Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Anna M. Foy

Committee Member

Joseph Taylor

Committee Member

Chad Thomas


John Cleland--1709-1789.--Memoirs of a woman of pleasure--History and criticism., English erotic stories--History and criticism., Feminist theory., Pornography--Social aspects., Rape.


This work posits that Memoirs, although often viewed as simple pornography, pointedly reveals the failings of eighteenth-century rape law to protect women. Cleland’s sex scenes not only titillate his readers, but also represent the markers of consent, force, and penetration typical of common law. Fanny Hill describes the victim’s ability to make utterance and the volume of each sound, mirroring the common law’s need for women to demonstrate active resistance by crying out. Thus, Cleland troubles the prevalent eighteenth-century notion of silence as consent. Furthermore, I argue that Cleland ties a woman’s ability to resist actively sexual advances, through utterance, to her perception of self-ownership, because a woman must own her body to claim a right to her own sexual agency. Sexual agency gives Fanny Hill the ability to enter into marriage as an equal to her male partner, Charles.



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