The Spanish Pole-Cat: or, the Adventures of Seniora Rufina...
London: Printed for E. Curll in Fleet Street, 1717.
London: Printed for E. Curll in Fleet Street, 1717. First thus. Contemporary full calf with gilt label to spine. All edges speckled red. Measuring 155 x 90mm and collating complete including frontis and terminal advertisement: , 394, . Shelfwear to extremities and slight bowing to boards. Contemporary annotations to front pastedown and front and rear endpapers with portions of rear endpapers excised; rear pastedown neatly removed. Internally a clean copy with a long closed tear to pages 213-214 professionally repaired with no loss to text, and brief examples of pencil marginalia to pages 237-38. A pleasing copy of a scarce erotic book which last appeared at auction over three decades ago and which ESTC lists at only 12 U.S. libraries.
Drawn from a 17th century Spanish picaresque novel following the intrigues of the female rake Rufina, Alonso de Castillo's La Garduna de Sevilla (1642) first appeared in English in 1665 as a romantic adventure translated by John Davies as La Picara, or The Triumphs of Female Subtilty. By the time of this translation however, Rufina's persona took a more overtly libertine turn as she was declared a "whore" even within the title (i.e. "pole-cat"). Published by unscrupulous bookseller and printer Edmund Curll, the text has clear erotic rather than romantic implications. "A notorious figure among the publishers of the early eighteenth century for his boldness, lack of scruple, publication of work without authors' consent, and taste for erotic and scandalous publications," Curll did not involve himself in the release of texts that aimed to educate men and women into socially dictated marital roles (Baines and Rogers). Instead, his version of the Rufina story revels in its heroine's sexual appetite and capitalizes on the popularity of the English demi-monde -- courtesans such as Kitty Fisher, Lucy Cooper, and Charlotte Hayes -- by making her a more exoticized iteration of the fantasy they presented to men and women alike.
Positioned as it is outside the British Empire, Rufina's narrative invites readers to engage at a slight distance with questions not only about her sexual agency (or even the agency of courtesans) but instead about the agency of women more broadly. As Kathleen Lubey has pointed out, erotic works from this period positioned "decadent sexual description" within a much larger prose structure that "posed questions about social justice [and] elaborated on gender inequity"; indeed, "pornographic prose fiction" such as The Spanish Pole-Cat "rethinks which people count as persons, to what degree they can claim property in their own bodies, and the correspondence of those bodies to social identity" (What Pornography Knows). Capable of stimulating the senses of all readers, physically and intellectually, Rufina, the female libertinism, and the sex trade she invokes encourage excitement over what can happen when limitations are stripped away from certain portions of the population that don't in reality have the ability to move with such freedom.
ESTC T89213. Not in the Register of Erotic Books. (Item #5378)