By Corrinne Harol (auth.)
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Additional resources for Enlightened Virginity in Eighteenth-Century Literature
Behn wrote “libertine” poetry, scandalous plays, and amatory fiction, while Astell committed herself, anonymously for the most part, to the lofty philosophical debates of the age. Their philosophical inclinations mirror these generic and personal differences. 42 From these very different personal, literary, and philosophical perspectives, Behn and Astell use the convent for thinking about the very real effects on women, and on society, of the paradigmatic, national, and ongoing conversion of the virgin.
Pornographic and romantic images of nuns desacramentalize love even as they exalt it as more physically and spiritually satisfying than religion. Romantic lovers, no matter how fickle, are more present and faithful than a silent God and a church structure that represses passion. By contrast, Behn’s amatory fiction, far from celebrating sexual desire, predicts that eros will be an unsatisfactory substitute, in terms of both female happiness and social stability, for love of, and faith in, God. Had she been born earlier, then, Isabella would not have had to choose between sexuality and her vow, and she would need only love, not faith, to sustain her.
They contrive to see each other repeatedly until Valera becomes pregnant, which threatens to expose them. Pregnancy is often represented in early modern texts as the one thing that will reveal the perfidy of women, but Catholics, perhaps through the inheritance of the Virgin Mary, can frequently circumvent this truth of the body. The reprobate nun sends her hapless lover to a Jesuit priest in order to procure, “Pristina Virginatis” a “wonderful” remedy, “so necessary and beneficial” for their troubles (207).