BLOG


HOME

E-MAIL

MARTYRS

John R. Yamamoto-Wilson

Pain, Pleasure and Perversity: Discourses of Suffering in

Seventeenth-Century England

(Ashgate, 2013)

Contents                                        Introduction                                        Index

This book had its beginnings in a paper I published in Translation and Literature, 20:2, 2011 , pp. 175-190, entitled '"O that mine Adversary had written a book!" Translations of Catholic Literature and the Eroticization of Pain in Seventeenth-Century England'.  That paper focused on two main texts:

1. Baltasar Gracián, El Criticon: Primera Parte: En la Primavera de la Niñez y en el Estio de la Juventud (Madrid, 1651), translated into English by Paul Rycaut as The Critick (London, 1681). The eroticism of the Spanish text - which depicts beautiful women capturing, binding and torturing travellers - is a metaphor for the temptations that befall  on us as we journey through this world. In the English translation, however, the tale loses much of its moral dimension. Rycaut was not a Catholic, and his treatment of the text testifies to profound differences between Catholic and Protestant discourse; sexually charged descriptions of women who captivate and enthral and inveigle their victims into complicity in their own humiliation have no place in Protestant religious discourse, and in Rycaut's hands the text loses much of its moral dimension and becomes mostly a form of voyeuristic entertainment. 

 2. Vicenzo Puccini's biography of Magdalena de Pazzi, Vita della Veneranda Madre Suor Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi (Florence, 1611), translated anonymously into English as Life of the Holy and Venerable Mother Suor Maria Maddalena de Patsi (Saint Omer, 1619), with a preface by the Catholic convert Toby Matthew. A Protestant translation, Life of Magdalene of Pazzi (London, 1687), based on a biography compiled from Puccini and other sources, appeared towards the end of century. Both English translations - like Puccini's Italian original - contain numerous episodes describing the penances and humiliations of Magdalena in terms that would really only be seen in modern writing in pornographic literature. The earlier, Catholic, translation presents this material, along with accounts of miracles and visions, in all seriousness, and Matthew recognizes that it runs counter to Protestant perceptions:

How many painefull disciplines, rude hairecloaths, hungry meales, sad nights, bitter
sighs and salt teares, did she with a noble & faythfull hart endure, send forth, and
shed? And all in vaine, if it should be true which Protestants affirme, that fayth only
iustifyeth... (sig. ***2v)

The copy in British Library actually carries the words 'O that mine Adversary had written a book!' on the flyleaf in an early hand, indicating that its Catholic reader recognized that the book was more likely to alienate Protestants than win converts to the Catholic cause. Thomas Smith's 1687 Protestant translation is premised on the same perception - that the book is so plainly absurd from a Protestant point of view that it can be published and presented to Protestant readers so that they can se how the Catholics condemn themselves out of their own mouths.

By the time I came to work on Pain, Pleasure and Perversity, then, I already had a clear sense of the profound differences between Catholic discourse and Protestant discourse on the subject of suffering. I began by developing that point, looking at translations of an erotically-charged passage from Jerome, in which a Christian (in order to destroy his spirit) is bound and left on a soft bed in a beautiful garden, where he is approached by a beautiful courtesan, who starts to strangulate him while arousing him to  an erection. She mounts him, but - as she bends to kiss him - he bites his tongue off and spits it in her face; as the Catholic translation of 1630 has it, 'the sense of lust, was subdued, by the sharpenes of that payne which succeeded' (Jerome, 'The Life of Saint Pavl the Hermite', trans. from the Latin [by Henry Hawkins?], in Certaine Selected Epistles of Saint Hierome, Saint Omer, 1630, p. 9). Examining early modern translations of this tale into various European languages, I found that, while all of them suppressed certain aspects of the story, there was a clear split between Catholic translations, which rendered most of the details of the story, and Protestant versions, which used far more circumlocution. The paradigm began to develop of a more exuberant southern/Latin/Catholic discourse versus northern/Germanic/Protestant discourse, with its greater tendency to dispassion, to ‘rejoice’ unsmilingly in suffering, and to broach the topic of sex furtively or not at all. Looking at other examples of early modern hagiography, this basic difference in discourse structure was thrown ever more into relief.

I then decided I wanted to look at the way in which Protestant anti-Catholic polemic responded to the less inhibited discourse of the South. An early form of sexual flagellant - which came to be known in England as the 'flogging cully' had already emerged, but, contrary to what I had been led to expect from my reading of recent scholarship on the subject, I found that, during the early part of the seventeenth century, Protestant attacks on Catholic practices of penance did not carry a subtext of sexual innuendo. To put it simply, rather than suggesting that they got a kick out of flagellating themselves, their ridicule was more along the lines of "They deserve to be whipped because they're naughty boys!" It was not until the later part of the seventeenth century that it became common to suggest that, far from subduing lust by whipping themsleves, Catholics were actually provoking it. And, even when that did become a feature of Protestant perceptions of Catholic penance, it appears that the sources for such a view were nearly all products of southern Latin discourse - partly romance, with its endless permutations of themes of dominance and submission, of tormentors and victims, and partly proto-pornography (notably Nicholas Chorier's Satyra Sotadica, 1660, and Jean Barrin, whose Venus dans le Cloitre, Cologne, 1683, was translated and published the same year in London as Venus in the Cloister, or The Nun in her Smock).

At this point, I started to conceive the final shape of the book: Part I on 'The Suffering Self', Part II on 'The Suffering of Others', and Part III on 'Suffering and Gender'. To complete the first part of the book, I turned to seventeenth-century attitudes towards Stoicism and Epicureanism and examined the attitudes of Protestants (particularly puritans) towards suffering. Then I developed the middle section on attitudes towards cruelty and the spectacle of suffering, again finding significant differences between southern/Latin/Catholic and northern/Germanic/Protestant discourse.

The final chaptering of the book is as follows:

Introduction (download PDF)

Detailed Contents Page (download PDF)

Part I: The Suffering Self

1. Constructs of suffering in 17th-century England
2. Suffering and sexuality in Catholic hagiography
3. Polemic, pornography and romanticism: the subversion of catholic asceticism.

Part II: The Suffering of Others

4. Cruelty and compassion
5. The spectacle of suffering

Part III: Suffering and Gender

6. The sexual politics of suffering
7. The erotics of suffering and cruelty
8. The emergence of the dominatrix

Bibliography of Works Cited

Index (download PDF)


I made extensive use of the Early English Books Text Creation Partnership in writing this book, which gave me a very broad range of texts to draw on. The number of writers who gain a brief mention is too great to mention but, in addition to the writers already mentioned, there is significant reference to Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Samuel Butler, Pedro de Ribadeneira (biographer of Ignatius Loyola), Thomas Nash, Daniel Pratt (author of a curious biography of St. Agnes) and Mary Wroth. For more information about the book and issues related to seventeenth-century attitudes towards suffering, see my book blog.