Seduction: A History From the Enlightenment to the Present

Pegasus. Feb. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9781643131993. $28.95. HIST
Independent scholar Knox argues that social narratives about seduction fall into two types, with the seducer either as a manipulative villain exploiting victims or as a heroic figure of sexual freedom. While these categories are opposed, they’re also connected in their juxtaposition of changing concepts of rationality, personal agency, and the value of sex and virtue. In this exploration of the complex history of heterosexual seduction in Europe and the United States, Knox centers each of the book’s chapters on a notable figure: Samuel Richardson, author of moralistic antiseduction novels Pamela and Clarissa; infamous rake Giacomo Casanova; Mary Wollstonecraft and daughter Mary Shelley, whose lives intersected with early feminist and free love movements; African American boxing champion Jack Johnson, targeted by racially motivated criminal charges for his relationships with white women; Bram Stoker and the xenophobic fears underlying Dracula; and the late 20th-century attitudes that led to the prominence of Eric Weber, Neil Strauss, and other “pick up” artists.
VERDICT The book’s quasibiographical approach provides an unusual but engaging way of addressing its central topic, though readers wanting a more clear-cut exploration of the subject will almost certainly find it too tangential.

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