Melissa Mowry

Ph.D., 1993, University of Delaware, Dissertation: (Re)Productive Histories: Epistolary Fiction and the Origin of the English Novel. Director, Jerry C. Beasley.z1989, Dartmouth College, School of Criticism and Theory. M.A., 1988, University of Delaware, Thesis: "Subversion: The Ineffable Feminine in Shelley and Derrida." Director, Charles E. Robinson.B.A., 1985, Boston University, cum laude

Dr. Mowry has taught at St. John’s since 2001.  An expert In Restoration and early eighteenth-century English literature and culture, she teaches and writes about the nuanced ways the imaginative possibilities in literature shape political and social practices, especially for non-elite members of English culture.  She has published widely on writers like Eliza Haywood and Daniel Defoe, as well as on seventeenth and eighteenth-century prostitution, crime, violence, and plebian culture.  In addition to her work on eighteenth-century Anglophone culture, Dr. Mowry also teaches and writes about the relationship between the humanities’ production of knowledge and public life. Her work has appeared in leading journals in English studies:Studies in English Literature, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, ELN (English Language Notes), Eighteenth-Century Studies, Journal of British Studies and ELH(forthcoming).  She has been invited to present her work both nationally and internationally.

“Far From the Maddening Crowd: Women, Archives, and the Limits of Personal Narrative,” University of California, Davis. February 2006.

“Bridewell and Beyond,” for the panel “Correcting Courtesans” Renaissance Society of America, NYC. April 2004.

“Prostitution, Pornography, and the Public Sphere.” University of Vermont. March 2000.

“Prostitution, Pornography, and the Public Sphere.” SUNY Plattsburgh. March 2000.

Respondent, “Politics, Friendship, and Sexuality at the Turn of the Eighteenth Century” Western Society for British Studies, Denver. October 2000

"From Within Their Own Ranks: College Newspapers and the Rhetoric of Feminism," at the National Popular Culture Association Conference, Philadelphia, PA. April 1995

“Closer to the Maddening Crowd: Restoration Studies and a New Hermeneutics of Collectivity,” ASECS, Atlanta. March 2007

“Remapping the History of Eighteenth-Century Subalterity,” Cultural Studies Roundtable, ASECS, Atlanta. March 2007.

“Closer to the Maddening Crowd: Restoration Studies and a New Hermeneutics of Collectivity,” GEMCS, Chicago. March 2007

“Poor-Whore’s, Apprentices, and Citizens: The Bawdy House Riots and the Imperative of Collectivity” for ‘Straws in the Wind’ Conference at University of California Santa Barbara. February 2006.

“Writing about Women’s Agency: Fetishizing Gender in the Early Modern Archive” for “Early Modern Women in the Archives,” MLA, Philadelphia. December 2004.

“Fetishizing the Archive” at the roundtable, “New Directions in Sexuality Studies,” ASECS, Boston. March 2004.

“Between Punishment and Discipline: Early Modern Workhouses and Public Women,” a workshop organized with Cristine Varholy, CUNY John Jay and Jane Kromm, SUNY Purchase for the Attending Early Modern Women Conference, University Of Maryland, College Park. November 2003.

“Beyond Bridewell: The History of Pornography or the Pornography of History,” CUNY Eighteenth-Century Studies Group. February 2003.

“Whores, Prostitutes, and other Notorious Women,” ASECS, Philadelphia. April 2000.

“Of Saints and Factions: The Tory Deployment of Catherine of Braganza,” MLA, Chicago. December 1999.

“Pornography and the Politics of Reading,” NEASECS, New Hampshire. December 1999.

“Jades at Livery and other Prostitutes,” GEMCS, Newport, RI. November 1998.

“Sex, Class, and Dissent: the 1668 Bawdy House Riots,” GEMCS, Chapel Hill, NC. December 1997.

“Crypto-Racism, Resurgent Nationalism and the Conservative Deployment of White Women's Bodies as the Standard of Civic Identity,” Border Subjects 2: Bodies of Evidence, Normal, IL. October 1997

“Dressing Up and Dressing Down: Women's Costume and the National Marketplace,” American Historical Association, New York. January 1997

“Bring It on Home: Feminism, Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the Politics of Community,” MLA, Washington DC. December 1996.

“The Face of Liberal Racism: Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas,”  NEMLA, Montreal, Canada. April 1996.

“Pregnant Pauses: Roe v. Wade and Enlightenment Subjectivity,” Conference on Psychoanalysis and Postcolonialism: Nation, Identity, and Self, Washington, DC. October 1995.

“Meal-tubs and Midwives: Elizabeth Cellier and the Politics of Disembodied Truth,” GEMCS, Dallas, TX. October 1995.

“The Romance of Politics: Aphra Behn, the Exclusion Crisis, and Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister,” Conference on Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Women Writers. March 1995.

“Bodies that Matter, Voices that Register: Reimagining the Humanities Classroom,” Kansas State Cultural Studies Symposium: "Western Humanities, Pedagogy, and the Public Sphere." March 1995

“From Within Their Own Ranks: College Newspapers and the Rhetoric of Feminism,” Midatlantic Conference for Popular Culture, Wheeling, WV. October 1994

“Feminism, History, and the Possibility of Justice.”  GRIP (Group for Research in the Professions): "Knowledges: Production, Distribution, Revision," Minneapolis, MN. April 1994


The Bawdy Politic(Ashgate 2004) examines the way tropes and conventions about common prostitutes were transformed into arguments that helped the newly restored Stuart monarchy mitigate democratic energies still lingering after England’s civil wars and the Interregnum.  Sex work, partisans repeatedly asserted, inherently disrupted ancestral systems of property transfer and distribution in favour of personal ownership, while the republican belief that all men owned the labour of their body achieved a nightmarish incarnation in the prostitute's understanding that the sexual favours she performed were labour. The prostitute's body thus emerged in the loyalist imagination as the epitome of the democratic body politic. The Bawdy Politicuniquely extends that analysis into legal records like the Middlesex Sessions Papers and the Bridewell Courtbooks, in order to examine the ways prevailing assumptions about prostitutes, or “common women” as they were known, affected the patterns of arrest, arraignment, and punishment.

'This deeply learned, clearly-written book examines the cultural function of political pornography by exploring how the bawd and the prostitute figure as the denigrated representatives of mass political participation in the period as well as how this figuration relates to what we can learn about historical women who were bawds and prostitutes. Mowry's distinctive focus and argument, and her careful grounding in original research, distinguish The Bawdy Politic from other scholarship on the topic. This book will contribute to our understanding of the histories of women, of sexuality, and of pornography, as well as of political rhetoric and its resources both in the past and today. The book will also make an important contribution to discussions about women's relationship to the emerging public sphere.' Frances E. Dolan, Professor of English, University of California-Davis

'This is a fascinating study of how the distopic vision of pornographic pamphlets and broadsides—particularly their representation of a monstrous bawdy politic governed by “common women”—provided fodder for anti-democratic politics of the late seventeenth century. Mowry’s sophisticated reading of political pornography in relation to legal discourses and practices contributes not only to a consideration of the gendered dimensions of liberalism and the public sphere, but to our understanding prostitution as a sexual identity.' Valerie Traub, Professor of English and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan

'Meticulously researched and richly detailed... Mowry widely consults and deftly engages with literary and historical scholarship on her subject, and her original research encompasses previously overlooked satires... A worthwhile read, The Bawdy Politic offers much to literary critics and historians interested in the politics and pornography of the late Stuart era. Learned, provocative and exhaustively detailed in its presentation of historical evidence, Mowry's study moves scholarship toward a balanced approach to the topic...' H-Net Review

Roxanaor the Fortunate Mistress (Broadview, 2004).

"Rare is that edition that gives us a fresh interpretation of a primary work, but that is precisely what Melissa Mowry has accomplished in this excellent edition. The introduction details Roxana's place in Defoe's career and the ways the novel evokes his Dissenter politics, while also shedding new light on the novel's imbrication in debates about political sovereignty, feminism, and prostitution. The supplementary materials are all artfully chosen to produce fresh readings of the novel. Finally, the inclusion of some of the alternate endings written for Roxana, along with a brief reception history of Defoe's work, invites speculation about changes in the representation of gender and sexuality over the course of the long eighteenth century in Britain." - Scarlet Bowen, University of Colorado

Currently, Dr. Mowry is at work on a project that stretches from the print culture of the English civil wars (1642-1649) through the publication of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa: Ties that Bind: The Hermeneutics of Collectivity and the English Literary Imagination, 1642-1748. 

Links to Selected Articles

“Women, Work, and Rearguard Politics and Defoe’s Moll Flanders”

“Feminism and Eighteenth-century Studies: Working in the Bordello of History”

“Reopening the Question of Class Formation”