While appreciating the author’s skill, critics have nevertheless characterized John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure as little more than a string of pornographic vignettes held together with the barest of plots and populated by superficial characters mechanically performing sexual acts. In “Fanny’s Feeling,” I argue instead that Fanny Hill tells the story of the heroine’s development of emotional sophistication, which provides the key to her success. Other novelists, such as Samuel Richardson and Eliza Hay-wood, depict characters that acquire emotion sophistication, but link this capacity to status at birth. Cleland, by contrast, imagines that a young woman of humble birth can acquire emotional sophistication from challenging experiences, defying what Daniel Gross has called the period’s theory of “emotional scarcity,” in which complexity and abundance of feeling only become possible for a narrow elite. I support this claim through close attention to the changes in Fanny’s emotional responses and reflections that become most visible when we read her narrative chronologically rather than in the retrospective order through which Cleland presents them.
Research Article|April 01 2019
Fanny’s Feelings: Social Mobility and Emotions in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure
Eighteenth-Century Life (2019) 43 (2): 76-104.
Laura J. Rosenthal; Fanny’s Feelings: Social Mobility and Emotions in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 April 2019; 43 (2): 76–104. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-7492909
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