Lecture: Science and Sentiment
A favorite theme of 18th century literature is "The Love Game". It was based on libertinism; libertines are men who indulge in pleasure without restraint. In this pattern, a libertine conducted four stages of a love affair with a young woman:
1. Selection -- wherein he selects the woman for his
2. Seduction -- where he seduces her, physically and morally
3. Subjection -- where he bends her to his will until she breaks (famous libertine Casanova said this was the best part)
4. Separation -- a moment of high drama, when he abandons her
|Meg Tilly as the innocent virginal victim in Valmont|
The most popular novels of the day used this pattern; one example is Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, a psychological portrait of the players in this game. Typical to most of these "genre novels", the story is about the corruption of an innocent girl, and includes mental torture of the victim (in some novels, it was physical torture). The movies Valmont (1989) and Dangerous Liasons (1988) were both based on this book.
Also popular were the novels of the Marquis de Sade, who spent 1777-1790 in prison for half-poisoning a prostitute with the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly (cantharis). He wrote novels illustrating not only extraordinary sexually diverse acts, but the intense pleasure that some people get by causing others pain. The word "sadism" is named after him.
These books all contained a moral lesson, in that the virtuous girl always ends up in heaven, and the rake usually meets a violent end. Yes, and people read Playboy for the articles.
Who read this stuff? Historians believe the best customers were men tired of deferring to "ladies" in elegant, sophisticated culture.
The Marriage Game
There are, of course, tamer novels focusing on other social themes, in particular the habits of finding someone to marry. The sentimentalism of the 18th century led to more marriages based on love. Both selections in the workbook take a perspective on this topic.
|Workbook document: Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749)||
|Workbook document: Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer (1773)|