British pornographic and erotic literature has frequently sought to arouse readers by surrounding its scenes with theatrical apparatuses that invite, if not sanction, community-wide watching. One of the most famous examples of eighteenth-century erotica, John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1749), dramatizes cultural preoccupations with female sexual initiation rituals by featuring a moment in which five women and four men perform sexual feats for each other on a couch—which Fanny Hill calls "the scene of action"—and by having the female participants, those "polite voluptuaries,"  assume the blushing postures of heterosexual novices. Subsequently, in one of the novel's more comic moments, Fanny pretends to be a virgin to satisfy Mr. Norbert, a customer of the establishment at which Fanny works and who wrongly fancies himself a potent deflowerer of young women. The re-enactment of hymen loss as a strategy for erotic arousal is a familiar pattern in the British pornographic tradition—a tradition now undergoing extensive analysis thanks to the work of Peter Wagner, Lynda Hunt, Michel Feher, Ian Frederick Moulton, and Bradford K. Mudge.  Less familiar, however, are studies that explore mainstream British drama's use of this pattern to comment on the sexual fantasies of late-eighteenth-century culture.
Sophia Lee's first and financially lucrative play, The Chapter of Accidents, based on Diderot's Le Père de Famille and first performed at the Haymarket Theatre in 1780, demonstrates some of the ways in which late-eighteenth-century British women playwrights introduced pornographic patterns to their work in order to confront—consciously or otherwise—the topic of first-time heterosexual intercourse. Repeatedly referring to virginity, defloration, and sexual initiation for both comedic—and erotic—effect, The Chapter of Accidents establishes that the equation of childhood innocence with pre-sexual and culturally untainted experiences does not necessarily result in a de-eroticized environment; on the contrary, such an equation can fuel a preoccupation with scenarios in which the sexually uninitiated can be ritually re-introduced to defloration. Whether or not any eighteenth-century audience member would actually trust in the intact hymen as an absolute marker of sexual "purity," the idea of a performative chastity—so central to Lee's dramaturgy—clearly had the power to hold centerstage.
While Katharine Rogers has suggested that portions of Sophia Lee's writing (especially her novel, The Recess)  are shaped by an erotic imagination—Lee "blatantly appealed to feminine wish-fulfilling fantasy"—Rogers dismisses Lee's "exclusive concentration on refined feelings" as "shallow and tedious . . . rather than a significant representation of reality . . . [and as] reinforc[ing] perceptions about intrinsic limitations to women's work."  But such limitations vanish when one considers the theatrical contexts of The Chapter of Accidents and juxtaposes these contexts with patterns in eighteenth-century British pornography. Several critics have used categories of gender and genre to point to the play's significance. Early in the twentieth century, Ernest Bernbaum ends his study of "the drama of sensibility" with The Chapter of Accidents because it represents "the final triumph of sentimental comedy over its enemies."  More recently, Ellen Donkin identifies the play as one of the first to be produced during the "post-Garrick era," when "the chances of a woman going to the theatre and seeing a play by another woman, or reading about a production by a woman in the newspapers, began to improve."  The prologue to The Chapter of Accidents in fact describes a theatrical environment that was more favorable to women than to "naughty men"—to whom the muses allowed "[f]ew liberties"—who behaved to them "like old maids on earth, resolv'd to vex," and who "[w]ith cruel coyness treat the other sex."  Yet "naughty women" also wrote plays during the so-called Age of Sensibility, and women playwrights—naughty or not—concerned themselves with the subject of "naughtiness." That the composition and publication date of The Chapter of Accidents coincides with the years when private theatricals were starting to come into vogue (1780-1810)  and when erotic theatre was in full bloom on aristocratic French stages  reminds us that mainstream productions—and sentimental fiction, for that matter—could not have been impervious to the strategies with which "underground theatres" explored sexual topics. And this realization also alerts us to look more carefully at the sexual strategies of plays written by British women prior to the French Revolution, when—during the 1770s and 1780s—playwrights such as Hannah Cowley, Hannah More, Frances Brooke, and Sophia Lee enjoyed well-received and often financially profitable productions of their work in London's major playhouses.
As in most eighteenth-century comedies, the potential rite of defloration and its importance to the social and legal sanctioning of eighteenth-century British marriages is a central feature of The Chapter of Accidents. But because the play conceals from its two patriarchs—Lord Glenmore and Governor Harcourt—the fact that the two young women they idealize as sexually pure are "already" (V.ii.90) sexually active,  it liberates the dramaturgy to suggest the following: the erotic cachet of a non-virgin may be increased when she performs in social theaters as if she still retains her hymen. That is, because the play's two biological fathers believe they are dealing with virgins while the audience knows they are not allows the play to veer away from asserting a sentimental moral that would condemn sex outside of marriage  to exploring how the fetishization of virginity shapes the fantasies of its cultural actors.
In Act I, set in London during a hotter-than-usual twenty-four hour period in September, we learn that Lord Glenmore has undertaken the responsibility for raising the child of his deceased friend in order to provide his son, Frank Woodville, with a model wife. Glenmore brags to his brother-in-law, Governor Harcourt, that he has, in effect, created an experimental laboratory in which sexual desire is eradicated by proximity: he has "authorised" Sophia Mortimer and Frank "to live with innocent elegance, which renders every rank easy, and prevents pleasure from seducing the heart, or ignorance the senses" (I.i.14).
Governor Harcourt is shocked by Lord Glenmore's attempt to cultivate sexual innocence by raising a future husband and wife together in the same house; by contrast, his "system of education" (III.ii.51) advocates "breeding [women] in retirement" (I.i.15). Having just returned to London after a sixteen-year sojourn in the West Indies, Governor Harcourt says that he is antagonistic to the "mode-mongers" of civilization (I.i.15), a long-held trait that has earlier prompted him to behave violently in response to the death of his wife, Lord Glenmore's sister. Long before the play begins, Governor Harcourt has kidnapped his own daughter, Cecilia, and given her to be raised by a poor man and his spouse, "whose name was up as the best housewife in the whole country" (I.i..16). Even though his dead wife was Lord Glenmore's sister, Harcourt does not hestitate (in front of Glenmore!) to thank Heaven for having killed her, and the reasons he gives for this gratitude are that his wife was "plaguy fantastical"; in addition, she "contrived to torment me as much with her virtues, as others by their vices," and she made "such a fuss about her delicacy, her sensibility, and refinement, that I could neither look, move, nor speak, without offending one or the other" (I.i.160). In short, Governor Harcourt tells Lord Glenmore that he has felt so restricted by his wife's manner that, upon her death, he "dispatched her draggletail'd French governess; made a bonfire of every book on education; whipped Miss [Cecilia, his daughter] into a post-chaise, under a pretense of placing her in a nunnery; instead of which I journeyed into Wales, and left her there in the care of a poor curate's wife" (I.i.16). Only Harcourt's gout, he confesses—we see him hobbling onto the stage at the start of the play—has prevented him from retrieving Cecilia in order to fulfill his wish that she produce "a race of true Britons" untainted by the intermarrying between "painted dolls and unjointed Macaronies," who threaten to introduce "a race of Frenchmen born in England" (I.i.17).
Like Lord Glenmore, Governor Harcourt confesses that has also fantasized about providing a wife for Frank, his nephew. But his model for the ideal mate—in contrast to Glenmore's—"has beauty without knowing it, innocence without knowing it, because she knows nothing else" as well as the requisite lucrative dowery ("forty thousand pounds without knowing it" [I.i.15]).
As this summary indicates, The Chapter of Accidents allies its socially prominent fathers with misogyny and racism, but this alliance does not necessarily facilitate a critique of their positions. Indeed, The Chapter of Accidents proliferates fathers in the process of examining how filial loyalty exacerbates, and detracts from, erotic scenarios about virginity. At one point in the play, for instance, Cecilia—one of the play's two deflowered heroines—vows to seek the "joint consent of both our [hers and Frank's] fathers" (II.i.29). But because there is a third father she doesn't know about (Governor Harcourt), she is actually swearing to tie her future to a patriarchal committee, a triumvirate with disparate values and class positions and a feature of the play that underscores its tendency to complicate its characters' every move. For instance, it is Lord Glenmore's pledge to Sophia's dying father that he will wed her to his son (V.ii.82)—a father who hovers over, but who never appears on the stage—that compels Lord Glenmore into an adversarial relationship with his own child, Frank.
As the primary agents of the play's repetitious eroticization of hymen-taking, Lord Glenmore and Governor Harcourt drive the dramaturgy: not only are they the main source of its comedy but they are also the prime instruments of those fantasies that the play seems to relish. In fact, it is the contrast between Governor Harcourt's fantasy about Cecilia's "purity" and her actual non-virginal status that creates the central comic device of the play's opening moments. For we soon learn that Cecilia, being Frank Woodville's mistress, is sexually experienced. As Governor Harcourt believes, she lives in relative isolation in a rustic environment, but hers is not the home he originally chose; unbeknownst to her biological father, as an adult woman Cecilia has found a new dwelling set up primarily to allow for pre-marital sexual intercourse. Governor Harcourt is delighted to discover that the "innocent" Frank is having sex with a woman whom he also is rumored to want to marry because this indicates to Harcourt that Frank has confounded Lord Glenmore's attempts to ensure that "the innocence of the boy is dignified by the knowledge of the man" (I.i.13). But this delight also puts the governor in the unknowing position of exulting in the sexual availability of his daughter, Cecilia, whom he calls "the slut" (I.i.18). A further complication arises having to do with the play's enjoyment of confounding the fathers' collective fantasy of preserving the sexual and cultural innocence of their children. In I.iii we discover that the Governor's relation, Captain Harcourt, has secretly married Lord Glenmore's ward, Sophia Mortimer, and because we can assume that the marriage has been consummated before the play begins, we are confronted with not one, but two, deflowered "virgins."
Pre-twentieth-century British pornography often links the eroticization of defloration to a heroine whose preoccupation with virginity (as an indicator of her commitment to sexual control) is obsessive. Similarly, The Chapter of Accidents works hard to assure its audiences that—despite Cecilia's defloration—she is appropriately obsessed with being "a truly noble-minded girl, and far above her present situation, which she earnestly wishes to quit" (II.v.39). But the play also complicates this portrayal by making comedy out of Cecilia's zealous desire to punish herself for having allowed her virginity to be taken. That is, the more she wants to sequester herself and atone for having contaminated her male lover, the more frequently the play re-virginizes her by having others mistake her physiological condition—a customary strategy in erotic and pornographic texts for permitting the moment of hymen-taking to be re-enacted, even though it can never actually be repeated.
In the imaginations of several characters, Cecilia is either a bride or potential bride—and thus a virgin verging on sexual initiation. To reinforce this situation, the play's plot twists create scenes of mistaken identity and secrecy that insure Cecilia will be bargained for and sought after as if she has never lost her hymen. For instance, having learned early in the play that Cecilia's biological father, Governor Harcourt, has had her kidnapped, we are confronted again with this same possibility in Act II, when Lord Glenmore tells us that he intends to "seize this insolent baggage, and convey her out of my son's reach" (II.iv.38). He is prevented from realizing his plan, yet this fantasized kidnapping underscores that the play is structured as a series of repetitions that use mistaken identity to highlight the play's preoccupation with defloration. Later in the play, Lord Glenmore proposes marriage to Cecilia, not knowing her to be the deflowered mistress of his son, and, from the start to the end of the play, Governor Harcourt tries to marry off his nephew, Frank (Lord Glenmore's son), to the very woman with whom Frank has slept and to whom he has already proposed marriage (Cecilia)—obviously not realizing that the child he has had raised in obscurity has found her way into Frank's arms.
In a similar manner, by obscuring for the fathers the sexual reality of the drama's other female non-virgin, Sophia Mortimer, The Chapter of Accidents repeatedly draws attention to her sexual status, and, consequently, this attention invited the largely middle- to upper-class London audiences attending the Haymarket in 1780 to indulge fantasies about defloration and sexual initiation. Although we know (as the play begins) that Sophia is already married to Charles Harcourt, several characters at different times try to marry her to different partners and remarry her to the same man. In Act II, her response to Harcourt's confession that he has "taken the strangest step" (II.v.39) signals the play's preoccupation with re-virgination and deflowering; when Harcourt tells Sophia that "this step" has had something to do with "a lady," Sophia asks: "Not another wife, I hope?" (II.v.39).
The dramaturgy's deliberate and repeated confusion about both Sophia's and Cecilia's physiological states puts an ironic twist on Cecilia's unironic statement that "the essence of all enjoyments" is "innocence!" (II.i.27). Certainly The Chapter of Accidents demonstrates that a hymen lost—or potentially lost—is an erotic scenario gained. Before we even meet Cecilia, The Chapter of Accidents gives us a scene in the first act in which Cecilia's lover, Frank Woodville, directs his friend, Charles Harcourt, to "imagine" Cecilia's physicality: "Imagine a fair favourite of Phoebus in all respects; since, while her face caught his beams, her heart felt his genius! Imagine all the graces hid under a straw hat and russet gown: imagine—" (I.iii.21). These "graces" "hid under a russet gown" include, of course, the female genitalia, to which Frank has already had access and which he may be imagining right at the moment that he is (strategically) interrupted.
As if to intensify audience desire to view Cecilia in person in order to see if the absent hymen registers in her behavior or physiognomy (I.iii.23), the play staves off Cecilia's entrance until the top of Act II, and, when she does arrive on stage, she is postured in a way that portrays her as in both moral and physical decline: she immediately "throws herself on the Sopha" and leans on her hand. The female form hurled onto a piece of furniture appears in numerous British pornographic texts and allies Cecilia with the paradigmatic heroine of what Peter Wagner calls "whore biographies"  as well as with the ostensibly sexually available actresses featured in celebrity narratives of the late eighteenth century.  There are additional clues that Cecilia is an erotic object: her clothes "scattered" about the stage in Act III.iii; a servingman reporting to have "peap'd" at her "through the keay-hoole" and "tittering" about seeing something ("un") that he "shall ne'er forgeat—" (III.iii.56); the fact that both her biological and foster fathers are mistaken, at different junctures in the play, for their daughter's seducer.
But because the facts of Cecilia's sexual condition threaten to preoccupy the play to the point where her moral "purity" recedes from view, the dramaturgy must remove Cecilia from her rustic love nest by having Sophia Mortimer—the non-virgin from a respectable social stratum—offer her "asylum" (II.v.39). Yet driven as it is by a keen interest in the erotics of virginity and defloration, the dramaturgy requires another erotic focus in order to counter Cecilia's removal, and the logical stand-in for the deflowered but perpetual virgin is Cecilia's servingwoman, Bridget (who, after Cecilia forswears her life as Frank's lover, literally dresses in her mistress's clothes).
From the moment we encounter mistress and servingwoman, the dramaturgy underscores the contrast between the valuable and expendable person, indicating that the topic of class—like the technique of repetition—is used to eroticize the play. We learn in Act II that Cecilia refuses fun as a testimony to her guilt and goodness, a fact about which her servant Bridget complains in the process of celebrating the behavior of her former mistress, "Madam Frisk," who, "as soon as ever master was gone . . . to run down, draw up her brocaded niggle-de-gee, and fall to play at some good fun or other!—" (II.i.26). While the play instructs Cecilia in self-forgiveness, Bridget's only lesson is that she must not dare to pass for a lady: she marries a man who believes she is someone else and who is therefore so bitterly disappointed at the discovery that he makes her afraid of him: "Oh dear heart," she cries at play's end, "I am now as much afeard of my new husband as father" (V.ii.86).
Temporarily removing Cecilia from the play and replacing her with the deflowered but socially inferior Bridget allows the dramaturgy both to punish Cecilia for "seducing" Frank  and to raise the (erotic) spectacle of a white woman being sexually worked over by black men. The play has earlier prepared for this scenario by introducing several of Governor Harcourt's black servants/slaves (Pompey, Antony, and Caesar [I.ii.19]), who seem to function only to carry out Harcourt's sometimes impotent aims. "I shall die away if the blacks do but touch me—" (IV.i.65), Bridget screams as Lord Glenmore instructs his white servant, Vane, to have her taken either to a nunnery or prison or—as actually occurs—to "one of the lofts over [Glenmore's] stables" to which they must go "the back way" (IV.i.66). This suggestion that Bridget may be sodomized leads into her subsequent sexual interrogation toward the end of the play, one designed also to punish Bridget; for, in contrast to Cecilia, who is inadvertently condemned for losing her hymen, Bridget—another nonvirgin—is condemned in the play's value system for having aspirations to rise to the social ranks reserved for Sophia and Cecilia.
Unsurprisingly, given the play's preoccupations, this interrogation focuses on that moment when Bridget has been initiated into heterosexual intercourse, and the scene of her defloration hovers over the discourse of V.i—serving both to foreground and critique the idea that premarital hymen-loss signals a moral failing. "Come," says Governor Harcourt to the woman whom he knows to be no virgin, "Tell me all your adventures.—Describe the behaviour of the young villain who seduced you. Where did you see him first?"
Brid[get]: Ugh, ugh—at church, sir.
Gov[ernor]: At church, quotha!—a pretty place to commence an intrigue in!—And how long was it before you came to this admirable agreement? [meaning the arrangement to live in circumstances that would allow for uninhibited—and illicit—sex].
Brid[get]: Umh—Why—Sunday was Midsummer eve, and Sunday after was madam's wedding-day, and Monday was our fair, and—
Gov[ernor]: Oh, curse your long histories!—And what then said Woodville?
Brid[get]: Oh, Lord, nothing at all.—Why, it warn't he.
By revealing her "initiator" to have been not Frank Woodville but rather the gardener of the squire, Bridget reduces Governor Harcourt to an apoplectic cursing of her that serves to retrieve Cecilia figuratively from asylum and places her again at the center of the play in the role of an unchaste unmarried woman with a respectable future. That is, because Bridget is confused for Cecilia by the Governor—who rails against her as a sexually promiscuous "slut" (V.i.77)—the dramaturgy is able both to demonize premarital defloration in women while also suggesting that promiscuity need not condemn a particular woman to life as an outcast. In this way the play provides a space for Cecilia to emerge as its heroine.
Additionally, the eroticization of defloration also permits the play to make a feminist statement: women and men must share in the consequences of pre-marital sexual activity. Indeed, The Chapter of Accidents is unusual for refusing to let the "ruined" Cecilia remain in "a voluntary poverty" (II.iii.36)—even though three of the play's male characters at different times try to eliminate her—and it refrains from punishing the secretly married Sophia Mortimer for acting as if she is a virgin through much of the play. Although Cecilia consistently tells us that her "heart revolts against my situation, and hourly bids me renounce a splendour, which only renders guilt more despicable" (II.i.27), it is the two male lovers—Frank Woodville and Charles Harcourt—who keep underscoring the insignificance of the hymen in negotiating marriage. When Captain (not Governor) Charles Harcourt is trying to convince Sophia to have compassion for Cecilia in spite of Cecilia's belief that the world will condemn her—since "the world judges by actions, not thoughts"—he states: "It is that cruel argument perpetuates error in so many of your frail sex; be the first to rise above it" (II.v.40). Not only must Cecilia "endeavour to forgive [herself], when Heaven thus graciously proves its forgiveness" (V.ii.91), but also the play's men must undergo a process of repentance and atonement usually reserved for women.
The dramaturgy underscores this idea by identifying Cecilia's lover, Frank Woodville, with femininity: his sentimentalism is remarked upon as making him unreliable from the perspective of men who feel affinity with "our hare-um, skare-um, good-natured, good-for-nothing fellows" (I.ii.20). And, early in the play, he is compared to an abandoned pregnant woman, evoking the potential condition of his mistress, Cecilia: "thy face is thinner and longer than a forsaken nymph's, who is going through the whole ceremony of nine month's repentance" (I.iii.21), teases Frank's good friend Harcourt on the occasion of Frank's anxious desire to prove to Cecilia the depth of his love and commitment.
Similarly, though Bridget is handled roughly for having ambitions to "pass[ing] for a lady" (V.ii.87), she gets to voice those lines in the play that—from a feminist perspective—are the most enlightened, lines that inevitably evoked audience sympathy and which can serve as an epigraph to a study that explores how British women dramatists discussed subjects traditionally at the center of erotic and pornographic narratives. At the end of the Governor's interrogation of her, Bridget declares to him that she'll "never speak truth again, that's a sure thing," and then she asks rhetorically, "What do I get by it, or any poor soul of the female kind?" (V.i.77).
We might raise the same question about women playwrights like Sophia Lee, especially when turning to her fascinating preface to The Chapter of Accidents in which she portrays herself as a victim of theatrical politics while distancing herself from her victimized playscript.  Like most prefaces we encounter during the period that stretches from 1750 to 1830, Lee's is a performative document that purports to take us behind the scenes of her personal drama—one in which she "accompanied [her] father eight years ago into the rules of a prison" and there "first conceived the design of introducing into the drama a female heart, capable of frailty, yet shuddering at vice, and perhaps sufficiently punished in her own feelings." Because this was her aim, Lee tells us she believes she was "adopting a religious tenet" and therefore thought it impossible that she "could ever be accused of offending morality" (p. iii). But her conviction that she must defend herself in the preface also suggests that she must have sensed The Chapter of Accidents charted some controversial territory.
To obscure her daring, however, the preface adopts the customary strategy of many late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century female dramatists, portraying Lee as the virginal heroine of sentimental fiction. But, in departure from documents of this time, Lee develops a notable contrast between herself and her playscript, which she describes in opposite terms through an analogy that evokes sexual promiscuity. Lee tells us that, when the script was finally given back to her by Thomas Harris of Covent Garden (after he kept it a long time and failed to communicate with Lee about its status), she visited him and received the text in a condition "so worn out and dirty that I had reason to conclude he had lent it to every one he knew, at least" (p. iv). That this abused playscript subsequently endured all sorts of violations in the process of reaching public performance—Lee "agreed to mutilate it according to [Harris's] ideas" (p. iv) and later, under a different manager, "cut out the songs" and "lengthened it into five acts" (p. v)—highlights the stark contrast Lee creates in the preface between her playwrighting persona and her playscript. It is Lee, rather than her text, who gets to retreat from public life at the first disappointment: she tells us that her experience with Harris so traumatized her that at first she "gave up, without a trial, all thoughts of the drama, and sought an humble home in Bath, resolving to bury in my own heart its little talent, and be a poor anything, rather than a poor author" (p. iv). Her playscript, on the other hand, is described as being refused such a recourse; it must be violently dealt with (she "agreed to mutilate it according to [Harris's] ideas" [p. iv]) as it continues along its journey to the stage—eventually to be performed at the Haymarket.
Thus, in Lee's preface we see a clear separation being drawn between a virtuous playwright-heroine whose innocence and "virginality" are unimpeachable and a dramaturgy that becomes soiled and abused, as if Lee would punish her play for boldly deviating from the formula of many gothic melodramas and novels appearing after 1764 in which deflowered women pay for their condition with poverty or death. Yet such a distinction between playwright and her playscript may have been absolutely necessary in order for Lee to justify to herself her persistence in trying to stage The Chapter of Accidents, the dramaturgy of which permits its deflowered heroine to reap rewards usually reserved for virgins all the while that it implicitly explores the culture's fascination with the act of defloration.
To say that women playwrights from the period between 1780 and 1798 obliquely participated in discussions about the physical features of first-time (hetero)sexual sex by subtlely eroticizing their own work points inevitably to the difficulties they encountered in engaging, even indirectly, such topics as virginity, defloration, and female sexual initiation. But such a statement also prompts us to consider the achievement of The Chapter of Accidents. It is a remarkable play not so much because it argues that a hymen can be metaphorically stitched back together again through pious suffering, although this feature of the plot should not be overlooked. Late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century gothic and melodramatic dramas such as Marie Thérèse De Camp's Smiles and Tears (1815) often use "virgo intacta" policies to perpetuate class interests as well as to punish their deflowered heroines by making them nuns or social outcasts. But Sophia Lee's play differs from these later plays, as well as from other dramas of the 1780s and 1790s by women (for instance, Elizabeth Inchbald's Wives as They Were, and Maids as They Are ) by using the device of the deflowered heroine to indulge fantasies about repeatedly restoring and undoing the hymen. And by so doing, The Chapter of Accidents asks us to consider some of the ways in which it robustly investigates a system of "patriarchal servitude" (V.ii.89) whose "politics . . . are the employment for every individual in it" (V.ii.81). Despite the fact that the prologue to The Chapter of Accidents says the play eschews topicality ("No temporary touches, no allusions/To camps, reviews, and all our late confusions"), it is very much a progressive contribution to an age that was employing scenarios from British pornography to critique enlightenment liberal ideas. Because the play works to restore the appearance of virginhood to the unvirginal for the sake of intensifying its comedy, The Chapter of Accidents reminds us that—in pornographic scenarios from the 1750s all the way to the late twentieth century  —sexual partners sometimes take on the roles of sexual "initiate" and "initiator" for the purpose of introducing laughter and excitement to the terrain of sexual desire.
I gratefully acknowledge the helpful responses of Richard C. Sha to an earlier version of this essay.
John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, 1749 (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1992) p. 165; p. 173.
Peter Wagner, Eros Revived: Erotica of the Enlightenment in England and America (London: Secker and Warburg, 1988); Lynn Hunt, ed., The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800 (New York: Zone Books, 1993); Michel Feher, ed., The Libertine Reader: Eroticism and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France (New York: Zone Books, 1997); Ian Frederick Moulton, Before Pornography: Erotic Writing in Early Modern England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Bradford K. Mudge, The Whore's Story: Women, Pornography, and the British Novel, 1684-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Criticism of Sophia Lee's writing—following a trend in feminist scholarship when recovering "lost" women writers—has focused almost exclusively on her novels, especially The Recess. See Alliston, April, "The Value of a Literary Legacy: Retracing the Transmission of Value Through Female Lines," Yale Journal of Criticism. 4.1 (1990): 109-27; Jayne Elizabeth Lewis, "'Ev'ry Lost Relation': Historical Fictions and Sentimental Incidents in Sophia Lee's The Recess," Eighteenth-Century Fiction 7.2 (1995): 165-84; and Megan Lynn Isaac, "Sophia Lee and the Gothic of Female Community," Studies in the Novel 28.2 (1996): 208-18. For discussions of Lee as playwright, see Ellen Donkin's chapter in Getting into the Act: Women Playwrights in London, 1776-1829 (London: Routledge, 1995). A brief discussion of the plot of The Chapter of Accidents appears in Ernest Bernbaum's The Drama of Sensibility: A Sketch of the History of English Sentimental Comedy and Domestic Tragedy, 1696-1780 (Boston: Ginn, 1915).
Katharine Rogers, "Sophia Lee," A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers, 1660-1800, Ed. Janet Todd (London: Methuen, 1987) pp. 194-95; p. 195.
Ernest Bernbaum, The Drama of Sensibility: A Sketch of the History of English Sentimental Comedy and Domestic Tragedy, 1696-1780, p. 265.
Ellen Donkin, Getting into the Act: Women Playwrights in London, 1776-1829, p. 77; p. 101.
Sophia Lee, The Chapter of Accidents, Vol. 34 of Bell's British Theatre (London: George Cawthorn, 1797).
For more information on the British private theatrical movement, see Sybil Rosenfeld's indispensible study, Temples of Thespis: Some Private Theatres and Theatricals in England and Wales, 1700-1820 (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1978).
See Karl Toepfer's discussion of "orgy theatre" in Theatre, Aristocracy, and Pornocracy: The Orgy Calculus (New York: Performing Arts Journal, 1991).
The version of Lee's playscript that I am using is the 1797 edition published in Bell's British Theatre series. This is the edition, as the title page states, that was "adapted for theatrical representation as performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden." This version reprints the prompt-book text used by the theatre manager, and it contains lines "omitted in the Representation" as well as those added in theatrical performance.
Writing in 1915, Ernest Bernbaum recognized that it "was a daring adventure on Miss Lee's part to defy prejudice by presenting what the world calls a 'ruined' maid as a heroine; but it succeeded brilliantly" (The Drama of Sensibility, p. 265).
See Peter Wagner's study of enlightenment erotica in Eros Revived: Erotica of the Enlightenment in England and America (London: Secker and Warburg, 1988).
For a discussion of these celebrity memoirs and some of their pornographic features see Chapter 2 of my Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).
Mistaking Cecilia for Bridget, Lord Glenmore declares that "[y]our conduct, wretch! justifies a severer sentence. To seduce him [Frank] from his duty, was crime enough!" (IV.i.65).
See Ellen Donkin's reading of Sophia Lee's preface to The Chapter of Accidents in Getting into the Act: Women Playwrights in London, 1776-1829. Donkin analyzes the preface for the information it reveals about the cultural and political condition of late-eighteenth-century British women playwrights.
See especially the following films: Behind the Green Door (with Marilyn Chambers) and Ed Powers's Dirty Debutantes video series.