‘To make love to a Deformity’: praising ugliness in early modern England

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Abstract:

This article discusses the fashion for witty celebrations of ugly women in early seventeenth-century English literature. While apparently celebrating unconventional forms of beauty, texts ‘praising’ ugly women more accurately elevate masculine forms of artistic agency at the expense of the female body, which continues to be identified with ugly matter. Literary instances where ugliness is ‘celebrated’ work to contain the potentially threatening nature of the ugly female body. The article situates ‘deformed mistress’ texts in relation to wider early modern discourses of beauty and ugliness, discussing the extent to which categories of the artificial and the natural, in particular, are evaluated in gendered terms in this period.

Keywords: beauty; deformed mistress; paradox; ugliness

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-4658.2007.00479.x

Affiliations: University of Manchester

Publication date: February 1, 2008

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