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This paper examines several relationships that were deemed controversial by contemporaries: including aristocratic ménages-à-trois, whose participants were often trying to strike a balance between duty and individual happiness, as well as the experimental relationships conducted by radicals and Romantics, who were trying to rethink conventional gender relations and notions of sexual morality.

Using correspondence and print media, this paper will explore the emotional dynamics of relationships that broke with social norms and expectations, and the strain that engaging in them placed on the individual’s other familial obligations and social relationships. I will argue that the controversies that the relationships generated were part of wider changes in ideas about marital love and intimacy, masculinity and femininity, and the responsibilities of the social and intellectual elite. I particularly focus on how domestic, political, and social spheres converged, and I consider the broader implications such a study has on our interpretations of the late eighteenth century.


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