chapter  3
22 Pages

Sexual Awakening and Political Power

In the amatory narrative, as formulated by Aphra Behn, the moment of awakening first love is typically followed by one or more discursive moments, discussions by characters or the narrator about subjects apparently unconnected with the panting, blushing, fainting, weeping ecstasy these narratives associate with mutual desire. Often, these interruptive, delaying meditations have to do with what we can describe as the political and philosophical implications of sexual attraction, for it seems to be the sense of these fictions that acute awareness of the bodily self is tied to acute awareness of self as political subject and agent. Behn, and, following her, Delarivier Manley are given to “freezing” the first moment of double desire-suspending action between the awakening of desire and its consummation-sometimes for dozens of pages wherein the plot or discursive commentary focuses on questions of state governance and power. The somewhat strange linkage they forge constitutes an important aspect of their understanding of both the nature of sexual desire and the structure of women’s political identity.1 In a sense, we could say, they see in the moment of sexual awakening the birth of a self-awareness necessary to participate in the actions of the world, the decisions of the body politic. So their fantasies of female desire are not simply fantasies of sexual appetite or emotional longing. They are also fantasies of power, influence, and political agency-in the family and in the home, certainly, but also in the nation and in the world.2