In 1744 an isolated rural parish in colonial Massachusetts was rocked by scandal. The young men of the parish had obtained a copy of Aristotle’s Master piece, the quintessential eighteenth-century sex manual, and had used the information contained within it to huge and devastating effect. Calling the volume a ‘Granny book’, one of the young men, John Lancton, verbally assaulted three young women, Mary Downing, Moll Waters and Betty Jenks. Mary Downing later recounted how he had ‘talked exceedingly uncleanly and Lasciviously so that [she] … had never heard any fellow Go so far’ and ‘after he was Gone We the young women that were there agree that we never heard any such talk come out of any mans mouth whatsoever …’.1 What Aristotle’s Master-piece had done, in this admittedly colonial example, was change the balance of sexual authority within this isolated community. A traditional form of female knowledge, the contents of a ‘Granny book’, had been given into the hands of a young man and, in the process, emboldened him to challenge the balance of authority and probity which had characterised sexual conduct and negotiation.
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