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Amatory Fiction

Amatory fiction is a genre of literature that was popular in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It is today considered a predecessor of the romance novel.

The vast majority of amatory fiction was written and read by women. These works were focused on romantic and intimate relationships and took the form of short stories, novellas, and novels. Today, pieces of amatory fiction, whether short stories or novels, are considered early examples of literature in which women could express themselves freely, unbound by the confines of their realities. 

Amatory Fiction definition and examples


Amatory Fiction Definition

Amatory fiction is a popular genre of literature, mainly among female readers, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Britain. These works challenge the typical depiction of the innocent woman seduced by the more powerful and sexually knowledgeable man. Instead, many of the most famous examples of amatory fiction depicted a role reversal in which the woman took an active role in her sexuality and was unafraid to seek out a male lover. While many of these works were sexual in nature, there was also a focus on sentimental love.

Examples of Amatory Fiction

The History of the Nun by Aphra Behn 

The History of the Nun by Aphra Behn is a novella written by one of the best-known authors of amatory fiction. The piece was published in 1689 and explores themes of women’s guilt and reputation. The line, “Love, like reputation, once fled, never returns more” from the novel speaks to these themes quite clearly. The protagonist, Isabella, tries to maintain society’s expectations for her but struggles as she deals with the fallout from the murders of her two husbands. 

Read Aphra Behn’s poetry.

Fantomina, or, Love in a Maze by Eliza Haywood 

Fantomina, or, Love in a Maze, is a popular work of the amatory fiction genre. It was published in 1725 and focuses on a clever, original, and unnamed protagonist who, throughout the novel, disguises herself as four separate women in an effort to understand the way men interact with various personalities. Here is a quote from early on in the novel: 

She depended on the strength of her virtue, to bear her safe thro trials more dangerous than she apprehended this to be, and never having been addressed by him as a lady — was resolved to receive his devoirs as a town-mistress, imagining a world of satisfaction to herself in engaging him in the character of such a one, and in observing the surprise he would be in to find himself refused by a woman who he supposed granted her favors without exception

Haywood’s open discussion of women’s sexual desire in this novel is what sets it apart from many of the novels, mainly written by men, during this period. The novel challenges the idea that women’s sexual desire is, and should be, suppressed. The title name, “Fantomina,” refers to the first disguise that the protagonist uses. 

Love in Excess; Or, The Fatal Enquiry by Eliza Haywood 

Love in Excess; Or, The Fatal Enquiry is a well-known example of amatory fiction written between 1719 and 1720. This novel describes Count D’Elmont, who reforms his character throughout the novel. During its early years, the novel was a best-seller. It has been compared in popularity to works like Gulliver’s Travels. Unfortunately, the novel has been largely forgotten today. 

Throughout, the author utilizes a common literary device of amatory fiction—the love triangle. She also explores the contrasting implications of independent sexual desire and inescapable social expectations for women. 

The Lost Lover by Delarivier Manley 

The Lost Lover by Delarivier Manley is a play first published and performed in 1696. It ran for three nights but is often cited as an important work of amatory fiction. The author, commonly known as Delia Manley, is usually included alongside Elizabeth Haywood and Aphra Behn as one of the best writers of this genre of British literature. Little is known about her, except for what is written in The New Atalantis’ “Delia’s Story.” 

FAQs

What is amatory fiction? 

Amatory fiction was a genre of British literature published in the late 17th in early 18th centuries. Despite its popularity of the time, primarily with female readers, works of amatory fiction have been largely forgotten today.

What is amatory fiction about?

Amatory fiction, as the name suggests, refers to literary works in which the authors, primarily women, depicted intimate, passionate, and sexual relationships. The genre is often seen as a precursor to early feminist literature in which women take a more dominant role in their relationships.

What is an example of amatory fiction?

There are numerous well-known examples of amatory fiction written in the late 17th in early 18th centuries. Some of the best for penned by Elizabeth Haywood, Aphra Behn, and Delarivier “Delia” Manley. For instance, Haywood’s Love in Excess; Or, The Fatal Enquiry, and Behn’s The History of the Nun. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Romance:  a narrative genre of literature. It can feature elements that include mystery, adventure, bravery, and more.
  • Cavalier Poets: a group of writers from the 17th century in England. They are generally defined by their class, and the fact that they originated from that which supported Charles I during the English Civil War.
  • Graveyard Poets: also known as the Churchyard Poets were a group of writers in England during the 18th century. Their writing was characterized by meditations on death and the afterlife.
  • Romanticism: a movement that originated in Europe at the end of the 18th century and emphasized aesthetic experience and imagination.
  • New Woman Movement and Writing: a feminist ideal that was profoundly influential on 19th and 20th-century literature, as well as broader feminist beliefs.


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