; edition used, Amsterdam, 1678, pp. 200 and 202. The attribution to Luisa Sigea is false. My translation.)
The narrative continues in the same vein, leaving very little to the imagination, as both mother and daughter are whipped, to the satisfaction of the priest and themselves.
Chorier’s detailed and explicit sadomasochistic narrative breaks new ground in anti-Catholic discourse. A 1665 translation of Pierre du Moulin’s Le Capucin (Sedan, 1641) attacks Catholic penances from every possible angle, except from that of being a form of sexual perversion. Moulin mocks absurd penances, such as being forced to ‘eat with a Cat in the same dish’, ‘go about on all four like a beast’, or ‘lick up the others spittle’; he describes in detail the ‘pleasant exercise’ of whipping and the blood flowing from the wounds, concluding, ‘This whipping is a just action, for these Fathers deserve it well’. He notes that the Syrians and other ancient peoples carried self-mutilation to far greater lengths, that there is a kind of inverted arrogance in making a big show of how much one despises oneself, and that the early followers of Christ were known for their virtue and charity, not for their penances, saying,‘It is a grand abuse to make Piety consist in things wherein Christians may be excelled by Heathens. There is a proud humility, which despiseth it self, that it may be valued by others. The Apostles, and their Disciples, did not live so’ (Pierre du Moulin, The Capucin Treated, or The Lives of the Capucins with the Life of S. Francis their Patron, trans. from the French by ‘Philinax Orthodoxus’, London, 1665, pp. 21, 22, 43, 17, 18 and 40). Chorier completely bypasses such objections by describing
Sempronia and Octavia’s flagellation as sexually stimulating.
There is nothing in English discourse that approaches Chorier’s use of the whore dialogue to undermine the premises of Catholic penance; Butler’s condemnation of the ‘foul abomination’of mortifying oneself with ‘shameful, / and heathen Stripes’ (Samuel Butler, Hudibras. The Second Part, London, 1664, p. 72; 2.2., ll. 89–98), for example, while discursively similar, is far less explicit and condensed almost to the point of being epigrammatic. Chorier’s uninhibited and expansive narrative is distinctively southern, matched only by Jean Barrin [?], Venus in the Cloister, or The Nun in her Smock, London, 1683, which is so closely related to Chorier’s work that it contains a plagiarised (or at least closely adapted) version of the flagellation passage cited above.
Barrin’s work – translated into English in the same year as its
appearance in French – set as it is in a convent, and taking the form of a dialogue between two nuns, subverts Catholic discourse even more explicitly than Satyra Sotadica. The narrative begins as a more experienced nun, Sister Angelica, surprises the novice Agnes
practising ‘The Extatical Intromission’ (i.e., masturbating) and introduces her to the pleasures of the flesh. ‘Hold a little my Pretty Heart’, she exclaims, ‘I am all of a Flame, these Carresses have brought me into a Panting Condition’. She soon begins to show intense interest in what Agnes describes as ‘a severe Discipline, which I but yesterday inflicted upon it [i.e., her body] by order of my Confessour’. Examining – and kissing – the marks of the lash on Agnes’s buttocks, Angelica remarks, ‘you must be very devout at the Mystery of Flagellation, since you scourge your Buttocks at this rate’, and admits that ‘but yesterday I whipt one rather for my own satisfaction, than for any fault she had committed; I took great delight in contemplating her, she is very pretty, and is already thirteen years of age’ (Barrin, pp. 9, 11, 28, 30 and 33).
Interspersed with Angelica’s unabashed prurience are passages – such as this description of the dilemma of a nun named Dorothea –
which could come from a genuine devotional work:
… one day that she found her self more moved than usual … she had recourse to her Saint; represented to him with tears in her eyes, her face upon the floor, and her heart lifted up towards Heaven, the extreame danger she found her self in; related to him with a wonderful candour and simplicity, to how little purpose she had defended her self, and used all her efforts to repress the violent transports she was seized with.
Like the saints of Catholic hagiography, Dorothea sets out to subdue her fleshly appetites by chastising herself – although, unlike them, she does so naked before her spiritual advisor, who watches on unmoved – but ‘these sorts of exercises were so far from extinguishing the flames wherewith she was consumed, that on the contrary they had more and more augmented them, and had reduced that poor creature into such a condition, that she was hardly any longer able to bear with it’. She makes a final attempt to whip her flesh into submission, and then falls into an ‘amorous trance’, powerless to resist ‘the Laws of meer Nature’. Agnes, by now fully converted to her mentor’s predilections, declares that she would have ‘taken delight … to view her thus all naked, and to observe curiously all the transports, that Love would have caused in her at the moment she was overcome’ (ibid., pp. 141–2, 145 and 146).
It is not clear whether the author of this work intended it primarily as anti-Catholic lampoon or as pornography. In the wave of anti-Catholic hysteria which culminated in the Popish Plot it was accepted for its subversion of Catholic attitudes towards penance and mortification of the flesh, and was probably associated with anti-Catholic works of the period, whereas Robert Samber’s translation of 1724 – together with the 1718 edition of Meibom’s work in English – led to Edmund Curll, the printer, being convicted on a charge of publishing obscene literature. Up until the Restoration period, however, it appears that, while the Latinate may have been familiar with treatises such as those of Pico, Gretser and Meibom, and the debauched with the institution of the flogging school, the idea that beating might be a means of achieving sexual satisfaction was not widespread; it was certainly not widely disseminated in print, and even when printed reference to it was made it was not particularly associated with Catholicism, a link which seems not to have been established firmly in the popular imagination until Chorier and Barrin’s works appeared in English in the 1680s.
Once the link was made, English anti-Catholic polemic, rather than emulating the discourse patterns of the whore dialogue, tended simply to associate Catholic mortification of the flesh with the practices of the flogging cully. One anonymous controversialist, for example, writes of the Catholics that ‘their Whips for the Devil are no more to be valued than the Rods that excite the decayed Venery of old Lechers in common Brothel-houses’ (A Whip for the Devil; or The Roman Conjurer, London, 1683, p. 140), and John Oldham equates the Catholic penitent with the reprobate emerging from a whipping at a brothel:
In came a ghastly Shape, all pale, and thin,
Assome poor Sinner, who by Priest had been
Undera long Lent’s Penance, starv’d, and whip’d,
Or par-boil’d Lecher, late from Hot-house crept …
(John Oldham, Poems, and Translations by the Author of the Satyrs upon the Jesuits, London, 1683, p. 164)
The old arguments continue to be aired; Stillingfleet, for example, contrasts those who think ‘no sight more pleasing to God than to see men lash and whip themselves for their sins’ with those who believe ‘he is as well pleased at least, with hearty repentance, and sincere obedience without this’ (Edward Stillingfleet, A Discourse Concerning the Idolatry Practised in the Church of Rome and the Danger of Salvation in the Communion of it, London, 1671, p. 217), William Sherlock argues that the ‘External and Ceremonial Righteousness’ of Catholic penances is merely a compensation for ‘true and real Holiness of Life’ (William Sherlock, A Preservative against Popery being some
Plain Directions to Unlearned Protestants, how to Dispute with Romish Priests, London, 1688, p. 46) and, notably, Drelincourt’s Popish Errors says almost nothing about penances and mortifications. At the same time, though, a more explicit and uninhibited note begins to creep in. While du Moulin, for example, in the earlier part of the century, is as scathing as he can be in his descriptions of the penances of Francis of Assissi and the Capuchins, there is frequently virtually no
difference between his discourse and the Catholic discourse he attacks. His account of Francis – ‘Finding that his carnal concupiscence continued, he ran to his garden, and gathering a great heap of snow, he plunged himself in it over head and ears, stark naked’ (Pierre du Moulin, The Capucin Treated, London, 1665, p. 59) – differs from a Catholic account only in that he expects his readers to disapprove. By contrast, Brown, writing at the end of the century, writes, with a dry, economic irony that renders commentary unnecessary, that during the first millennium of Christianity, ‘the sanctifying Miracles of Whip cord were not so Universally acknowledged then as afterwards, nor St. Francis’s receipt for an erection by running into a heap of Snow so generally made use of’ (Thomas Brown, The Late Converts Exposed, London, 1690, p. 14). The whore dialogue was not directly emulated in English attacks on Catholicism during this period, but it nevertheless disrupted the stylistic norms of polemical writing. Brown’s work may not be set in Mediterranean gardens or within the adobe walls of a southern European convent, but it does have a setting – the urbane world of a London coffee house – and his work exemplifies a new frankness that uses sexuality to undercut and obviate logical argument. Jacques Boileau’s Historia Flagellantium (Paris, 1700) effectively decided the debate on self-flagellation in the Catholics’ disfavour, but by then the whore dialogue had already done its work, associating Catholic practices in general – and self-flagellation in particular – with the promotion of the very vices they were supposed to cure.
Adapted from Pain, Pleasure and Perversity: Discourses of Suffering in Seventeenth-Century England (Ashgate [now Routledge], 2013), Part 1, “The Suffering of Others”, Chapter 3, “Polemic, Pornography and Romanticism: the Subversion of Catholic Asceticism”.
If matrimony and hanging go
By dest’ny, why not whipping too?
(Samuel Butler, Hudibras. The Second Part, London, 1664), p. 60; 2.1, ll. 839–40).
‘Marriages’, Lyly says, ‘are made in heauen, though consumated in earth’ (John Lyly, Euphues and his England, London, 1580, p. 129), and Eliot renders the French proverb, ‘Qui doibt pendre ne sera iamais noyé’, as ‘he thats borne to be hangd, shall neuer be drownde’ (John Eliot, Ortho-epia Gallica. Eliots Fruits for the French, London, 1593, pp. 126 and127). But what makes Butler add whipping to the list of things which are decided by fate rather than by choice? Laertius’ tale of Zeno and his slave (retold here by Gataker) doubtless plays a part; ‘as the knave told the stoik his Master, when he whipt him for filching, it was my destiny to filch; or, as his Master answered the knave again, and it is thy destiny to be whipt’ (Thomas Gataker, His Vindication of the Annotations by him, London, 1653, p. 106; the original story is in Diogenis Lærtii Vitæ Philosophorum, 7.23). Puritanism and judicial astrology – unsurprisingly, perhaps, given the extent to which both belief systems hinged on a predetermined destiny – had more than a passing acquaintance, but Butler ‘did not attempt literally to reproduce the interregnum debate over astrology … nor has [he] … constructed an allegory of the quarrel between Gataker and [William] Lilly’ over the validity of astrology (Nicolas H. Nelson, ‘astrology, Hudibras, and the Puritans’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 37.3, 1976: 521–36; p. 532). Hudibras has resonances that seem closer to Pico della Mirandola than to either Zeno or contemporary events. Pico (who himself probably has Zeno somewhere in the back of his mind), after recounting a tale of sexual flagellation and relating it to events which occurred during the flagellant’s childhood, says that the purpose of the anecdote is
ut cognosceremus euidentia ipsa quantum illis affectibus ualeat
consuetudo: ne quasi causam habere terrenam nullam possint: cælum statim accusemus nam id quidem astrologus si audiat / damnatam dicet fuisse uenerem in hominis genitura: et aduersus fortasse: aut alio mõ minitantibus radiis Martis
[so that we may clearly know how strongly one’s behaviour influences one’s situation, lest, being unable to find an earthly cause, we at once blame the heavens. For, indeed, if an astrologer hears of this, he will say that the man was fated to sexual flagellation by birth, or by the ill effects of the rays of Mars.]
(Giovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola, Disputationes
Aduersus Astrologiã Diuinatricem (Bologna, 1496; edition used, Lyons, 1498?, sig. h5r)
Pico argues not only here but throughout this treatise that ‘one’s behaviour influences one’s situation’ (‘affectibus ualeat consuetudo’), that there are efficient causes of events other than astrology (or fate), and that, while one’s (pre-) disposition plays some part in the outcome of one’s life, one has also a degree of control and choice over the direction one’s life takes. Butler’s poem, too, is, in part, an attack on astrology; the astrologer Sidrophel, observing through his telescope the approach of hudibras and his squire, Ralpho, sends his assistant, Whatchum, to find out what brings them. Whatchum gets Hudibras’s story from Ralpho, and tells it to Sidrophel, who pretends he has learned it by the art of divination.
But it is in the sexual overtones of the whipping motif in Hudibras that
the poem seems most clearly to echo Pico. The widow Hudibras professes to love attempts to convince him it is his fate to be whipped, as proof of his love for her; ‘love is a boy by poets styl’d, / Then spare the rod, and spoill the child’. Hudibras at this stage is in prison, and his agreement to the widow’s demands resembles redemptive suffering, in that she procures his freedom once he promises to undergo a whipping. However, when the time comes to make good his promise, he equivocates, wondering ‘whether’t be a lesser Sin / to be forsworn then act the thing?’ Ralpho readily encourages him to break his word, saying
… is’t not enough w’are bruis’d, and kicked,
With sinful members of the wicked …
But we must claw our selves, with shameful,
And heathen stripes …?
(Hudibras. The Second Part, pp. 61 [2.1.ll.843–4]
and 72 [2.2, ll. 59–60 and 893–98])
Hudibras’s hypocrisy in breaking his word is reconstructed satirically as a saintly (that is, a ‘Presbyterian’) virtue, but the satirical intent does not undermine Ralpho’s basic point; the vagaries of fortune bring hardship enough, without seeking to ‘claw’ (that is, whip) one’s own body in ‘shameful’ and ‘heathen’ fashion.
Butler’s plot unravels in a number of ways. The third and final part did not appear until fourteen years later, whereupon it transpires that Hudibras goes to the widow and falsely claims to have received his beating. She does not believe him, and while they talk there is ‘a knocking, at the Gate’, and he is set upon by elves, who tell him, ‘Mortal; Thou art betraid to us / B’ our Friend, thy evil Genius’. In answer to the spirits’ questions, he reveals that he never loved the widow anyway and, in his hypocritical way, had only pretended to do so for her money:
Didst thou not love her then? Speak true.
No more (quoth he) than I love you.
How would’st th’ have us’d her, and her money?
First, turn’d her up, to Alimony;
And laid her Dowry out in Law,
To null her Jointure with a Flaw,
Which I before-hand had agreed
T’ have put, of purpose, in the Deed;
And bar her Widow’s-making-over
T’ a friend in Trust, or private Lover.
(Hudibras. The Third and Last Part, London, 1678,
pp. 61, 67 and 69; 3.1., ll. 1054, 1162–3 and 1185–94)
Hudibras cannot, after all, escape a beating, but it is with a ‘cudgel’ (Ibid., p. 60 ; 3.2, l. 1148), not a whip, the whole episode has an aura of unreality, and – if his beating has any relationship at all to some kind of moral or spiritual dimension – his suffering is not redemptive but punitive, undergone not for the sake of his love (he is, it appears, incapable of love, whether of God or of his fellow creatures), but for his hypocritical and mercenary wiles.
Hudibras sums up, through satirical allegory, the puritan predicament; one’s earthly lot is to suffer, but to seek out suffering – or to engage to suffer by contract – is to enter into the forbidden territory occupied by medieval pacts of alliance with the devil on the one hand and masochistic submission on the other (Cf, Gilles Deleuze, Présentation de Sacher-Masoch, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1967, p. 20), while suffering as punishment for one’s sins is merely a foretaste of the eternal damnation to come, and legitimate contexts for expiatory suffering – the only kind that counts – are elusive and unpredictable. Like so much of the literature of the early modern period, Butler’s poem locates in ‘the masochistic dimension of a political imaginary based on an ideal of sacrifice’ (Melissa Sanchez, Erotic Subjects, Oxford, 2011, p. 240). His satirical exposé of Presbyterian hypocrisy – like all good satire – touches on a raw nerve and forces a reappraisal of the values of the society it comments on. Behind the inglorious Hudibras stands the puritan Englishman, conditioned to a ‘view of repentance as a life-long mortification of the flesh, so that the Spirit of God may gradually obtain dominion … which is the real foundation of the Calvinistic ethics with its asceticism’ (Arthur Dakin, Calvinism. With Special Reference to Calvin’s ‘Institutes’, London: Duckworth, 1940, p. 70), but deprived of the contexts for ascetic suffering expressed and espoused in the Latinate culture of the Catholic South. When Ralpho colludes in Hudibras’s attempts to justify his breach of promise to the widow, he bases his argument on an excoriation of penitential mortification, exhorting him not to do as
mongrel Christians of our times,
That expiate less with greater crimes,
And call the foul abomination,
Contrition and mortification.
(Hudibras. The Second Part, p. 72; 2.2., ll. 89–98)
The conflicted sinner of Protestant discourse, whose only hope of redemption is to suffer in accordance with God’s will, is exposed in Butler’s satire to temptation on two fronts. On one front, the ideals of heroic and holy suffering are corrupted by their parodic replication in misguided romantic suffering, undergone, not out of transcendent love, but for a lesser, mundane love. On the other front, the moral authority of those who suffer for their faith in accordance with God’s will is usurped by presumptuous attempts to pre-empt God’s will by seeking suffering out and engaging in it through active intent. Both are essentially features of southern/Latin/Catholic discourse. When the widow, urging Hudibras to undergo a whipping for her sake, asks ‘Why may not Whipping … / With comely movement, and by Art, / Raise Passion in a Ladies heart?’ (Ibid., p. 61, ll. 852–4) she spins her web of persuasion – at least partly – from the threads of southern European romance:
Did not the Great La Mancha do so
For the Infanta Del Taboso?
Did not the’Illustrius Bassa make
Himself a Slave for Misse’s sake?
… Was not Young Florio sent (to cool
His flame for Biancafiore) to School,
Where Pedant made his Pathick Bum
For her sake suffer Martyrdom?
(Ibid. 63–4, ll. 875–84)
The references are to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, The History of the Valorous and VVittie Knight-Errant, Don-Quixote of the Mancha, part 1, trans. from the Spanish by Thomas Shelton (London, 1612), and The Second Part of the History of the Valorous and Witty Knight-Errant, Don Quixote of the Mançha, trans. from the Spanish by Thomas Shelton (London, 1620); Madeleine de Scudéry, Ibrahim: or The Illustrious Bassa, trans. from the French by Henry Cogan (London, 1652); and Giovanni Boccaccio, A Pleasaunt Disport of Diuers Noble Personages: Written in Italian by M. Iohn Bocace Florentine and Poet Laureat: in his Boke vvhich is Entituled Philocopo, trans. from the Italian [by Humphrey
Gifford or Henry Grantham] (London, 1567).
Suffering – specifically being whipped or beaten – for the sake of a woman and the ‘foul abomination’ of expiating ‘less with greater crimes’ (which it is hard to interpret as anything other than the equation of religious and sexual masochism) are presented in Hudibras as features of a southern/Latin/Catholic culture which defines northern/Germanic/Protestant culture in terms of difference.
The dichotomy of southern/Latin/Catholic and northern/Germanic/Protestant attitudes towards suffering is one of the central themes of Pain, Pleasure and Perversity: Discourses of Suffering in Seventeenth-Century England (Ashgate, 2013). Buy this book from the publisher or on Amazon, or request your library to stock this book.
(Adapted from Pain, Pleasure and Perversity, Part 1, “The Suffering Self”, Chapter 1, “Constructs of Suffering in Seventeenth-Century England”.)
There’s an interesting project on pain and suffering here. A working group from diverse academic backgrounds – sociology, philosophy, narrative medicine, psychology, pain research, neuroscience, ethics, history, literature and linguistics – is conducting research into the phenomenon of suffering from a wide range of perspectives.