Hags, tarts, killers, and freaks---accounts of female aberrations and grotesques in eighteenth-century literature and social documents have much to teach about constructions of femininity and sexuality during the period often identified as having formed our society's gender norms. This compelling collection explores eighteenth-century representations of marginal women who engaged in many kinds and degrees of bad behavior, and who tested the boundaries of their writing as well as their lives.
Between the covers of Lewd and Notorious lie the stories of Laetitia Pilkington, whose sexual indiscretions caused her to fall from social and literary grace to become an articulate memoirist of personal scandal; Elizabeth Brownrigg, who tortured and starved her young servants; and Elizabeth Carter, whose satiric prose challenged her own irreproachable reputation as a pious woman writer. Together the stories of such women teach us about society's reception and construction of both female debauchery and, by contrast, feminine ideals.
The contributors to this collection draw upon a rich range of literary, legal, evangelical, epistolary, and political documents to illustrate 1700s womanhood. From lusty old maids to murderous mistresses, the characters who exemplify this period's vision of women on the edge are essential acquaintances for anyone wishing to understand the development and ramifications of conceptions of femininity. Scholars of the period, theorists of gender, and anyone interested in the lives, times, and meaning of bad girls will enjoy and learn from Lewd and Notorious.
Katharine Kittredge is Associate Professor of English, Ithaca College.