Rape's Reprisals: Missing Sexual Violence In Early Modern French Literature

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This dissertation explores figures of sexual violence in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French literature, pursuing alternative understandings of sexual violence to the modern legal conceptions of rape as a discrete event in which a person has sex with another person against or without that person's known and knowable consent. In readings of Lettres portugaises, I take up the affinities between the "missed experience" of Mariane's seduction and contemporary conceptions of trauma, pointing to the ways in which the modern distinction between rape and seduction has concealed the figuration of the trauma of seduction in the letters. I argue that the missed experience of violation comes to mark the very violence, and trauma, of seduction in this text. My readings of Madeleine de Scudéry's Clélie, histoire romaine explore the curious repetitions and elisions of the scene of rape from Scudéry's rewriting of the Roman historical accounts of the rape of Lucretia. I argue that although the scene of rape is missing from the narrative, it is precisely in and as this absence that Scudéry interrogates rape's specific violence. Turning to Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses, I explore how metonymic and narrative substitutions both conceal and expose the retroactive construction of each victim's intention. In this way, despite the absence of intention-the absenting of intention-an ineffable violence nonetheless leaves its traces on the text. I ultimately argue that these literary figures of sexual violence might prompt us to rethink its contours and specificity in contemporary literary criticism, rape law, and anti-rape activism. We must consider, for instance, that the elision of rape or its conversion into a seduction are not necessarily proof of the "falsity" of a victim's claims or of rape's misogynistic suppression. Rather, we might begin to read the enmeshing of sexual violence and narrative itself as part of the domestication of its violence, a domestication which comes at the cost, rather than to the aid, of victims, survivors, and even perpetrators of sexual violence.

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Sexual violence in literature; 17th- and 18th-century French Lit; Narrative, Allegory, and Disarticulation


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Greenberg,Mitchell D

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Saccamano,Neil Charles

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Romance Studies

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Ph. D., Romance Studies

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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