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Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell

Description: Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell 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 religion. 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, reason, government, family, and marriage)-they often misinterpret libertinism, reason, and Hobbesian philosophy. Furthermore, they all choose different, unique ways to oppose patriarchal, social authorities. These aberrant ways ...
Date: May 2008
Creator: Smith, Victoria
Partner: UNT Libraries