'What else is woman but a foe to friendship ...a domestic danger?' Sexual morality was central to the patriarchal society of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, as demonstrated by this quotation taken from a biblical commentary by St John Chrysostom. In a 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 hitherto unused records of litigation over sexual insult, contracts of marriage and marriage separation in London c.1560-1640. Gowing takes a new approach to these legal testimonies. She reads them as texts with complicated layers of meaning 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 women's lives in early modern London.
1. Gender, household, and city ; 2. Women in court ; 3. The language of insult ; 4. Words, reputation, and honour ; 5. The economy of courtship ; 6. Domestic disorders: adultery and violence ; 7. Narratives of litigation ; 8. Conclusion ; Bibliography, Index