Janet Todd (ed.), The Pickering Masters: The Works of Aphra Behn, Vol. 3: The Fair Jilt and Other Short Stories

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pg 336THE DUMB VIRGIN

'The Dumb Virgin, or The Force of Imagination' may have been printed in 1698 and first published in 1700 with 'The Unfortunate Bride' and 'The Unfortunate Happy Lady'. All three short stories may have been intended originally as part of a 'Second Volume' of Behn's All the Histories and Novels which was published in 1698.

Following the binder's instructions, 'The Dumb Virgin' was dedicated by Samuel Briscoe to John Cutts, Baron Cutts of Gowran (1661–1707). Cutts, an amateur poet, was a follower of the Duke of Monmouth in The Hague in 1685. After the failure of the Monmouth Rebellion, he fought against the Turks in 1686, served in an English regiment in Holland and returned to England with William of Orange in 1688 as Lieutenant-Colonel in the regiment formed by Colonel Sidney. Under William, Cutts served in Ireland, became Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1693, and fought at the famous Siege of Namur in 1695. Richard Steele, later to be one of the founders of The Tatler and The Spectator, was secretary to Cutts in the early 1700s. Cutts' politics would have been the opposite of Aphra Behn's, but he was, of course, not her choice of dedicatee.

'The Dumb Virgin' is curious in its use of the pseudonym Dangerfield for the hapless hero, the apparent Englishman. Thomas Dangerfield was notorious for his part in the Meal-Tub Plot, a plot to counter the Popish Plot by suggesting conspiracy among Protestants. The association of Behn's hero and this treacherous man is made by the former's desire at the end of the story for justification through a narrative. Dangerfield had written the narrative of his adventures entitled Don Tomazo (1680) in which he described himself masquerading as a Turk when in Egypt; Behn's Dangerfield has at one point 'no disguise but a Turkish Turban'.

There was considerable interest in the potential of the inarticulate and in sign language in the seventeenth century. Sign language for the deaf became known in England after Sir pg 337Kenelm Digby's Treatise On the Nature of Bodies (1644) included a chapter on hearing which referred to work on lip-reading by a Spaniard, Luis de Velasco, and to the methods of signs developed by Pedro Ponce de Leon and Juan Pablo Bonet. Throughout the century English physicians and language theorists developed manual sign languages. The mathematician, codebreaker and founder-member of the Royal Society, the Rev. Dr John Wallis, claimed to be the first to teach the deaf in England in 1678, though he taught by writing and articulation rather than through signs. Earlier, in 1670, George Sibscota published The Deaf and Dumb Man's Discourse including 'the Method they use, to manifest the sentiments of their Mind', in which he argued that the deaf and dumb might learn to speak although they mostly communicated with gesticulations, a method brought to a high art among the Turks. The theme was occasionally used in drama. For example in 1672 John Lacy published a play that had been staged at the King's Theatre called The Dumb Lady: Or, The Farriar Made Physician; it included a young lady called Olinda who pretends to have been struck dumb on her wedding day, making an association of dumbness with repression that lightly foreshadows the Behn story.

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