Representations of Female Sexual Desire and Faithfulness Essay

Representations of Female Sexual Desire and Faithfulness Essay

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William Wycherly's The Country Wife and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's “Epistle from Mrs. Yonge to Her Husband” both open a discourse on female sexual desire and fidelity, representing similar ideas. Both works consider the constraints of honour and societal expectations upon women, and the double standard for fidelity between husbands and wives. Ultimately the works present a final statement through consequences for women affected by the issues, with different views about the future for oppressed women.
Montagu's “Epistle from Mrs. Yonge to her Husband” opens the discourse upon repressed female sexuality with a very plain statement that “Too, too severely laws of honour bind / The weak submissive sex of womankind” (Montagu ll. 9-10). The speaker describes women as weak and submissive, using the very concepts society uses to maintain the binds upon women to reinforce the truth of the statement. The speaker is clear that honour is the tool used to maintain the oppression, as society self-monitors and moderates individuals. In Wycherly's The Country Wife honour is also to blame for controlling women's sexuality. Horner observes that women of honour “are only chary of their reputations, not their persons, and 'tis scandal they would avoid, not men” (Wycherly 183). This reinforces the representation of honour as binding and controlling women's behaviour. Further, it introduces the concept of female sexual desire, in suggesting that women ultimately avoid affairs due to the societal repercussions.
Montagu's “Epistle” also discusses female sexual desire, claiming that “Nature with equal fire our souls endued” (Montagu ll. 26). Female desire is constructed as natural and equivalent to male desire. This emphasizes the speaker's view of w...

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...ped in the unending contract of an unhappy marriage. The Country Wife may reveal truths about the state of marriage and women's sexuality, but the text's conclusion presents a future which perpetuates these truths. In contrast, Montagu's “Epistle” presents a more hopeful view of the state of society. Mrs. Yonge's affair is revealed to society and she faces the consequences of the scandal. However, the text gives voice to her struggle and presents a reasoned argument in her favour, which “will surely pity find / from every just and reasonable mind” (Montagu ll. 65-66). Montagu's text is self-redeeming, giving the speaker confidence that sympathy from the public is on her side, and hinting at retribution for her husband (Montagu ll. 80). The agency permitted by the existence of the text moves to ensure that “The lips condemn me, but their souls aquit” (Montagu ll. 68).

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