H. George Hahn, Ph.D.
John Cleland’s 1749 text Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure has squeezed its way into popular culture by bringing to life the risqué sexual adventures of its female protagonist, Fanny Hill. To the narrator, sexuality is a tool of survival and influence. Deeper readings into Memoirs reveal underlying threads of purity and virginity, which, despite her sexual encounters, Fanny constantly strives to retain. By analyzing common works of human and social philosophy – specifically those of John Locke, Sigmund Freud, and Jeremy Bentham – the paper scrutinizes Fanny as a paragon of innocence regardless of her actions. While taking into consideration the historical context of Fanny’s profession – specifically its social implications – empirical, psychoanalytic, and utilitarian theories are used to reappraise the common indictment of Fanny as a mere sex symbol. The works of Locke, Freud, and Bentham are employed to label her as an empowered female figure whose origins are causal of her sexual activity, and who gradually rehabilitates herself through sex to retain purity in the context of eighteenth-century social ideologies.
Cover Page Note
Thank you to Dr. H. George Hahn for his guidance and encouragement.
Denton, Rance D.
"Secrets of Sex and Innocence in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure: A Profile of Purity Using Three Common Philosophies,"
Colonial Academic Alliance Undergraduate Research Journal: Vol. 2
, Article 7.
Available at: https://publish.wm.edu/caaurj/vol2/iss1/7