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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A biocultural exploration of risk, risk-taking, and female sexual engagement in British narratives, 1683-1740 Jang, Lauri Denise


This dissertation explores the role of risk, the function of risk-taking, and women’s sexual behaviour as expressed in British narratives published between 1683 and 1740. I adopt a biocultural approach — namely, a consilient perspective that gives primacy to how human nature developed through the coevolution of biology and culture. Hitherto, most eighteenth-century literary and cultural critics have not taken advantage of the explanatory and revelatory power of the biocultural approach. The four case studies I present here explore the function of women’s risk-taking in my chosen texts. I focus on possibilities that emerge for heroines at the risk of being raped, being socially or sexually abandoned, suffering loss of financial security, facing poor marriage prospects, ruining romantic attachments, and being deprived of sexual gratification. My introductory chapter lays out the biocultural approach and details some of the key features of our evolved psychology that inform human sexual behaviour. Chapter One explores a much-neglected novel, The London Jilt. In this chapter, I argue that the novel’s heroine emerges as a prosocial whore who willingly incorporates altruistic punishment as a strategy for managing intersexual conflict, even as her prosociality is continually offset by her own opportunism. Chapter Two examines Daniel Defoe’s sexualized characterization of Lady Credit who, I argue, deploys a whore’s stratagem to recruit bipartisan support for England’s nascent credit system. Through Lady Credit, homosocial cooperation is made possible despite distrust between warring political factions. Chapter Three considers the effects of loss aversion and intrasexual competition on female sexual risk-taking in Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess. In this chapter, I also detail how sexually climactic possibilities might emerge from intentional delay of sexual gratification. Chapter Four investigates Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. I assert that Pamela’s self-deception is an intrasexually competitive strategy that allows Pamela to increase sexual risk-taking while avoiding social and parental punishment. And ironically, Pamela’s self-deceptive tactics allow this heroine to win over the man who continually threatens Pamela with rape. Ultimately, my dissertation reveals that, by way of a biocultural perspective, risk and risk-taking bring out new facets and dimensions of women’s sexual nature thus far overlooked and undiscovered.

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