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By a gentle force compell'd: An analysis of rape in eighteenth-century English fact and fiction

Stephen M Constantine, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Rape shows up with remarkable frequency in English novels written in the eighteenth century. It also shows up with depressing regularity in the court records of the times. This thesis examines rape both as it occurred in fact (by examining legal records) and in fiction (by examining a wide variety of novels). The thesis begins with a brief look at the history of rape laws in England, then undertakes an extensive review of rape cases from the Old Bailey Sessions Papers and from the Select Trials. Fictional representations of rape in novels are then considered, with special attention paid to the reasons (fictional) men commit rape and the reasons (fictional) women were often seen as complicit in their own rapes. A chapter is devoted to Clarissa, as this novel's complex representation of rape raises a number of important issues about the connections between rape in reality and rape in fiction. A concluding chapter attempts to draw some conclusions about the differences between rape as it happened in eighteenth-century England and as it is used by novelists from Behn to Richardson.

Subject Area

Law|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Constantine, Stephen M, "By a gentle force compell'd: An analysis of rape in eighteenth-century English fact and fiction" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3242099.