Riots, Revelries, and Rumor: Libertinism and Masculine Association in Enlightenment London

“Riots, Revelries, and Rumor: Libertinism and Masculine Association in Enlightenment London.” Journal of British Studies. 45.4 (2006): 759–795.

Abstract:

Comparing the Calves‐Head riot of 1734/5 and with John Wilkes’s exposure of the “Medmenham Monks” in 1763, this essay formulates an historical anthropology of gossip and rumor, offering insights into the nature of London social life and political controversy during the Enlightenment. The histories of the Calves‐Head Club and Medmenham Monks show how the practices of gossip and rumor converged with, diverged from, and helped articulate discourses about class and masculinity in eighteenth‐century London. In a period in which “polite association” was increasingly challenging “masculine libertinism” as a symbol of status, the practices of rumor and gossip were important to negotiating the boundaries of proper conduct. These two events offer insight into how ideas about class and masculinity shaped eighteenth‐century associational life. In the “clubbable” world that was eighteenth‐century London, individuals’ reputations—and the gossip and rumor that surrounded them—affected their association with the multiple organizations of which they were members. This meant that the reputations and, consequently, the activities of any one club or society—even those with fundamentally different purposes—could be influenced by that of the others. Because of this, gossip and rumor in any sector of one’s life had the possibility of wide‐ranging consequences for the “associational world” of eighteenth‐century London.

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