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Her Desire and His: Letters between Fifteenth-century Lovers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Kristina Hildebrand
Affiliation:
Halmstad University College
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Summary

THE FIFTEENTH century contains many examples of expressions of erotic desire, in genres ranging from romances to hagiographies. Whether the texts aim at sexual arousal or pious horror in the reader, these genres were intended for publication. Even the most explicit depiction of private life in the fifteenth century available to us, Margery Kempe's Life, was intended for the public. However, this is not the case with the private letters in collections such as the Paston, Stonor and Plumpton papers. In these letters, we encounter men and women expressing erotic desire in what they perceived as private communications – as evinced by the occasionally stated request that the recipient burn the letter. This essay investigates the gendered voices of desire in fifteenth-century letters between spouses or prospective spouses, and suggests a new reading of the discourse of dominance/ submission.

Reading these letters today, we encounter a number of limitations. Firstly, the preserved letters of the fifteenth century spring from a small social group, mainly from the strata of clerical and upper-class correspondents. Although the clerical letters may well contain comments on erotic love, for letters between spouses, where erotic love was permitted and practised, we must turn to the nobility, gentry and merchant classes. Thus, the understanding of erotic love inside marriage we draw from the letters is limited to those social strata, to which the writers of the three collections all belong.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2007

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