Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830 / Edition 1

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Overview

Placing sexual culture at the center of power relations in Revolutionary-era Philadelphia, Clare A. Lyons uncovers a world where runaway wives challenged their husbands' patriarchal rights and where serial and casual sexual relationships were commonplace. By reading popular representations of sex against actual behavior, Lyons reveals the clash of meanings given to sex and illuminates struggles to recast sexuality in order to eliminate its subversive potential.

Sexuality became the vehicle for exploring currents of liberty, freedom, and individualism in the politics of everyday life among groups of early Americans typically excluded from formal systems of governance--women, African Americans, and poor classes of whites. Lyons shows that men and women created a vibrant urban pleasure culture, including the eroticization of print culture, as eighteenth-century readers became fascinated with stories of bastardy, prostitution, seduction, and adultery. In the post-Revolutionary reaction, white middle-class men asserted their authority, Lyons argues, by creating a gender system that simultaneously allowed them the liberty of their passions, constrained middle-class women with virtue, and projected licentiousness onto lower-class whites and African Americans.

Lyons's analysis shows how class and racial divisions fostered new constructions of sexuality that served as a foundation for gender. This gendering of sexuality in the new nation was integral to reconstituting social hierarchies and subordinating women and African Americans in the wake of the Revolution.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Important and comprehensive . . . likely to become the major point of reference for anyone studying sexual practices and gender politics during the founding of the American republic.--Eighteenth-Century Life

[A] bold, wide-ranging, and deeply researched book. . . . Refreshingly, it places at the center of analysis the issues of desire and pleasure. . . . The heroes of this book are lusty women shaping their own destinies, satisfying their desires, and pursuing sexual pleasure. . . . Placing provocative interpretations on the table, [it] succeeds admirably.--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Clare A. Lyons is associate professor of history at the University of Maryland.
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Table of Contents

Pt. I The sexual terrain of colonial and revolutionary Philadelphia 11
1 A springboard to revolution : runaway wives and self-divorce 14
2 The fruits of nonmarital unions : sex in the urban pleasure culture 59
3 The pleasures and powers of reading : eroticization of popular print and discursive interpretations of sex 115
Pt. II Sex in the city in the age of democratic revolutions 183
4 To be "free and independent" : sex among the revolutionary rabble 186
5 Sex and the politics of gender in the age of revolution 237
Pt. III Normalizing sex in the nineteenth century : the assault on nonmarital sexuality 309
6 Through our bodies : prostitution and the cultural reconstruction of nonmarital sexuality 312
7 Through our souls : the benevolent reform of sexual transgressors 323
8 Through our children : bastardy comes under attack 354
Conclusion and reflection 393
App Establishing class 397
App Bastardy totals 398
App Mothers' requests for out-relief bastardy child support 399
App Sexual transgressions 400
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