What is Amatory Fiction?

Devon Pryor

Amatory fiction is a literary genre originating in Britain, which was popular at the end of the 17th century and on into the 18th century. Amatory fiction is considered by many to have predated the novel, and perhaps precipitated the romance novel. Like romance novels, which would later come to be a highly popular genre of literature, this type of fiction focused on romantic emotions and sexual love.

Amatory fiction often ends in heartbreak.
Amatory fiction often ends in heartbreak.

In their work, writers explored gender relationships, emotional desires, and the tribulations of romantic situations. Through their subject matter, the writers created commentary on issues such as deception, lust, loyalty, innocence, and marriage.

Great Britain gave rise to amatory fiction.
Great Britain gave rise to amatory fiction.

In the sense that most works of amatory fiction follow the same essential plotline, and present the same attitudes toward romantic relationships, this fiction can be considered a formulaic genre. Most of these works begin as stories about love and romance, and end as tales about anguish and the heartbreak of romantic relationships.

The emergence of the genre itself may be considered a commentary of sorts, on gender relationships in 17th and 18th century Britain. Amatory fiction was written primarily by women for a female audience. Women were likely the only people to read this type of fiction, and certainly the only people to appreciate the themes presented in it. This is because most of these works presented the female character as a victim of male chauvinism and mistreatment.

The typical work presents gender relationships through a fictive or partially fictive romantic storyline. Throughout the storyline, the woman is depicted as being full of trust and love, and ready to offer that love to a man. The man, in most cases, is depicted as seeing the woman as nothing more than an object upon which to act out his lust, after which he will likely toss her aside. Through the presentation of these themes, amatory fiction creates a social commentary on gender relationships, demonizing the male, and presenting the female as a martyr.

An affair is a romance in which intentions pertain almost exclusively to lust and love. On the other hand, marriage in 17th and 18th century Britain was a situation in which property came into play. Women could not own property during this time. Using marriage as the setting of the story might have complicated the depiction of women as innocent victims, since marriage at the time was monetarily advantageous for many women. In amatory fiction, men who deceived women in love affairs could not be pardoned for reasons of logic or finance.

Three female writers distinguished themselves through their works of amatory fiction. These were Eliza Haywood, Delarivier Manley, and Aphra Behn. These three writers were known in their time as the Fair Triumvirate of Wit. Critics, including those who condemned the genre on the bases of religion and social propriety, often referred to these women as The Naughty Triumvirate.

Amatory fiction may have been the precursor to romance novels.
Amatory fiction may have been the precursor to romance novels.

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