Conjugal Lewdness: or, Matrimonial Whoredom.London, printed for T. Warner, 1727 Stock Code: 124762
NotesFirst edition, rare first issue. Contemporary critics attacked the work's title, which, according to Defoe, was viewed as "a Breach upon Modesty" and offensive to their ears, and the book was reissued the same year with a cancel title page, more politely titled as A Treatise concerning the Use and Abuse of the Marriage Bed. The first issue is rare, not seen at auction since 1969. Between them ESTC and OCLC locate 18 copies in institutions worldwide. Surviving copies of the second issue outnumber the first by a ratio of about three to one.
Although Conjugal Lewdness was published anonymously, there is no debate as to Defoe's authorship of it. It was one of a series of practical divinity or domestic conduct books in which he employed innovative and recognisably novelistic techniques. "Although the dialogue form had been used in conduct books before, Defoe's was highly original in its leisurely creation of characters, relationships, and stories. Most conduct books were composed of brief essays, summary 'morals', and lists of maxims; Defoe's relatively long, developed narratives with commentary broke new ground Defoe also broke new ground in directing his conduct book to mature readers rather than to the usual audience, those on the brink of adulthood Conjugal Lewdness (1727) explains the purposes of marriage and condemns such things as intercourse during pregnancy" (ODNB).
Modern critics are agreed in noting a paradoxical tension between the narrative form and the moral intention of the tale. "Defoe's attack on 'Matrimonal Whoredom' comprises four hundred pages written against the grain of his 'ill-natured' age. Defoe used his 'satyr' to attack the sexual excesses of a society in need of lashing... There is in this cranky, late work, an aggressively forged prerogative to 'tell' the sins of an age that implicates its teller... Defoe seems to parody Gulliver on his worst day as he systematically lays bare all the ways the body makes impossible his program of restraint" (Carol Houlihan Flynn, The Body in Swift and Defoe, p. 38).
Octavo (186 x 116 mm). Nineteenth-century sprinkled calf to style (perhaps reusing older calf) by W. Pratt, active in London 1823-38, marbled endpapers, gilt rules and edges. Housed in a brown quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.
Title printed in red and black. Pp. 382-383 misnumbered 362-363.
Bookplate of Henry Francis Redhead Yorke (1842-1914), midshipman, Director of Victualling at the Admiralty 1905; bookplate designed by Harry Soane, the "well-known heraldic engraver of Hanway Street" (Egerton Castle, English Book-Plates Ancient and Modern, 1894, p. 182). Very good.
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