Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 2

Smith, Victoria. Libertines Real and Fictional in the Works of Rochester, Shadwell,
Wycherley, and Boswell. Doctor of Philosophy (English), May 2008, 113 pp., 62 titles.
This dissertation examines the Restoration and eighteenth-century libertine figure as it
appears in John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester's Satyr against Mankind, "The Maim'd
Debauchee," and "Upon His Drinking a Bowl," Thomas Shadwell's The Libertine, William
Wycherley's The Country Wife, and James Boswell's London Journal, 1762-1763. I argue that
the limitations and self-contradictions of standard definitions of libertinism and the ways in
which libertine protagonists and libertinism in general function as critiques of libertinism.
Moreover, libertine protagonists and poetic personae reinterpret libertinism to accommodate
their personal agendas and in doing so, satirize the idea of libertinism itself and identify the
problematization of "libertinism" as a category of gender and social identity. That is, these
libertines misinterpret-often deliberately-Hobbes to justify their opposition and refusal to
obey social institutions-e.g., eventually marrying and engaging in a monogamous relationship
with one's wife-as well as their endorsement of obedience to nature or sense, which can include
embracing a libertine lifestyle in which one engages in sexual encounters with multiple partners,
refuses marriage, and questions the existence of God or at least distrusts any sort of organized
Since any attempts to define the word "libertinism"-or at least any attempts to provide a
standard definition of the word-are tenuous at best, it is equally tenuous to suggest that any
libertines conform to conventional or standard libertinism. In fact, the literary and "real life"
libertines in this study not only fail to conform to such definitions of libertinism, but also
reinterpret libertinism. While all these libertines do possess similar characteristics-namely
affluence, insatiable sexual appetites, and a rebellion against institutional authorities (the Church,

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Smith, Victoria. Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell, dissertation, May 2008; Denton, Texas. ( accessed May 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library,; .