Cottegnies and Weitz 2003

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"Romantic Fiction, Moral Anxiety, and Social Capital in Cavendish's Assaulted and Pursued Chastity

by Nancy Weitz

the conflicts in Assaulted "alone are not the result of fractured narrative voices, but Cavendish's need to serve more than one master: the divergent aims of the narrative lead to inconsistencies in the resulting meaning of the text. The forces at work are Cavendish's own authorial goals, her understanding of reader expectations, her adherence to generic and modal conventions, and finally her own reputation." (145-6)

romance "posed a threat to the female reader's ability to differentiate positive from negative examples and severely tested her strength of will to resist her natural inclination toward sensuality" (148)

"Leaving aside the problems inherent with romance, chastity posed a difficulty for discussion because its very position as the pinnacle of virtue and anathema to lust makes it the inescapable partner of lust: every mention of chastity carries with it that absent presence." (149)

compares Assaulted to Milton's Comus (150; see also Schwarz 2003)

"While Milton asks of the Lady only her steadfast refusal to give in to Comus's temptations, thus allowing Comus to bear the brunt of culpability as long as she doesn't fall victim to him, Cavendish allows her heroine to be in some degree responsible for her seducer's attraction. The seducer is in fact only very faintly demonized for persecuting his prey, an attitude that undercuts the virtue's importance as anything more than a maneuver for catching a husband, even while Cavendish shows the worldly power that chastity can bring." (152)
"To Cavendish, chastity functions as a social virtue, such as courtesy, which keeps the (polite) world running in a smooth and orderly fashion but can be upset at any time by someone who does not recognize its place and its worth." (153)

Brathwait: Dinah's actions (wandering away) caused her to be "ravished" -- she created the opportunity of her own rape; Cavendish agrees, but shifts blame to the rapist (153)

"The story itself, like its preface, slips elusively in and out of agreement with these two conflicting positions -- woman as innocent victim/woman as culpable victim." (154)

for the heroine of Assaulted, "chastity is not enough on its own: it must be complemented by heroic action" (155-6)

"That chastity (or its appearance) is an essential quality for a prospective bride gives the unmarried woman with a reputation for chastitty a certain amount of power over her social condition, and even though the property of chastity was most often bartered between men (the father and the husband-to-be), it allows Cavendish the space to imagine the power that a chaste orphan could wield over her future." (156)

Cavendish's "overtly pragmatic view of chastity as a powerful social tool" (157)