Special issues:

Literature and Linguistics (Vol. 1 No. 2); Literature and Violence (Vol. 3 Nos. 1-2)

Women, Consumption and Popular Culture (Vol. 4 No. 1); Life, Community, and Ethics (Vol. 4. No. 2)

The Making of Barbarians in Western Literature (Vol. 5 No. 1); Chaos and Fear in Contemporary British Literature (Vol. 5 No. 2)

Taiwan Cinema before Taiwan New Wave Cinema (Vol. 6 No. 1); Catastrophe and Cultural Imaginaries (Vol. 6 No. 2)

Affective Perspectives from East Asia (Vol. 9 No. 2); Longing and Belonging (Vol. 10 No. 2, produced in collaboration with the European Network for Comparative Literary Studies)

Transatlantic Literary and Cultural Relations, 1776 to the Present (Vol. 11 No. 2). 


This essay explores the concept of virginity and its representations in eighteenth-century English literature. In the first part, I trace the origins and development of the concept of virginity in the Western civilizations from three different perspectives: Greco-Roman, Christian, and socio-cultural. The Greco-Roman conception of virginity focuses on three Virgin Goddesses—Athena (Minerva), Artemis (Diana), and Hestia (Vesta). The Christian tradition centers on the key ideas of imitatio Christi, the Virgin Mary, and asexual cohabitation. In the social-cultural context, the concept of virginity is dominated by patriarchal values and cultural coded references. Moreover, it represents personal and family honor and expresses monetary and practical concerns. The second part of this essay discusses the ramifications of the concept of virginity in eighteenth-century English literature. Virginity may be treated as a butt of joke or disparagement, upheld as a criterion for moral or religious judgment, or treasured as merchandise for the market. In Samuel Richardson‟s Clarissa and Pamela, virginity is tantamount to female virtue and a warranty of female happiness, but in John Cleland‟s Fanny Hill it becomes an imaginary “Holy Grail” for male fantasy or heroic adventure. When female virginity becomes a matter of life and death, a warranty of family honor and fortune, and a cornerstone of public morality and welfare, how it is represented in literature has constituted a collective historical memory not only of women but of all human beings.

KEY WORDS: the Concept of Virginity, Literary Representations, the Eighteenth Century

摘 要

本篇論文探討貞操觀念及其在十八世紀英國文學中 的呈現。論文共分兩大部分。第一部分從希臘羅馬、基督 教、與社會文化三個角度來追溯西方文明中貞操觀念的產 生與發展。希臘羅馬的貞操觀念源自三位貞潔女神—雅典 娜、阿特密斯、與赫斯媞。基督教的貞操觀念則主要聚焦 於耶穌、聖母瑪利亞、及不分性別的共居。在社會文化範 疇中,貞操觀念則為父權價值所主導而代表個人及家庭榮 譽,同時具有經濟與實際的利益。第二部分探討各種貞操 觀念在十八世紀英國文學的呈現方式。貞操可能是被揶揄 或貶抑的對象,道德與宗教的判斷標準,也可能是需珍惜 的商品。在李查生(Samuel Richardson)的《克羅麗莎》 (Clarissa)與《潘蜜菈》(Pamela)中,貞操等同於女性 美德,更是女性幸福的保證。然而在克里蘭(John Cleland) 的《芬妮‧希爾》(Fanny Hill)中,貞操則是種男性想像 的「聖杯」,藉以滿足其幻想與英雄奇遇。當女性貞操變 成一件生死大事,一個家庭名譽與財富的象徵,甚至整個 社會道德與幸福的基柱時,文學中所呈現貞操觀念不僅成 為女性更是人類共同的歷史記憶。