What does the phrase jus primae noctis mean from 1984?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Latin phrase jus primae noctis means right of the first night. It refers to an old belief, probably myth, that a lord had the right to have sex with a married woman on the first night of her marriage (i.e., before her husband). In the context of 1984, the phrase is used in a children's history book disseminated by the Party that Winston reads. According to the book, this was one of the many ways in which the capitalists exploited the workers before the revolution that brought the Party to power:

There was also something called the jus primae noctis, which would probably not be mentioned in a textbook for children. It was the law by which every capitalist had the right to sleep with any woman working in one of his factories.

Winston is reflecting on the many horrors catalogued in the book, and he is conscious that most of them, including the alleged right of primae noctis held by the capitalists, are probably fabrications. This is actually one of the central themes in the book: the notion that the Party controls the present by controlling what people know about the past. By constructing a dark, backward past full of abuses, the Party claims more legitimacy for itself. In fact, a major source of the Party's strength lay in the fact that people could never really know what was true and what was not:

It might very well be that literally every word in the history books, even the things that one accepted without question, was pure fantasy. For all he knew there might never have been any such law as the jus primae noctis, or any such creature as a capitalist, or any such garment as a top hat.

So whether abuses such as the jus primae noctis ever existed during the pre-Party era has become impossible to know under Party rule. 

dedrington eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Translated literally from Latin to English, jus primae noctis means "right youthful at night."  It refers to the medieval custom where the Lord of the manor had the right to have sexual intercourse with the wives of any of his male peasants.

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jus primae noctis means the "law/right of the first night."  It refers to the medieval belief that the Lord of the manor had the right to have sex with any peasant bride in his domain on the first night of her marriage.

parama9000 | Student

Yes. The last answer will suit best. It is that he is entitled to a portion of the Bride's dowry and not that he is entitled to intercourse in the context.

rmccord | Student

Jus primae noctis translates to "right of the lord." It was the feudal right of the lord in medieval Europe to sleep the first night with the bride of any one of his vassals.

pmcclure | Student

Although all of the answers provided are true they are only half truths.  There is no proof of the "first night" every being actually used in Europe.  It was first intended as a sort of Bride Price which means that the Lord was entitled to a portion of the Bride's dowry.