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The word 'rape' today denotes sexual appropriation; yet it originally signified the theft of a woman from her father or husband by abduction or elopement. In the early modern period, its meaning is in transition between these two senses, while rapes and attempted rapes proliferate in literature. This age also sees the emergence of the woman writer, despite a sexual ideology which equates women's writing with promiscuity. Classical myths, however, associate women's story-telling with resistance to rape. Now in paperback for the first time, and with a new preface offering a critique of recent developments in the field, this book draws on a wide range of texts from fiction, poetry and drama, by male and female writers, canonical and non-canonical, to reveal the significance of rape in the portrayal of gender-relations. An understanding of the ways in which the gender-relations represented in these texts exploit the subject of rape is also used to illuminate the issues of sexual and discursive autonomy which figure largely in women's texts of the period.
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