Special Issue: New Approaches to Rape Studies in the Long Eighteenth Century

Due Date: 03-01-2024

Frances Ferguson’s foundational Rape and the Rise of the Novel (1987) drew attention to the “perverse collusion between the structural passivity of the female body” and legal as well as psychological obstacles in women’s capacity to consent. Toni Bowers powerfully asserts in Force or Fraud: British Seduction Stories and the Problem of Resistance, 1660–1760 (2011), “Eighteenth-century seduction stories . . . shed light on anxieties with ‘British’ self-definition that remain pertinent in our own day” and “reveal connections between resistance practices of many kinds.” Valuing these and other earlier debates, this special issue acknowledges that critical discourse has evolved in its priorities and politics.

To reflect new strategies of addressing rape, this special issue seeks to bring together writing by scholars of art, literature, history, feminist studies, and legal studies to engage current movements against sexual violence and assess how we approach gender-based violence in eighteenth-century literature and culture. Moving beyond the legal implications of Lord Chief Justice Matthew Hale’s claim that rape was a charge “easily to be made and hard to be proved,” a context detailed at length by Gregory Durston (JECS 2005; 2006), we invite contributions that consider rape from feminist, anti-racist, or queer perspectives with the goal to foster solidarity and transform the analysis of sexual violence in eighteenth-century studies.

The wide circulation of the #MeToo movement in online spaces since 2017 has renewed scholarly interest in eighteenth-century sexual violence and leads us to call for revisions of older methodological approaches. We take our cue from Erin Spampinato who, writing in differences (2021), deprioritizes “adjudicative” methods of approaching rape in literature—that is, scholars’ legalistic weighing of characters’ motivation and criminal conduct. Spampinato offers a “capacious” conception of sexual violence enabling critics to register a greater number of acts as harmful and worthy of scholarly engagement. Supporting Spampinato’s wider definition of rape, the editors particularly welcome articles on gender-based violence in nonheterosexual, queer, colonial, and working-class contexts to destabilize traditional critical approaches that center literary and historical representations of middle-class heterosexual violence. Questions articles may address include the following: What are the historical continuities—and discontinuities—between eighteenth-century sexual violence and contemporary definitions of rape culture? What methodological strategies can bring sexual assault in historic depictions from the margins to the center of critical attention? What kinds of scholarly futures can a focus on sexual violence, broadly conceived, unlock? How can twenty-first-century lenses resituate and reconfigure former methodologies and offer responsible ways to analyze literary and historical representations of sexual violence?

Please send a 300-word abstract (with working title for a 6,000–8,000-word article) and a CV by 1 March 2024 to Jolene Zigarovich and Doreen Thierauf. Authors will be notified by 15 March 2024 if their proposals have been accepted, and complete articles will be due by 1 November 2024. This special issue is being considered at The Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies.