Sexual politics in revolutionary England

Samuel Fullerton
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This book explores the sudden appearance of graphic sex-talk in English print culture during the English Revolution of 1640–60. While explicit sex-writing was primarily limited to manuscript and oral forms during the Tudor and early Stuart periods, the outbreak of war with Scotland in 1639 and the subsequent collapse of press licensing in England convinced partisan polemicists to propel it into print for the first time in English history. From there, sexual politics grew increasingly graphic and correspondingly more subversive, driven in part by the necessities of military mobilisation and partly by enterprising publishers striving to corner mid-century England’s lucrative print marketplace. When the Stuarts regained the throne at the 1660 Restoration, those novel lexicons of sexual politics – now widely available in print and primed for further appropriation – provided the discursive and ideological basis for King Charles II’s pleasure-centred self-representation and simultaneously inspired the caustic counter-polemics of its Whig opposition. Moreover, in publicising sex-talk like never before, mid-century authors, publishers, and readers also laid crucial groundwork for the eighteenth-century transformation that Faramerz Dabhoiwala has recently dubbed the West’s ‘first sexual revolution’ by rendering sex itself less susceptible to moral control. The sexual politics of revolutionary England therefore have much to offer historians and literary scholars of early modern Britain as well as those working on the history of Western sexuality more broadly.

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