This introductory chapter provides an overview of the book's main themes. This book examines the imaginative representation of venereal disease in British literature and art produced between 1660 and 1800. In other words, it considers not how venereal disease was diagnosed, treated, or experienced in the eighteenth century, but rather how it was depicted by some of the many poets, novelists, dramatists, and artists who sought to exploit its flexibility as a metaphor. The chapters that follow track the representation of venereal disease in a wide range of eighteenth-century images and texts. In the process, it suggests that this “loathsome disease” became an important vehicle for considering—or reconsidering— some of the most important social and economic phenomena of the age: commercialization, globalization, changing gender norms, shifting class boundaries.
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