Domestic Dangers: Women, Words and Sex in Early Modern London

'What else is woman but a foe to friendship ...a domestic danger.' These words, taken from a biblical commentary by St John Chrysostom, are frequently quoted in early modern literature, showing that sexual morality was central to the patriarchal society of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. In this fascinating and original book, Laura Gowing considers what gender difference meant in the practice of daily life, examining the working of gender relations in sex, courtship, marriage conflict, and verbal disputes. Her focus is the richly detailed and previously unused records of litigation over sexual insult, contracts of marriage, and marital separation in London, c.1560-1640. Gowing takes a new approach to these legal testimonies, reading them as texts with complicated layers of meanings in order to reveal precisely how culture, language, stories, and experience connected. Arguing that women's and men's sexual honour had such different meanings as to make them incommensurable, she reveals how, in every area of sex and marriage, women were perceived as acting differently, and with different results, from men. This is the first analysis of women's special experiences in the metropolis, and presents powerful evidence for women's use of legal agency. From the formal world of law to the daily world of the street, Domestic Dangers reveals the organization of gender relations and the shape of ordinary women's lives in early modern London.