Advanced

Vice in the Service of Virtue: John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Olsson, Lena LU (2000)
Abstract
Originally published in two volumes in 1748-9, John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (or Fanny Hill) has long been an underground classic. Because of this underground status, and the prejudicial treatment of literary pornography, Memoirs has never been thoroughly investigated. Above all, insufficient attention has been given to the educational and moral aspects of Cleland’s novel. Cleland’s overriding concern throughout his œuvre was the preservation and promotion of virtue, and his first novel is no exception. Despite its pornographic content, Memoirs is a deeply moral work. Built on the educational ideas of John Locke, Memoirs depicts the development of Fanny Hill from a young, ignorant country girl into a happily married,... (More)
Originally published in two volumes in 1748-9, John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (or Fanny Hill) has long been an underground classic. Because of this underground status, and the prejudicial treatment of literary pornography, Memoirs has never been thoroughly investigated. Above all, insufficient attention has been given to the educational and moral aspects of Cleland’s novel. Cleland’s overriding concern throughout his œuvre was the preservation and promotion of virtue, and his first novel is no exception. Despite its pornographic content, Memoirs is a deeply moral work. Built on the educational ideas of John Locke, Memoirs depicts the development of Fanny Hill from a young, ignorant country girl into a happily married, experienced, and educated woman who extols the virtues of monogamy and true love. In the absence of a good education, Fanny is forced to learn by trial and error what her mother neglected to teach her. Gradually she learns to take care of her health by exercising temperance; to plan for her future by saving money; and to recognize that the greatest pleasure is to be found in love, not lust. As she develops she gains more and more control over her life, and after the death of her last keeper and primary male mentor, ‘the Rational Pleasurist’, Fanny finds herself an independent young woman with a fortune at her disposal. She uses some of her money to find Charles, her true love, who was lost to her at an early stage in her adventures. The pair is eventually reunited, and the novel ends with a happy marriage and a paean to the superiority of the joys of love and virtue over those of lust and vice. The main purpose of this study is to demonstrate the subtlety and complexity of this hitherto much neglected work of eighteenth-century fiction. Its dual function both as a pornographic novel and a Bildungsroman is emphasised in the goal of Fanny’s education, which is a successful accommodation of mind, body, and heart. The importance of sincerity and truthfulness comes out in Fanny’s conscientious relation of her life’s story, and truthfulness also provides the foundation for the novel’s implicit and explicit critique of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. The importance of education is continually stressed, for women and men alike, and a good mentor is shown to be vital to the successful development of a young person. An investigation of the sexual metaphors used in Memoirs reveals a close affinity to other popular English erotica of the time. The depiction of prostitution in the novel is far from unrealistic, even if it sometimes relies more on popular beliefs than on the actual working conditions of eighteenth-century prostitutes. The attitude to sexuality in the book again stresses the links between body, mind, and heart, in that all three are necessary to achieve what is presented as the highest pleasure in life, monogamous married love. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
opponent
  • Professor Boucé, Paul-Gabriel, Sorbonne
organization
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Bildungsroman, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, Fanny Hill, eighteenth-century erotica, pornography and literature, John Cleland, Eighteenth-century fiction, the English novel in the eighteenth century, John Locke and literature, prostitution in literature, English language and literature, Engelska (språk och litteratur)
pages
293 pages
publisher
Department of English, Lund University
defense location
Room 239, Dept. of English
defense date
2000-09-23 10:15
external identifiers
  • Other:ISRN: LUHSDF/HSEN--00/1030--SE+293
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
c33c9560-08c9-4de1-bb01-32319543f93f (old id 19561)
date added to LUP
2007-05-25 13:22:08
date last changed
2016-09-19 08:45:12
@misc{c33c9560-08c9-4de1-bb01-32319543f93f,
  abstract     = {Originally published in two volumes in 1748-9, John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (or Fanny Hill) has long been an underground classic. Because of this underground status, and the prejudicial treatment of literary pornography, Memoirs has never been thoroughly investigated. Above all, insufficient attention has been given to the educational and moral aspects of Cleland’s novel. Cleland’s overriding concern throughout his œuvre was the preservation and promotion of virtue, and his first novel is no exception. Despite its pornographic content, Memoirs is a deeply moral work. Built on the educational ideas of John Locke, Memoirs depicts the development of Fanny Hill from a young, ignorant country girl into a happily married, experienced, and educated woman who extols the virtues of monogamy and true love. In the absence of a good education, Fanny is forced to learn by trial and error what her mother neglected to teach her. Gradually she learns to take care of her health by exercising temperance; to plan for her future by saving money; and to recognize that the greatest pleasure is to be found in love, not lust. As she develops she gains more and more control over her life, and after the death of her last keeper and primary male mentor, ‘the Rational Pleasurist’, Fanny finds herself an independent young woman with a fortune at her disposal. She uses some of her money to find Charles, her true love, who was lost to her at an early stage in her adventures. The pair is eventually reunited, and the novel ends with a happy marriage and a paean to the superiority of the joys of love and virtue over those of lust and vice. The main purpose of this study is to demonstrate the subtlety and complexity of this hitherto much neglected work of eighteenth-century fiction. Its dual function both as a pornographic novel and a Bildungsroman is emphasised in the goal of Fanny’s education, which is a successful accommodation of mind, body, and heart. The importance of sincerity and truthfulness comes out in Fanny’s conscientious relation of her life’s story, and truthfulness also provides the foundation for the novel’s implicit and explicit critique of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. The importance of education is continually stressed, for women and men alike, and a good mentor is shown to be vital to the successful development of a young person. An investigation of the sexual metaphors used in Memoirs reveals a close affinity to other popular English erotica of the time. The depiction of prostitution in the novel is far from unrealistic, even if it sometimes relies more on popular beliefs than on the actual working conditions of eighteenth-century prostitutes. The attitude to sexuality in the book again stresses the links between body, mind, and heart, in that all three are necessary to achieve what is presented as the highest pleasure in life, monogamous married love.},
  author       = {Olsson, Lena},
  keyword      = {Bildungsroman,Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure,Fanny Hill,eighteenth-century erotica,pornography and literature,John Cleland,Eighteenth-century fiction,the English novel in the eighteenth century,John Locke and literature,prostitution in literature,English language and literature,Engelska (språk och litteratur)},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {293},
  publisher    = {ARRAY(0x8ae4970)},
  title        = {Vice in the Service of Virtue: John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure},
  year         = {2000},
}