Aphra Behn's Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister
Abstract of talk at the Annual Meeting of the East-Central
American Society for the Study of Eighteenth-Century Studies (EC/ASECS)
Washington and Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, October 1999
Recent criticism has tended to emphasize the literary antecedents of Aphra Behn's epistolary novel Love-Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister, pointing to such intense explorations of female passion as the Lettres Portugaises. Though not inaccurate, this perspective nevertheless undercuts the political significance of the novel. Through an examination of the increasingly politicized literary discourse of the Exclusion Crisis, focusing on the satiric broadsides relating to the affair that inspired the Letters, I seek to situate the novel in its immediate political context. In the first and historically most accurate volume of the trilogy, I argue, Behn develops a conceptual mapping between love and contemporary political events that achieves an original if highly unstable solution to the central political problem of the time: the relation between the monarch and his rebellious subjects.
Through an examination of the highly imaginative political print culture
of the Exclusion Crisis and its bloody aftermath (1678-84), Steen develops
a cognitive account of the literary and its limits.
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© 1999 Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California, Los Angeles