Kelly and Leslie 1999

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Evading Rape and Embracing Empire in Margaret Cavendish's Assaulted and Pursued Chastity

"I want to argue here that Cavendish's virginal poetics achieve their potency, in fact, by negotiating between the Scylla of the absolutist virago and the Charybdis of the monstrous usurping androgyne to arrive at a gendered allegory, featuring the martial maid as both the emblem of disordered times and the tonic to cure them." (179)

virgin-virago as object of "admiration, dread of disgust"

  • Amazons in misogynist literature -- "the very personification of a violently disordered domestic sphere"
  • Elizabeth -- virginal body politic

Henrietta Maria; Cavendish was a lady-in-waiting to her; Neoplatonic cult of chaste love surrounding her, drawing on Amazonian and hermaphroditic models

  • sanctity or pollution of the political body (182)

virgins in the history of the church -- ambivalent relationship; good to be virginal, but better to marry than to be virginal and then have sex out of wedlock (183)

"Cavendish rehearses a variety of conventions concerning virgins, assaulted and armed, forcing the contradictions of these master narratives into crisis along with her virginal heroine. The very stylized nature of romance with its stock plot devices of love and losee, adventure and disguise, exile and return helps Cavendish to control the moral geography of her story, while allowing her all the latitude of the genre. Furthermore, the use of romance to disguise or promote political agendas in the mid-seventeenth century has been widely noted, and provided Cavendish with powerful generic precedent." (183)
"In Assaulted and Pursued Chastity, Cavendish revises -- by putting into contact -- the familiar but generally opposed narratives of women's sexual victimization and female mastery. But it is only by exhausting these narrative alternatives that the formerly assaulted and pursued virgin ultimately can be established as the sign of, and, more remarkably, the agent for, political and sexual restoration." (183)

echoes of Jerome in opening preface

Travellia later rewrites the bawd's understanding of Nature into a "kidn of liberating animist materialism. Challenging the bawd's arguments that urge the consumption of virginal bodies, the lady's pseudo-classical theology allows for the operations of a pleasurable virginal vitalism." (186)

"This victory of Miseria over the Prince preserves her chastity, but endangers her place in the narrative. If she is not a victim, can she be considered innocent, especially when a gun replaces God as intervening moral force?" (187)
"Assaulted and Pursued Chastity resolves the perceived contradiction of the heroic woman by making chastity an active rather than passive virtue." (188)

pronomial confusion in Travellia's name/reference; "the confusion for the reader does not derive from the alternation of pronouns per se. The reader always knows who Travellia is, and her identity is never in doubt even when her gender is. The source of confusion derives rather from Cavendish's refusal to establish or maintain any distinction between a private female essence, and an assumed public, masculine role." (189)

in Shakespeare, cross-dressing doesn't blur gender distinctions, but heightens it; "Cavendish, by contrast, neither inverts nor corrects gender roles through transvestism. Rather than disguising or disclosing gender by turns, her use of cross-dressing generally works to destabilize and challenge gender as a natural marker of identity and difference." (190)

"Travellia represents not an inversion of 'proper' gender roles so much as a hermaphroditic combination of female and male, defensive and aggressive, vulnerable and powerful." (192)

not a popular or populist feminist vision; rather Cavendish "embodies a royalist diaspora in the virginal Travellia, a figure whose vulnerability and strength are similarly attributed to her great virtue. Travellia is not an Amazonian virago who challenges 'rightful' male authority. Neither does she seek to usurp masculine prerogatives to become the monstrous man-woman. She is rather forced to become the compensatory hermaphrodite whose masculine virtues are brought on or provoked by the lacke of virtuous male authority or masculine self-constraint." (195)

"The assaulted virgin represents allegorically the violently displaced and disinherited political body, a body that remains intact through exile and a series of adversities." -- but still the text reproaches failed aristocratic virtues (195)
"The ultimate restoration of a proper order is, in fact,a new order under which female chastity is something more than a reservoir of feminine value for masculine use. Instead, chastity is offered as a powerful symbolic source of just governance and at the same tiem the justification of female power and self-governance." (196)