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Cruelty and LaughterForgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental Eighteenth Century$
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Simon Dickie

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780226146188

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226146201.001.0001

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Rape Jokes and the Law

Rape Jokes and the Law

(p.190) Chapter Five Rape Jokes and the Law
Cruelty and Laughter

Simon Dickie

University of Chicago Press

Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa brought to eighteenth-century British culture an awareness of sexual violence. Despite the sadoeroticism in sentimental rape plots, these fictions created an environment in which there was a new willingness to believe in and admire “female” emotions. Accompanied by Enlightenment assertions about the moral and intellectual equality of women, the legal definition of rape as a property crime was shifting toward something more in keeping with the modern definition. The chapter tackles a wide literary archive of puns, catchphrases, offhand comments, and the wry slant of newspaper reports on rape. The author then studies the everyday comic perspectives on rape during this period—humor that focuses on legal scenarios. The main concern, of the chapter is to get a glimpse behind the judicial practice on rape within this period through the lens of comic sources—with the hope that the legal history will be helpful in making sense of the literary sources.

Keywords:   sexual violence, Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, enlightenment, equality of women, rape, property crime, comic perspectives

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