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The Brink of All We Hate

The Brink of All We Hate: English Satires on Women, 1660--1750

Felicity A. Nussbaum
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Brink of All We Hate
    Book Description:

    "Is it not monstrous, that our Seducers should be our Accusers? Will they not employ Fraud, nay often Force to gain us? What various Arts, what Stratagems, what Wiles will they use for our Destruction? But that once accomplished, every opprobrious Term with which our Language so plentifully abounds, shall be bestowed on us, even by the very Villains who have wronged us" -- Laetitia Pilkington,Memoirs(1748).

    In her scandalousMemoirs, Laetitia Pilkington spoke out against the English satires of the Restoration and eighteenth century, which employed "every opprobrious term" to chastise women. InThe Brink of All We Hate, Felicity Nussbaum documents and groups those opprobrious terms in order to identify the conventions of the satires, to demonstrate how those conventions create a myth, to provide critical readings of poetic texts in the antifeminist tradition, and to draw some conclusions about the basic nature of satire. Nussbaum finds that the English tradition of antifeminist satire draws on a background that includes Hesiod, Horace, Ovid, and Juvenal, as well as the more modern French tradition of La Bruyere and Boileau and the late seventeenth-century English pamphlets by Gould, Fige, and Ames. The tradition was employed by the major figures of the golden age of satire -- Samuel Butler, Dryden, Swift, Addison, and Pope.

    Examining the elements of the tradition of antifeminist satire and exploring its uses, from the most routine to the most artful, by the various poets, Nussbaum reveals a clearer context in which many poems of the Restoration and eighteenth century will be read anew.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6407-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. I Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Satirists have always waged verbal warfare against the failings of mankind. They urge human nature toward reformation or simply hold the mirror up to nature to allow us to study our faults. Dryden, Rochester, Swift, and Pope, among the satirists of the Restoration and eighteenth century in England, ridicule the whole of the human race for their personal, social, moral, and political offenses. The sex of humanity is generally unspecified in satires such as Lord Rochester’s “A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind” or Samuel Johnson’s “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” and the satirist’s rhetoric mocks characteristics of humanity’s precarious position...

  5. II Rhyming Women Dead: Restoration Satires on Women
    (pp. 8-42)

    The period from the Restoration to the mid-eighteenth century in England witnessed a burgeoning of satires against women. This satirical literature reveals a revolutionary reconsideration of the position of women in society and the relationship between the sexes. Lively controversy marks particular periods throughout the century. For example, during the Restoration period Poulain de la Barre’sDe l’ègalitè des deux sexes(1673),De l’èducation des dames(1674), andDe l’excellence des hommes contre l’ègalitè des sexes(1675), were translated first asThe Woman as Good as the Man or the Equality of Both Sexesby A.L. (1677), and later as...

  6. III The Better Women: The Amazon Myth and Hudibras
    (pp. 43-56)

    Feminists and antifeminists alike, those who believed women to be inferior, equal to, or superior to men, all agreed that seventeenth-century women should use whatever talents, virtues, or education they had to support and nurture men. Even those who argued that women were not inferior to men insisted that if women gained some of the knowledge and some of the education of men, they must, nevertheless, remain ladies; when women look like men or act like men, it “unsexes the ladies,” a phrase often applied to women who sought education in Restoration or eighteenth-century England. In one of the earliest...

  7. IV “That Lost Thing, Love”: Women and Impotence in Rochester’s Poetry
    (pp. 57-76)

    Butler’sHudibrasdepicts powerful women who attain that power by aping men, and women who refuse to perform the traditional functions of the sex. Like Butler’s satire, the poems of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, mock men’s romantic idealizations as much as they mock the sex itself. Rochester never attacks the whole female sex in a poem like Oldham’s “Satyr Upon a Woman,” but in several of his poems that concern women (notably “Fair Chloris,” “The Imperfect Enjoyment,” “Timon,” and “A Letter from Artemisia to Chloe”), Rochester blames women for the vacuous and ambiguous relationships between the sexes. These...

  8. V Rara Avis in Terris: Translations of Juvenal’s Sixth Satire
    (pp. 77-93)

    Most of the antifeminist satmc stereotypes of women—including the whore, the coquette, the Amazon, and thememento mori—appear in the most sweeping of classical antifeminist satires, Juvenal’s Sixth Satire on women. Centuries earlier than Rochester, Juvenal had taken as his subject the unmitigated depravity of Roman women. Like Rochester, Juvenal expressed longing for a past ideal age, condemned the ideal of love, and assumed that lust was the bond between men and women. In Juvenal’s Sixth Satire the satirist bemoans the demise of chastity and longs for a return to the Golden Age when wives were different: “When...

  9. VI “The Sex’s Flight”: Women and Time in Swift’s Poetry
    (pp. 94-116)

    Jonathan Swift, one of the most notorious eighteenth-century satirists against women, largely separates the good woman from the wicked in his satires. Swift’s most extensive treatment of women appears in the early odes, the birthday poems to Stella, and the cluster of scatological poems written from 1727 to 1733, ranging from the panegyrical praise of Mrs. Biddy Floyd to the harsh condemnation of “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed.” With the notable exception of the poems on Stella, Swift’s early poems repeat the Juvenalian convention that the ideal woman has vanished into an ancient past which he calls into...

  10. VII Enemies and Enviers: Minor Eighteenth-Century Satires
    (pp. 117-136)

    Most late seventeenth-century satires on women censure the whole sex and make few distinctions between good and evil members of the sex. Several eighteenth-century satires indicate the strong influence of Juvenal and Boileau in the later period, but equally strong is a tendency in other eighteenth-century satires to depart from their Restoration antecedents. Joseph Addison and Edward Young were among those who set out to separate themselves from the harsh satiric vein of Juvenal and Boileau, to reform their readers overtly and convincingly, and to offer an object of praise within the satires in the formal verse satire tradition.


  11. VIII “The Glory, Jest, and Riddle of the Town”: Women in Pope’s Poetry
    (pp. 137-158)

    Alexander Pope, like Young, avoids the explicit scatological humor of Restoration antifeminism and Swift’s early eighteenth-century version of it. Pope’s poems about women project his compelling interest in and his shrewd assessment of women’s predicament. His poetry on women resounds with themes familiar to readers of antifeminist satires. Pope’s women exhibit universal characteristics of inconstancy, pride, and self-love—in short, they are prudes or coquettes. It has often been pointed out, however, that Pope seems to reveal an unusual awareness of the control that custom and tradition have over women’s lives, while he encourages women to act as models of...

  12. IX Conclusion
    (pp. 159-167)

    The personal views of the satmsts we have considered here are elusive, but what is as intriguing as the extent of their personal misogyny is the way their rhetorical stance sets up an imaginative satiric fiction that draws on the antifeminist tradition to serve diverse ends. The most interesting exploitations of the tradition employ its assumptions—that women are unruly monsters, that women are valued principally for beauty, that masculinized women are perverse—and turn away from the most flagrant extremes. By the mid-eighteenth century, few use antifeminist satire as a weapon to rhyme women dead; they use the notion...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 168-185)
  14. Index
    (pp. 186-192)