Friday, 21 May 2010

The growth of liberal sexual attitudes in early modern England

The limitations of government is a theme running through a fascinating contribution to the latest edition of Past and Present. ‘Lust and Liberty’ by Faramerz Dabhoiwala of Exeter College, Oxford, looks at a ‘momentous development’, one that still resonates, of the growth of liberal sexual attitudes in early modern England. The field is not new. Thirty years ago, Keith Thomas wrote that ‘it was not the punishment of adultery in 1650 but the subsequent growth of sexual laissez-faire which makes England distinctive’. What does appear to be new about Dabhoiwala’s account is her interest in the privatisation of sexuality within a secular, enlightened society and the fact that these ideas were often rooted in dissenting religious traditions. The article is interesting too for its engagement with the remarkable Bernard Mandeville and his splendid and splenetic attacks on the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, his appeal for the legalization of prostitution and his rule, ‘That private vices are public benefits’.
Proof that academic monographs do not have to be as dry as dust.

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