John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure has been described as the first erotic novel in English and is perhaps the greatest example of the genre. From the outset it was mired in disrepute. Cleland penned the novel to liberate himself from debtors’ prison, and the book’s manifestly lewd content led to its legal suppression within a year of publication. Though versions of the novel, nearly always abridged in some form, continued to find a way into print, the Memoirs remained an underground text until the 1960s. Only as that decade ushered in a culture less socially deferential and more sexually permissive was the moment opportune for the obscenity ban to be successfully challenged. Cleland’s novel is a triumph of literary style, resting on his invention of an entirely new, vividly metaphoric, terminology for describing sexual pleasure.
This Broadview Edition provides extensive materials on Cleland’s biography and career, contemporary censorship, and pornography and prostitution in the eighteenth century.
“A great new edition of this classic erotic novel, with a well-grounded introduction, a biography of its strange author, and abundant materials for studying sexuality and fiction in the long eighteenth century.” — James Grantham Turner, University of California Berkeley
“In preparing the elegantly engraved 1766 edition of John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748), Broadview editors Richard Terry and Helen Williams have lived up to their cover art: an enigmatic, multivalent 1930 photograph of an androgynous nude. A busy introduction sprints from Cleland’s exhausting London life as a man of letters to his long stint with the East India Company to his notorious novel’s place vis-à-vis amatory fiction to its formal problems and the metaphorical devices Cleland invented to solve them. Engrossing footnotes reconstruct the material culture surrounding the novel, enumerating even the ingredients of sack-posset and the chemical composition of hartshorn. Supplementary excerpts from twenty-three contemporary texts foreground eighteenth-century sex, sex work, censorship of sex writing, that writing itself, and its biomedical counterpart (exemplified in Cleland’s own 1761 Institutes of Health).” — Jayne Lewis, Recent Studies in the Restoration and Eighteenth Century