Before Pornography: Erotic Writing in Early Modern England

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Before Pornography explores the relationship between erotic writing, masculinity, and national identity in Renaissance England. Drawing on both manuscripts and printed texts, and incorporating insights from modern feminist theory and queer studies, the book argues that pornography is a historical phenomenon: while the representation of sexual activity exists in nearly all cultures, pornography does not. The book includes analyses of the social significance of eroticism in such canonical texts as Sidney's Defense of Poesy and Spenser's Faerie Queene.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is emphatically an important book, valuable both as a useful addition to the expanding field of Renaissance studies of sexuality and gender, and as a significant contribution to a key area of debate in contemporary culture....Moulton has written a series and sensitive study of a difficult subject and he has done so with much wit and grace, not to mention scholarship and substance."—Willy Maley, University of Glasgow

"Before Pornography is an impressive achievement. Most attempts to explain what is early modern pornography have concentrated on the sexually explicit, obscene nature of the material. Moulton clears away many old debates and refreshingly reminds us to think about the historical specificity of early modern Europe and to see erotic writing as a commodity that circulated widely among literate culture. His is a rich and lively recreation of that world's 'way of reading' that looks from the inside out rather than the other way around.""—Margaret F. Rosenthal, University of Southern California

"Before Pornography finely explores erotic literature in early modern England, showing how it does not neatly fit later models of the pornographic. Ian Moulton illuminates the relations between erotic writing and the politics of both national identity and the literary career of the professional writer. This book will be of interest to anyone studying changing definitions of gender, sexuality, and authorship."—Peter Stallybrass, University of Pennsylvania

"In this brilliant, provocative book Ian Moulton makes an original contribution to our understanding of the history of erotic representation. This history has remained largely unexplored, Moulton persuasively argues, because we have tended to classify erotic writing from the past under the modern rubric of pornography. Moulton makes an elegant, clearly written, and highly learned case for appreciating the culturally distinctive features of early modern erotic writing and emergent debates about gender and national identity in Tudor-Stuart England."—Margaret Ferguson, University of California, Davis

"Ian Moulton carries the history of verbal eroticism into fascinating new territory on several fronts, as he brings exacting attention to material media, gender differences, national identity, and the models available to writers in fashioning a dramatic identity for themselves. Readers interested in all these diverse subjects will find Before Pornography absolutely compelling."—Bruce Smith, Georgetown University

"A thoughtful, intelligent, and well-argued book on early modern erotic writing, especially valuable for its linking of the early modern construction of a private, inner world to the consumption of erotic writings. Showing that erotic pieces were more common in manuscript culture than in print, Moulton does excellent work in miscellanies and commonplace books. Most useful is the chapter on Pietro Aretino, who in England 'come to symbolize erotic corruption just as Machiavelli was seen as an embodiment of political corruption,' but who has been much neglected by English-language scholars."—Linda Woodbridge, Pennsylvania State University

"Striking.... This satisfying book will appeal to all with an interest in early modern culture and society."—Times Literary Supplement

"Moulton is especially persuasive in one of his principal theses, that erotic representation twined through English protonational identity, and was particularly important in English notions of the Italianate.... Before Pornography is an enjoyable read and offers genuine insight into the place of erotic writing in early modern English culture."—Sixteenth Century Journal

"An extremely useful study of the prevalence of and interest in erotic literature in early modern England."—Choice

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