Surgical Implements

A couple of weeks ago I posted in answer to a question on Quora about whether there was such a thing as necessary suffering. I began by saying that in an age before anaesthetics this question could hardly even have been asked. I then went on, in my wonted fashion, to discuss the issue in a rather abstract and philosophical way. This brings home the point rather more directly:


These surgical instruments from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are (left) lithotomy dilator; dental forceps; trepan; dental forceps;
(right) double-bladed bistoury; forceps for extracting arrow head; bullet extractor;
(below) surgical saw.

Disturbingly erotic…or not?

I posted this a few months ago, but I’m having some trouble with spambots on a few of my posts, so I’m republishing with a slightly different permalink to see if that resolves the problem. Apologies to those who’ve already seen it!
An art historian is claiming that Dürer’s work is deeply erotic, in a highly explicit but subliminal way. The trouble is, she gives the answer away, and once you know the answer it’s impossible to unknow it! As a result, I can no longer look at the picture with objective eyes. So I’m asking you. Take a good look, spend several minutes and – here’s a hint – focus on other stuff going on in the picture, not on the woman breastfeeding the baby. It might also help if you half-close your eyes, forget that it’s representational art and think of it as something a bit like a Rorschach test. Think dirty!

“Necessary” suffering

I posted this on Quora, in answer to someone who wanted to know if there is such a thing as necessary suffering. To see the complete thread, click here (you’ll need to create a log-in ID if you want to add comments).

In an age before anaesthetics this question could hardly even have been asked. Suffering was unavoidable, inevitable, inescapable, and therefore, given the belief in a benign deity, it had to serve a purpose, to be necessary in some way. Today the assumption is often that suffering is avoidable and should be avoided wherever possible, but in terms of the history of ideas, belief in the necessity of suffering is actually fairly close behind us.

During the early modern period people were trying to reconcile classical ideas like Stoicism with Christianity, and at the beginning of the 17th century there were still people who held up Stoic practices as an inducement to Christian virtue. The message was something like, “If those pagans could suffer so much, could you not suffer for Christ, who also suffered so much for you?”.
Unlike Catholics, Protestants did not on the whole go in for self-imposed penances, but they nevertheless believed that, as a rule, if you wanted to get to heaven you had to suffer. Not only that, but you had to rejoice to suffer “for Christ’s sake”. This was slightly different from the aim of the Stoics, which was to inure oneself equally to pleasure and pain, but it was clearly related.
Suffering was of two types, punitive and redemptive. If one was merely suffering, one was probably simply getting a foretaste of the suffering one would endure after death and damnation. If one gladly bore the burden of one’s sufferings one was thereby purified and made suitable for entry into heaven.

The belief in the necessity of suffering in these terms put an incredible psychological strain on people. If you weren’t suffering, well, you were very likely going to go to hell, but if you were suffering and not rejoicing in it, then you were also probably going to go to hell!
It’s perhaps not surprising that this way of thinking, which was particularly widespread among puritans, resulted in fairly widespread depression. Alec Ryrie writes well about this in Being Protestant in Reformation Britain, though, since his interest is in showing the life of everyday Protestants, he largely overlooks Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy.

As Gowland puts it, ‘Burton’s medicalisation of the moral and theological traditions of melancholy gave them a conceptual coherence which they had previously lacked’ (Burton’s Anatomy and the Intellectual Traditions of Melancholy). Burton opens up the debate on the whole issue of whether we have to suffer and be miserable in this world, or whether we have a right to be happy. He’s not the only one, of course, but his is a coherent and influential voice. 

By the end of the 17th century, attempts to incorporate or adapt Stoic attitudes in a Christian context were more or less routinely rejected (Yamamoto-Wilson, Pain, Pleasure and Perversity: Discourses of Suffering in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 32) and the idea gained ground rapidly that, yes, it is OK to be happy, and if you pursue a path of suffering you are being perverse.

In our modern world suffering has become something of a taboo. We don’t (thankfully) whip, hang and disembowel convicted criminals on the street, as they did in those days. People don’t flagellate themselves for the good of their souls, as many Catholics routinely did even into the 20th century. We don’t see lepers dying on street corners (though, in many cities, we see junkies and the homeless). 

Most crucially of all, though, perhaps, most of us don’t go through the kind of mental agonies of people like John Bunyan (see, in particular, his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners) about whether we are or are not chosen of God or predestined to eternal torment. Except in a very few spheres (notably training for sports, swotting for exams, etc., with a clear goal in this world, or news stories that, in part, satisfy some morbid atavistic curiosity in the suffering of others), suffering is mostly swept under the carpet.

But this comfortable, anaesthetized world has its own weaknesses. OK, it might seem unduly heavy to say that we should spend our days anticipating and preparing for our inevitable death, instead of frittering our lives away in pursuit of shallow pleasures, but there must be many, many people who spend their final days and hours – or even weeks, months or years – in terrible physical pain, totally unequipped, mentally or emotionally, to deal with it, because they have never given this prospect a moment’s serious thought in their lives.

Equally, there are many many people who have no insight at all into what others are going through, no empathy, no ability or even wish to care about the pain of others. This is a difficult one; even back in the 17th century, people like Hobbes were of the opinion that to be pitied is to be looked down on and dishonoured ( Leviathan, page 43). He was also pretty clear – like many others of his period – that there were occasions when to be kind was actually a form of cruelty in itself. For example, if you deal with a murderer with compassion and let him/her go free then you are responsible for the consequences when that murderer maims and kills others. From the 17th-century point of view, there are times when it is necessary to impose suffering, a view that modern society still reflects in its penal system.

At the same time, compassion, in particular loving one’s enemies, formed a very important part of 17th-century discourse, especially among Protestants. The ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, to imagine their plight and do what one could to alleviate it was extolled as one of the highest virtues. One of the functions of suffering was to awaken sympathy in others.

On the whole, I’m glad we’ve left the 17th century behind, with its plagues, its massacres, its public spectacles of brutality and so forth. At the same time, I think we have a lot to learn from the past. We can avoid suffering for a while, with money to cushion us and medicines to salve us, but we are fooling ourselves if we think that suffering can ever finally be done away with. And if we think we can routinely turn our backs on the suffering of others with impunity we make the world a worse, not a better place.

For all its faults, 17th century society knew this, whereas today there are a lot of people who are in danger of forgetting or ignoring it.

Researching the Seventeenth Century Online: Tools of the Trade

[I posted this in 2014, but since so much of the EEBO TCP database came into the public domain in January 2015 I thought it worth updating.]

For those who come to this blog from academia, this is probably a post you can skip, but for people in other walks of life I thought it might be worth submitting a short piece on some of the basic tools of the trade.

When I first started researching the early modern period, in the 1970s, I spent nearly all my time in the Rare Books Room at Cambridge University Library with several ancient tomes in front of me, something like this:

Mumby Rare Books RoomThe room has been completely redesigned since my postgraduate days, but it’s the same basic process. These days, I still do a lot of my real research in the same room, but a lot of the time I’m working on one of the computers in a glass-partitioned area at the back of the room. This is because much of the corpus of early modern books in English (which is what I mostly work on) is available online at  Early English Books Online (EEBO). Yes, you need a password and log-in before you can actually access the database, and subscription is through institutions, not issued on an individual basis, which effectively locks the average person out, but there is some good news for Joe public, which I’ll come to later. Basically, what  subscribers get from EEBO is a PDF image of the original text. When it first started going online (in phases, during the 1990s) it was a radical improvement on microfilm, which was fiddly to use, gave you headache and came a poor second to having the actual book in your hand. EEBO PDFs can be viewed page by page online or downloaded as a single PDF file, making it an acceptable – even, sometimes, a preferred – alternative to reading the actual printed book.Now, though, even that’s been superseded. EEBO PDFs, with all their advantages, were not text-searchable, meaning you had to – gasp! – read stuff to know whether it was relevant to what you were researching or not. The Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership changed all that. Until January 2015, it too was only accessible via subscription, but these days some 25,000 texts are in the public domain. Yes, you read that right – 25,000! Go to one of the search pages (I usually use the Boolean search) and enter some search terms. For example, if you search for Shakespeare or Shaksper and plays you get these results. Even without logging in you can find out that (at the last count) there are 75 publications prior to 1700 which contain these terms. If you can log in, you’d be able to read the exact pages on which the search terms occur, as well as being able to search for other terms in any of the 75 search results. Even if you can’t log in you will still  be able to see the full text of the public domain items and search for other lexical terms within those texts. When you realize that you can do this for any search terms you can envisage you see that this is a very powerful research tool. Something which would have taken a lifetime of research a couple of generations ago can now be clinched with a few mouse-clicks. For example, one can do a proximity search to find out something like this:

A search of EEBO TCP indicates that (including variant spellings) cruel/cruelty is closely collocated with unjust/injustice or iniquity – normally conveying the idea that an act is cruel if the intention behind it is unjust – in only about 80 texts during the whole of the sixteenth century. However, during the seventeenth century, there are over 1,500 such collocations, more than a third of which were published between 1680 and 1700. (Pain, Pleasure and Perversity, introduction, page 14; you can download the complete introduction here).

That makes it sound a bit easier than it actually is. Firstly, it would be a mistake to assume that all the results are necessarily relevant; you have to go through and check them to see whether the contexts in which the search terms are used really do support the point you are making. One would want to know, too, the genres in which these terms were used; a term or expression that was used in, let’s say, romance poetry in the sixteenth century might resurface in legal tracts in the seventeenth.And to know how significant it is that the words justice and cruelty were increasingly being used in the same breath one would also want to know how often they were used independently of each other. Suppose one of your search terms was a word or expression coined in the late sixteenth century that only caught on slowly; its overall use would have been low in the sixteenth century, so an increase in its collocation with another expression might only reflect the general pattern of increase as it came into wider usage.Then there’s the problem of multiple editions of the same work. EEBO TCP is patchy in this respect, with multiple editions of some works but not of others, so you’d need to think about how multiple editions of a work might affect the results. The example given is a fairly large sample, which would be less affected by, say, the inclusion or omission of a glut of editions of a single work during the space of a few years, but it could make a big difference to a smaller sample.There’s the slow increase of books published over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to take into account as well; one needs to consider not just the raw numbers, but what those numbers represent in terms of the percentage of the total number of books published at that time. And information about the size of editions is often unavailable. A particularly large – or small – print run could make a significant difference, especially to a small sample.Issues like these make it a far from straightforward matter to interpret the insights one can gain from the EEBO TCP database. Even so, the insights one can gain are startling. Twenty years ago, if anyone had speculated about a link developing between the concepts of injustice and cruelty during the early modern period, it would have mostly been just that – speculation, backed up perhaps by a few examples that would have had little more than anecdotal significance. Now we can identify patterns of usage with a much higher degree of accuracy, and there are spin-offs from the EEBO TCP database that are enabling highly specialized work of a kind unimaginable just a few years ago.
Did you find this article informative or useful? Post a comment or vote on it!
Further reading: Heather Froehlich, Richard J. Whitt and Jonathan Hope, ‘EEBO-TCP as a Tool for Integrating Teaching and Research’.

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Gender and Heroism in Early Modern English Literature

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.

Sadomasochism, Theology and Capitalism

There is a frustrating ambiguity to Jeremy R. Carrette, ‘Intense Exchange: Sadomasochism, Theology and the Politics of Late Capitalism’ (, 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.

The Terrifying Coldness of St. Agnes

The Beheading of Saint Agnes

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’.

Seventeenth-Century Tidbits #9: Armadillos in Unlikely Places

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:

tatusEnquiring 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!)

Seventeenth-Century Tidbits #8: November 5th at Blackfriars, 1623

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…

Sophie Oliver, ‘Sacred and (Sub)human Pain’, Facebook Beheadings…

Thoughts arising from Sophie Oliver, ‘Sacred and (Sub)humanPain: The Body as Witness in Early Modern Hagiography and ContemporaryLiterature of Atrocity’, in Nancy Billias, ed., Promoting and Producing Evil (Editions Rodopi, 2010), pp. 119-137. An earlier version of this paper is available online here. In the following I draw on both versions. 

Oliver contrasts the suffering of Christian martyrs with that of victims of the Rwanda genocide. She takes as her starting point Gentille’s assertion that she is ‘a body that’s decomposing, an ugly thing I don’t want you to see’, in Gil Courtemanche’s novel Un
dimanche à la piscine à Kigali
(2000), translated into English as A
Sunday by the Pool in Kigali
(2003), p. 257. Oliver starts from the
observation that ‘
while Gentille’s story as she tells it attests to the loss of her human subjectivity, to her sub-humanity, stories of Christian sufferers bear witness to a sacred humanity attained through suffering, in particular corporeal suffering’.

   She then makes the point that the outcome of suffering – the sacramentality or dehumanizing of the disfigured body – depends largely on how it is perceived by others. She cites Primo Levi’s
Se questo è un uomo (1947), translated in 1957 as If this is a Man,
as evidence of how the eyes of others have ‘a crucial and active role to play in providing psychological and emotional restitution for victims of atrocity’. Without the audience, without ‘the pagan spectators who convert to Christianity’ and ‘the medieval layperson who reveres relics and images of exotic martyred flesh’ – without these, ‘the saint would quite simply not be a saint’:

The apparently passive observer is always also an actor, performing – consciously or unconsciously – a specific symbolic function within the logic of the spectacle of violence and oppression enacted by the perpetrator.

Kyriakidou summarizes research suggesting that dehumanization of the victim is only one of a range of responses:

the spectator’s engagement with the distant other can vary from empathetic identification or compassion (Höijer, 2004) to the reproduction of cultural stereotypes (Philo, 2002; Philo and Berry, 2004) to hostility and de-humanisation (Butler, 2004; 2009). (Maria Kyriakidou, Watching the Pain of Others: Audience Discourses of Distant Suffering in Greece, unpublished thesis, p. 59.)

Oliver effectively conflates these different responses, asserting that ‘Abject embodied sufferers…almost always fall into the perceived character of (subhuman) other in the minds of even the most humanitarian long-distance spectators of atrocity’. Kyriakidou cites Cohen (States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, 2001, p. 194) on ‘a general sociology of “denial and bystanding”, the essence of which is the “the active looking away, a sense of a situation so utterly hopeless and incomprehensible that we cannot
bear to think about it”’, which Oliver echoes in her characterization of the body as ‘a symbol of the inhumanity of the act of cruelty perpetrated against it’, leading to ‘The desire to look away, the wish never to have seen’.

Oliver emphasizes the semantic origins of the word ‘martyr’, noting its original sense of ‘witness’, and makes the point that ‘The Christian narrative of sacred (non) humanity, like the universalising gaze of the western, humanitarian spectator of suffering, fails, precisely, to witness, and thus deprives suffering subjects of their individual, specific experiences of pain, and the knowledge that these imply’.  She wraps up her argument with the observation that ‘representations of atrocity…run the risk of symbolically repeating the dehumanising violence enacted upon the body of the victim’, and emphasizes the need for recognition of this risk; ‘an ethical reception of embodied witnessing implies…in the first instance, a self-conscious acknowledgement of the potential for dehumanisation in our own perception’, so that, instead of – consciously or unconsciously – denying the humanity of the victim, the witnesses acknowledge ‘the particularity of real experiences of suffering’ and so recognize, in its ‘terrifying specificity’, the ‘universal’ humanity of the victim of atrocity.

Oliver’s paper takes on a particular resonance in the context of the current furor over Facebook’s policy on videos of beheadings. Jenny McCartney, writing for the Telegraph, makes the telling point that 

The victim in a beheading video, of course, has not given their consent either to their own murder or the filming and circulation of it, a dynamic of helplessness that applies equally to child pornography. Yet we do not circulate child pornography on the understanding that decent people will need to watch it and think “isn’t that dreadful?” (‘Facebook beheading: Some videos should never be watched‘, Telegraph, November 03, 2013.)

The issue of consent probably forms a large part of the public response. Political suicides, such as that of Thich Quang Duc,  who invited the press to his own public immolation, are not considered taboo in the same way, and the video of  Thich Quang Duc’s death features prominently on his Facebook page.

   The outcry in the present case, however, was enough to force Facebook to rethink its policy, though the portrayal of suffering and mutilated victims in the media continues to be a thorny issue. Oliver’s comparison of such portrayal with the representation of the sufferings of martyred saints throws into relief some important points, but it is – as she herself recognizes – an imperfect analogy. The martyr is a witness in the sense of bearing testimony to her faith
(rather than, as Oliver seems to understand it, as a testimony to her suffering), whereas the victims of atrocity are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and not setting out to bear testimony to anything. Thich Quang Duc’s act of self-martyrdom remains very much what martyrdom always has been. Even in the modern world, the martyr is exalted by suffering.

The debate, then, would appear to centre on three types of depiction – the voluntary suffering of the martyr, the involuntary suffering of the victim of atrocity, and the staging of involuntary suffering as spectacle. There are further distinctions to be made based on who actually inflicts the suffering; Quang Duc lit the match to burn him to death himself, the anonymous Mexican woman in the Facebook video was murdered by a criminal, and other victims may be the result of the handiwork of governments (including one’s own), dissidents, accidents and so forth.

Like the stagings of martyrdom, videos of beheadings have been orchestrated as media events, whereas cameras which capture scenes of violence and cruelty simply happen to be there. Unlike the martyr, however, the unwilling victim of cruelty is a cipher, with no choice and no voice. But there is more to it than that. The victim whose suffering is incidentally recorded can be given a voice, of sorts, by making that suffering public, by letting the world know. By contrast, the victim whose suffering is orchestrated as a media event is being mocked for her helplessness; her lack of choice and of voice is part of her humiliation.

Jenny McCartney is writing for the Telegraph, which – like most of the major media – publishes videos of people being stoned to death, being publicly hanged, or receiving other gory punishments. What is the rationale for broadcasting this kind of material if not that ‘decent
people will need to watch it and think “isn’t that dreadful?”’ – the very rationale that McCartney condemns? McCartney begins her article with the words, ‘The question of our time is not “what am I allowed to see?” but “what do I have the right to see?”’ – but what useful purpose would be served by removing such material from the eyes of the world? Ultimately, as Oliver points out, ‘the pagan torturer’s power…is undermined’, partly by the martyr’s heroic resistance, but also by the very act of making the demonstration of power into a spectacle. The public enactment of corporal punishment during the early modern period is a closer parallel to videos of public stonings than the burning or dismembering of martyrs, and the lesson we can learn from the past here would seem to be that such spectacles carry the seeds of their own destruction; the stocks, the whipping post and the gallows are no longer features of our urban landscapes. As Foucault observes, the horror of the spectacle of such punishments was not only ‘apt to transform the shame that was inflicted on the sufferer into pity or glory’, but also ‘often recast the executioner’s legalized violence as an atrocity’ (Michel Foucault, Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la Prison, 1975, p. 15; my translation).

The recent flare-up over Facebook’s policies shows clearly where the line between acceptable and unacceptable portrayals of cruelty is drawn in today’s (western) world. There is a need to give those who suffer a kind of voice, the chance to cry out and perhaps be heard by others who will respond with horror, with outrage, with determination to stamp out the root causes of such suffering. There is even some justification for cameras recording public executions, which would have taken place whether or not the camera was present. But viewing atrocities orchestrated for the camera is, as Oliver says, ‘symbolically repeating the dehumanising violence enacted upon the body of the victim’; the viewer is almost inevitably drawn into perpetuating the intent of the perpetrators, particularly when – as in the case of the Facebook video – the violence takes the form of coldblooded murder by criminals.

An atavistic response to cruelty lies at the animal roots of the human psyche, but it is not the only response. Acknowledging that, at some level, the spectacle of cruelty satisfies an instinctual capacity for cruelty that lies within everyone is, as Oliver says, a first step towards an ethical response.

UPDATE: June 2020; The Telegraph is behind a pay wall these days, but it appears that the videos of stoning and hanging have been removed. The video of  Thich Quang Duc‘s immolation is still on Facebook

Rude Boys in Seventeenth-Century England

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.

New Book on Early Modern Perceptions of the Male and Female Body

Helen, King, The One-Sex Body on Trial: The Classical and Early Modern Evidence (Ashgate, 2013).

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!

Conference: Pain and Suffering in Early Modern Performance and the Visual Arts

hurtful body

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.

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