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An epistolary novel - the first ever written - and an innovative and pioneering work. An exploration of the sexual politics of seventeenth century English society, the novel follows Sylvia’s love for her brother-in-law, her sexual awakening and her inevitable downfall.
716 pages, with a reading time of ~11.0 hours (179,016 words), and first published in 1687. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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Though I parted from you resolved to obey your impossible commands, yet know, oh charming Sylvia! that after a thousand conflicts between love and honour, I found the god (too mighty for the idol) reign absolute monarch in my soul, and soon banished that tyrant thence. That cruel counsellor that would suggest to you a thousand fond arguments to hinder my noble pursuit; Sylvia came in view! her irresistible Idea! With all the charms of blooming youth, with all the attractions of heavenly beauty! Loose, wanton, gay, all flowing her bright hair, and languishing her lovely eyes, her dress all negligent as when I saw her last, discovering a thousand ravishing graces, round, white, small breasts, delicate neck, and rising bosom, heaved with sighs she would in vain conceal; and all besides, that nicest fancy can imagine surprising–Oh I dare not think on, lest my desires grow mad and raving; let it suffice, oh adorable Sylvia! I think and know enough to justify that flame in me, which our weak alliance of brother and sister has rendered so criminal; but he that adores Sylvia, should do it at an uncommon rate; ‘tis not enough to sacrifice a single heart, to give you a simple passion, your beauty should, like itself, produce wondrous effects; it should force all obligations, all laws, all ties even of nature’s self: you, my lovely maid, were not born to be obtained by the dull methods of ordinary loving; and ‘tis in vain to prescribe me measures; and oh much more in vain to urge the nearness of our relation. What kin, my charming Sylvia, are you to me? No ties of blood forbid my passion; and what’s a ceremony imposed on man by custom? What is it to my divine Sylvia, that the priest took my hand and gave it to your sister? What alliance can that create? Why should a trick devised by the wary old, only to make provision for posterity, tie me to an eternal slavery? No, no, my charming maid, ‘tis nonsense all; let us, (born for mightier joys) scorn the dull beaten road, but let us love like the first race of men, nearest allied to God, promiscuously they loved, and possessed, father and daughter, brother and sister met, and reaped the joys of love without control, and counted it religious coupling, and ‘twas encouraged too by heaven itself: therefore start not (too nice and lovely maid) at shadows of things that can but frighten fools. Put me not off with these delays; rather say you but dissembled love all this while, than now ‘tis born, to die again with a poor fright of nonsense. A fit of honour! a phantom imaginary, and no more; no, no, represent me to your soul more favourably, think you see me languishing at your feet, breathing out my last in sighs and kind reproaches, on the pitiless Sylvia; reflect when I am dead, which will be the more afflicting object, the ghost (as you are pleased to call it) of your murdered honour, or the pale and bleeding one of The lost PHILANDER.
I have lived a whole day, and yet no letter from Sylvia.
OH why will you make me own (oh too importunate Philander!) with what regret I made you promise to prefer my honour before your love?
I confess with blushes, which you might then see kindling in my face, that I was not at all pleased with the vows you made me, to endeavour to obey me, and I then even wished you would obstinately have denied obedience to my just commands; have pursued your criminal flame, and have left me raving on my undoing: for when you were gone, and I had leisure to look into my heart, alas! I found, whether you obliged or not, whether love or honour were preferred, I, unhappy I, was either way inevitably lost. Oh! what pitiless god, fond of his wondrous power, made us the objects of his almighty vanity? Oh why were we two made the first precedents of his new found revenge? For sure no brother ever loved a sister with so criminal a flame before: at least my inexperienced innocence never met with so fatal a story: and it is in vain (my too charming brother) to make me insensible of our alliance; to persuade me I am a stranger to all but your eyes and soul.