Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Religion, Enlightenment, Platonick Lady


In eighteenth-century England both the Roman Catholic convent andthe Muslim harem were stereotyped as feminine spaces of religious alterity and sexual subversion. As a result, those who wished to defend women's learning often resorted to complex xenophobic representational strategies as a way of disassociating learned women from these spaces. I argue that the stereotypical "Platonick lady:' as a satirical figure that negotiated both these sites of supposed sexual hypocrisy and foreign dominion, ought to be considered a complex but key trope in the history of feminist orientalism. This is because, in her hypocritical obsession with the disembodied "soul;' the easily seduced "Platonick lady" aligns herself with a common misconception about Muslim doctrine, namely, that it taught that women did not have souls. Further, I am arguing that feminist orientalism ought to· be seen as part of a wide network of exclusions of religious and cultural others including, but not limited to, Muslims. This article shows how the satire of "Platonick ladies" -specifically Honoria in George, Lord Lyttelton's Letters from a Persian ( 1735) and Madonella in The Tatler (1709)-depicts the withdrawal of women from normative heterosexuality into a feminocentric site ( or discourse) as a symbol of potential foreign contagion that needed to be disciplined and regulated.