We’ve all been seduced before. We’ve allowed politicians to lure us away from our reason to follow our passions for an issue or a candidate; we’ve let television commercials sing a siren song to us about our absolute need for a product—a car, a bottle of beer, a chicken sandwich—that will send us into ecstasy once we possess it. We’re surrounded by seduction narratives, and Clement Knox’s Seduction: A History from the Enlightenment to the Present provides an alluring and breathtaking history of enticement in the modern age.
A painstakingly close reader of literary texts, Knox teases out various seduction narratives in novels from Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa—the original modern seduction narratives—to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and Neil Strauss’ The Game. Enthralled by these and other texts and cultural artefacts, Knox draws the contours of two forms of seduction narratives that have evolved and now coexist in our culture. He calls the classic seduction narrative the “Villainous” kind, because the seducer uses guile or deception to overcome the resistance of their target. Such narratives play on the psychological vulnerability of the target so that the seducer can lead the target away from what the target really prefers or wants. The other narrative focuses on the power of reason and an individual’s ability to act in their own interest in the pursuit of sexual pleasure.
These seduction narratives are captivating, and most of us are characters in one or the other in our own lives. Knox’s fascinating book illustrates the magnetism of these narratives as they draw us into their orbits and as we use them to offer explanations of individual and social behavior.