Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 86
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his sexual conquests, but in doing so, creates his own definition of libertinism that conforms to
both his "feelings of religion" and his sexual conquests (54). This juxtaposition of religious and
sexual inclinations signifies a similar need in Boswell to vacillate between portraying himself as
a fictional character or a novelistic alter ego and a human being. This insatiable need to adhere
to both virtue and libertinism results in Boswell's fluctuations between following his religious
and sexual leanings and causes him to harbor feelings of guilt about breaking his vows-via
regressing back to his libertine behavior-to practice temperance and virtue.
Boswell's self-awareness not only allows him to understand his wavering devotions to
libertinism and virtue, but also enables him to understand the source of it. Though Robert Bell
argues that Boswell "struggle[s] with a variety of fears and conflicts without always illuminating
the source or nature of the issues," Boswell does, in a journal entry dated November 28, 1762,
describe his indecision about obedience to libertinism and virtue (138). Boswell notes, "What a
curious, inconsistent thing is the mind of man!" (Boswell 54). Boswell's "inconsistency" allows
him to behave as a libertine and also equips him with the desire to transform from a libertine to a
virtuous individual, or depict himself as a human being or a fictional character. His mere
presence in the church, along with his vows to live according to virtue, demonstrates Boswell's
needs for frequently changing the definition of libertinism to suit both his desires to attend
church and live virtuously, as well as his need to gratify his sexual desires. Since libertines
reject social institutions, one of which is the Church, Boswell must modify libertinism so that its
definition includes such "virtuous" activities as church attendance and libertine behaviors such as
engaging in sexual promiscuity. Libertinism, then, as a concept, has an unstable stable definition
because those who want to qualify as a libertine and a follower of virtue, including Boswell,
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Smith, Victoria. Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell, dissertation, May 2008; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc6051/m1/92/?q=rochester: accessed July 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .