The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, Thursday the 16th of August 1764, p.3.
A remarkable Instance of CHASTITY.
LUCHIN Vivalde, a wealthy Genoese, and a
married Man, cast his Eyes, with an evil
Design, upon the Virtue of the beautiful Jaqui-
nette, a poor young Maid, and tried every Means
to seduce her to his Embraces. But she resisted,
and was Proof against all his Attempts and De-
vices; she married an honest labouring Man, by
whom she had several Children, and lived with
him contented in her Station. However, Luchin
did not cease his Intrigues. He feigned to be
very friendly to the Husband, and actually shewed
him many Civilities and Favours, the better to
corrupt the Wife, and not without Hopes of pre-
vailing with him to yield to his Request, and to
force his Wife to submit to his Solicitations.
Even this could work nothing upon the chaste
and resolute Jaquinette, whose immoveable Re-
solution made him in some Sort give up the Pur-
suit of his adulterous Design.
But, her Husband being taken by Pyrates, and
the City of Genoa being oppressed with a great
Dearth, and five small Children crying about the
good Woman for Bread, without her Capacity to
provide for them, Jaquinette oppressed with ex-
treme Want and Despair, having no human
Means to help herself and Children, she, in a
Fit of Frenzy, goes directly to Luchin’s House,
and, being introduced to him alone, gave herself
up to his Power, on Condition of his providing
for the Distresses of her Family.
Lucin was ravished to see her, but was more
amazed at her Countenance than her Words.
She, prostate at his Feet, submitted herself
wholly to his Will, and only begged he would
relieve her poor Children, dying with Hunger.
Luchin, agitated by contrary Motions, was at
last conquered by Reason, and directed by a good
Spirit: Rise up, Jaquinette, said he, your Offer
is an Act of Necessity and Distress, not voluntary
and of Desire. I will take no Advantage of your
Misery. I will now vanquish myself; I will pre-
serve your Honour, which I have, contrary to my
Duty, and the Peace of your Mind, so long
fought to violate; and henceforth I will look
upon you as my own Sister, and relieve and assist
you with a sincere Affection. Then, taking her
by the Hand, led her to his Wife, reported the
whole Affair unto her: And that good Lady con-
tributed all in her Power to reward the Virtue,
and to relieve the Family of poor Jaquinette.1
On the face of it, this tale presents a remarkable example of Italian lust, love and compassion: a man overcoming his basest desires to help a desperate (presumed) widow and her children.
But deeper analysis reveals a different piece altogether.
Let’s go through the characters.
Luchin is introduced as a wealthy merchant. Generally, the merchant class in England were becoming richer in the 1700s, with advanced infrastructure developing over the century and greater access to foreign wares (and customers) through the expansion of the Empire. This is important to bear in mind as many readers, while imagining Luchin, would be comparing and contrasting him, and thus associating his actions, with what they knew – his English counterparts.
Described as an influential, sex hungry defiler of the pure, Luchin is almost a metaphor for the devil, doing his best to tempt Jaquinnette from the path of righteousness. In the final scene, in case the reader had not arrived at the same conclusion, Luchin helpfully vocalises exactly how much of a ne’er-do-well he has been. In a Scrooge-like 180 degree reversal of character, he even seeks total redemption, explaining all to his no doubt long-suffering and very patient wife.
Jaquinnette is described as young and poor, suggesting that, as well as Luchin being able to exert his financial influence, he is older than her, and potentially able to utilise his experience in his attempts at manipulating her. That she is poor means suggests that, even though she does not have access to the luxury Luchin is accustomed to, she manages to maintain her moral code (indeed, one might argue that as he has the advantage of being rich yet still turns out relatively bad is a critique on the effect of wealth on the character). Fairly subtly, the combined description of the two brings to mind the lecherous older man, lusting after the young and innocent girl.
The story describes how Jaquinnette rejects a rise in status, for she was “contented in her Station”. It suggests that this woman is quite satisfied being near the bottom rung of the social ladder. Does it imply a negative attitude towards people being upwardly mobile? One could argue so. The piece is attempting to get people to sympathise, empathise and identify with Jaquinnette: to recognise in her description and actions some of their own character. The positive picture painted of Jaquinnette means the implicit and explicit traits she displays become positive by association and, attempting to identify with her, readers may have been keen to find other parallels between themselves and her – “Well, she was content in her lower class status, so should I be”.
Her husband does not come out quite as positively. He is portrayed as honest and presumably hard working as a labourer, there is no mention of his name. Nor is there mention of Jaquinnette’s devotion to him, no explicit reference to love in fact (which hints that Jaquinnette wasn’t rejecting him out of love for another, but obedience to duty and doing the right thing). Indeed, the story makes it appear the husband may eventually have given in to the merchant’s “Civilities and Favours”, letting Luchin have his way with Jaquinnette, until she puts her foot down. And he was careless enough to be carried off by “Pyrates”. A passive character with no real influence on events, his main contribution to the story is his inability to provide for his family.
Her children remain passive throughout, helpless and completely reliant on their mother. Their number, five, reinforces the contemporary use of Jaquinnette’s descriptor “chaste”: pure from unlawful sexual intercourse,2 rather than our modern day sense of someone completely abstaining. The fact the children are described as “small” infers she had them fairly quickly in succession: that her main role was as a mother, which at least roughly half the population could identify with.
Luchin’s wife only appears explicitly in the last sentence, but by appearing at the end, she becomes an implicit passive figure also in the beginning of the story. She, unable to satisfy the sexually avaricious merchant, becomes another nail in Luchin’s coffin – “he was acting like this and the blackguard was married?!”. Further highlighting her unsuitability for him, she shows absolute kindness to a stranger, and one that her husband had previously been obsessed with.
And so the title “A remarkable Instance of CHASTITY”.
An unusual title when, on first read, the remarkable instance for me was Luchin’s complete turnaround. But it refers to Jaquinnette, who stayed pure and rejected the lecherous advances of Luchin, avoiding becoming his mistress, not rising above her station. At the moment of utter despair, when all seems lost, her faith in following the righteous path is repaid. Sound familiar?
It could be argued then that this tale, far from being the innocuous, if tall, anecdote that it first appears, is a subtle critique of the merchant class, an exposition on the importance of morals over status and wealth, and reinforcement of the place of both the lower class and women in society.
As you can see, there is lots more that could be teased from the tale through further analysis. Some would argue that it is over-analysis, and in some cases they would be right, but the use of texts to maintain power relationships is an important area of research. Critical Discourse Analysis, most associated with writers like Michel Foucault, Ruth Wodak, Teun A. van Dijk and Norman Fairclough, is a great tool for exposing the way “social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context“. 3
When there was space to fill in the newspapers, moral tales like these made a fair few appearances. Often featuring the ‘Other’ as the antagonist 4, these characters presented a point of comparison for the reading public to judge themselves against.
The tales would most often highlight what were perceived as undesirable traits, or actions in direct contravention of the Bible, and conclude with either the antagonist getting his or her comeuppance, or sometimes the quintessential Englishman (white, Christian, male) saving the day with his superior moral ethics and characteristics.
Other tales would provide examples of humane acts carried out by individuals in positions of power, in situations where the antagonist had to make – what appeared to be – a tough decision. Examples of this would include foreign Royalty, or Kings and Queens from the past. Sometimes it would be men in absolute destitution with everything to gain, opting for the morally correct choice that saw them overlook their immediate situation for the universal good (they may have been rewarded by the beneficiary in the tale, but often the implicit suggestion that Heaven was reward enough for such pious action).
As English, Scottish and British identities were still somewhat fluid during the early and middle stages of the 18th century, particularly the latter – the Union between England and Scotland only occurring in 1707 – examples like the tale above could help the reader define themselves by providing implicit positive and negative judgements on traits and actions, subtly attempting to influence the reader in their own behaviour.
Of course, whether the Editors included tales such as this because they made compelling reads, or for the advancement of the White, male hegemony, we’ll probably never know for sure. I suspect the answer lies somewhere between the two. What we do know, though, is that these tales played a small role in the sense of superiority over other races and nationalities during the period that some Britons felt, the wider implications of which will be examined in further blogs.
Thanks for reading – if you enjoyed these short blogs, you can follow me on twitter for more pictures of the curious, the peculiar and the downright silly @NelsonHistory. Today’s blog is similar to my PhD thesis, so I can’t go into too much detail or use other fantastic sources. Not yet anyway!
As always, I am greatly indebted to the British Newspaper Archive, whose wonderful website provide the meat for these blogs and my PhD thesis! Please bear in mind that though this blog sometimes represents semi-decent historical enquiry, other times I enjoy just poking fun.
The title image is H. M. Hayman, The use of the chastity belt (1916-17).
1. The Bath Chronicle & Weekly Gazette, Thursday the 16th of August, 1764, p.3. ↩
2. Definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: www.oed.com. ↩
3. This is an excellent blog for gaining insight into the ‘Other’ and the process, and motivations behind, ‘Othering’: http://othersociologist.com/otherness-resources/ . ↩
4. Teun A. van Dijk. Critical Discourse Analysis. Pdf version can be downloaded from his website by clicking here. ↩