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Keywords

gender studies, seduction novel, humanitarianism, early American literature

Abstract

Though Arthur Mervyn focuses primarily on the deadly 1793 invasion of the yellow fever into Philadelphia and humanitarian responses to it, the novel’s juxtaposition of contemporary societal attitudes towards fever victims with those towards unchaste or fallen women underlines striking similarities between the two. In this article I claim that, when applied to unchaste women, the novel’s argument for improved treatment of diseased and infected persons also establishes the unreliability of sexual purity as a standard of respectability due to the potential for a woman’s virtue to be taken from her. Therefore, because Arthur’s society judges the respectability of individuals based on virtue, society becomes corrupted, showing that the only dependable method of distinguishing between reputable and disreputable people is to examine their civic – not sexual – virtue.

Issue and Volume

Volume 9 Issue 1

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