1st Edition

The New Logic of Sexual Violence in Enlightenment France Rationalizing Rape

By Mary McAlpin Copyright 2023
    204 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book argues that rape as we know it was invented in the eighteenth century, examining texts as diverse as medical treatises, socio-political essays, and popular novels to demonstrate how cultural assumptions of gendered sexual desire erased rape by making a woman’s non-consent a logical impossibility.

    The Enlightenment promotion of human sexuality as natural and desirable required a secularized narrative for how sexual violence against women functioned. Novel biomedical and historical theories about the "natural" sex act worked to erase the concept of heterosexual rape. McAlpin intervenes in a far-ranging assortment of scholarly disciplines to survey and demonstrate how rape was rationalized: the history of medicine, the history of sexuality, the development of the modern self, the social contractarian tradition, the global eighteenth century, and the libertine tradition in the eighteenth-century novel.

    This intervention will be essential reading to students and scholars in gender studies, literature, cultural studies, visual studies, and the history of sexuality.

    Introduction: The Rise of the Modern Self and the Erasure of Female Sexual Autonomy

    Part I. Naturalizing Coquetry: The Scientific Argument for Female Sexual Duplicity


    1. Uterine Furors: Vitalist Neo-Humoralism and the Impossibility of Non-consent

    2. D’Alembert’s Wet Dream: The Gendered Hygiene of Nocturnal Emission

    Part II. Historicizing Modesty: Female Sexuality in the State of Nature


    3. Rousseau’s Natural Woman: On the Origin and Foundations of Sexual Inequality

    4. Rape in Paradise: Tahiti and the (Hetero)Sexual Imperative

    Part III. In the Moment: Rape, Libertinage, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel


    5. Erasing Rape in Riccoboni: The Story of Miss Jenny Montfort

    6. Sexual Violence in Laclos: Consent and the Virtuous Swoon

    Afterword The Enduring Legacy of an Enlightenment Narrative


    Mary McAlpin is Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.