12 Pages

Introduction: In the Voice of a Woman

This study, like all such works, began with a simple question: what did women writers of the Restoration and eighteenth century in England have to say about female heterosexual desire? By the end, of course, my original query had multiplied into a series of complex concerns. One way to trace the development of the argument that will follow would be to record the history of the mutation of my simple question. How did I move from interest in women’s expressions of sexual desire to the relationship between desire and philosophical materialism, desire and pastoral motifs, desire and the use of language, desire and national identity? How do materialism, pastoralism, nationalism, and sexual desire come to occupy the same textual space in the late seventeenth century? Is this joint occupation of textual territory contested? Do ideas remain fused through the period or does fiction written by women eventually separate strands that were once interwoven-and, if so, at what cost to the representation of desire? Efforts to answer those questions began to resonate with emphases of recent studies of Restoration and eighteenth-century literature as well as with the foci of certain works in the emerging field of ethical criticism and theory. And, eventually, my investigations took me back to the texts that ethical theorists examine-biblical narratives that focus on heterosexual desire.