Mary Ellen Lamb To recent studies of sexualities addressed through early modern prose romance (Relihan and Stanivukovic 2003), this essay contributes a discussion of the erotic relationships imagined between the soldierauthor and variously classed women readers in Barnaby Rich’s Riche His Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581) as a way of thinking about consumption. Produced by the book trade, the forms of sexuality articulated in prose romances by Rich and other authors were always designed primarily to sell books. Exaggeratedly erotic representations of women readers, as Sasha Roberts has pointed out, had much more to do with commercial imperatives than reading practices (2003: 33). Since there is little hard evidence for signiﬁcant recreational reading by women readers by the late sixteenth century, why then did the book industry vigorously step up its appeals to women readers?1 Recent critics have increasingly interpreted these promotions of books to women readers as also designed to attract men. Helen Hackett asserts that representations of reading as appropriate to women served primarily as an advertising ploy to market books as ‘‘racy, lightweight, and fun’’; males reading over their shoulders, ﬁguratively speaking, were to experience ‘‘voyeuristic pleasures’’ in shared erotic reading (2000: 11). Lorna Hutson describes these ﬁctions of women readers as vehicles by which male authors could display persuasive powers that had become, with humanism, more important than valor on the battleﬁeld as a means for professional preferment (1994: 97). Building on Hutson’s emphasis on the transition ‘‘from the battleﬁeld to the bedchamber,’’ Constance Relihan represents collections of prose romances as ‘‘deﬁning, describing, and satisfying heterosexual desire’’ (2004: 29). In this essay I focus on Riche His Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581) to explore this distillation of a free-ﬂoating sexuality in prose romances as a means to come to terms with the anxieties and exhilarations aroused through the
consumption of goods. From this approach, the sexuality fantasized for the woman reader served as a screen not only for male readerly pleasures, but also for widespread cultural anxieties over the uncontrolled consumption of goods by either gender. This essay considers some of the deeper cultural implications of the mingling of these desires for sex and goods within ideologies not only of gender but of class (see especially Newcomb 2002 and Relihan 1994 and 2004).