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Imagining Sex: Pornography and Bodies in Seventeenth-Century England [Anglais] [Relié]

Sarah Toulalan

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Description de l'ouvrage

6 septembre 2007
Imagining Sex is a study of pornographic writing in seventeenth-century England. It explores a wide variety of written material from the period to argue that, unlike today, pornography was not a discrete genre, nor was it one that was usually subject at this time to suppression. Pornographic writing was a widespread feature of a range of texts, including both popular literature (ballads, news-sheets, court reports, small books, and pamphlets) as well as poetry, drama and more specialised medical books. The book analyses representations of sex, sexuality and eroticism in historical context to explore contemporary thinking about these issues, but also about broader cultural concerns and shifts in attitudes. It questions both modern feminist and psychoanalytical interpretations of pornography, arguing that these approaches are neither appropriate nor helpful to an understanding of seventeenth-century material. Through discussions of sex and reproduction, homosexuality, flagellation, voyeurism, and humour, the book explores the nature of early modern sexual desire and arousal and explores their relationship to contemporary understandings about how the body worked. Imagining Sex presents a radically new interpretation of pornography in this period, arguing that concerns about fertility were at the heart of representations of bodies and sex, so that images of pleasure were entwined with ideas about conception and reproduction. It also shows that these texts legitimized the (sexual) pleasure of the reader by highlighting the pleasure of looking and the incitement to sexual action that it provided.

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Revue de presse

There is much to admire in this book. [Toulalan] potentially rewrites our understanding of seventeenth-century notions of the male gaze and the male body's relation to such key issues as patriarchal authority, privacy, gender norms, and sexual desire. Toulalan's positions are further augmented by the fact that Imagining Sex is richly illustrated with reproductions of seventeenth-century engravings. Her presentation of both these texts and their illustrations is a major contribution to current scholarship. (Jeremy Webster, H-Net)

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3.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting, but not altogether reliable 5 mai 2013
Par John Russell Yamamoto - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Toulalan's book gives a fairly comprehensive insight into attitudes towards sex in the seventeenth century, building on the insights gained by works like Ian Moulton, Before Pornography: Erotic Writing in Early Modern England (OUP, 2000), but I have a fair few criticisms. Toulalan assumes that Foucault got it right in saying that, at the dawn of the century, people discussed sex frankly and openly, and applies this - mistakenly - to discussion of sexual flagellation. She does not convincingly support her assertion that `beating and whipping were practised supposedly for their alleged spiritual benefits, but really because they brought sexual pleasure and gratification' (p. 99) and her references do not support her claim that 'For the most part, though not entirely, sexual flagellation is represented as a Catholic practice, pursued and promoted by a corrupt and hypocritical priesthood' (p. 100). 'This becomes truer as the century progresses, but it is scarcely true prior to the Civil War, and only starts to become widespread at around the time of the Oates Plot' (Pain, Pleasure and Perversity, 92).

Toulalan does not give page references, which is a serious weakness in an academic work, and makes it hard to check her sources. In this particular case, she supports her claim with only one reference dating from the first half of the century (most of the others are from the 1680s), and that reference - to Thomas Robinson, The Anatomy of the English Nunnery at Lisbon in Portugall (London, 1622) - is, at best, inconclusive; the nuns are exploited sexually by Father Foster who 'play[s] rex' over them (p. 18), but it is highly dubious whether this implies that he beat them either for his or their sexual pleasure (according to Webster, the expression means 'domineer', but OED says it simply means to 'play tricks').

Altogether, Toulalan's book is a fairly useful guide to early modern sexuality, but its claims need to be crosschecked and should not be assumed to be correct as they stand.
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