Printer Friendly

Fanny's fantasies: class, gender and the unreliable narrator in Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

John Cleland's chosen narrative voice in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, that of Fanny Hill, obviously invites the charge that he is constructing a female subjectivity which suits a male agenda.(1) Although this reading of the work is possible, there is something ideologically more complex going on in Memoirs, and the key to unlocking that complexity lies in Cleland's formal strategy of using an unreliable, first-person narrator. Attention to that strategy and to the relation between narrative form and ideology brings into focus a network of class and gender patterns in Memoirs that has only become partially visible in recent Cleland criticism. Fanny, in the tradition of Samuel Richardson's Pamela, voices a quasi-egalitarian bourgeois ideology over and against the hierarchical ideology of the landed aristocracy, and advances the romantic vision of the bourgeois sentimentalist who would wield the companionate marriage as a panacea for public and private vices. Cleland, in the tradition of the anti-Pamelists, debunks his own narrator on both counts.(2) Hence, the most essential project of Memoirs is not the construction of an ideologically useful version of female subjectivity but the deconstruction of a Richardsonian, bourgeois world view, using as an Achilles heel that world view's manner of representing gender identities and relations of power.

Fanny's ideologically driven fantasies can be tentatively divided into those directed toward the world of the marketplace and those directed toward the world of romance by way of Fanny's relationship with Charles. Ann Louise Kibbie, incidentally, sees the same double world in Memoirs, manifest through "a narrative of . . . serial exchanges in the world of the marketplace; and a sentimental narrative" (561). Kibbie, however, concludes that Cleland "enlists the sentimental in the service of his narrative of [marketplace] currency" (562). I will conclude, on the other hand, that Cleland uses both narratives as vehicles of satire. The narrative of the marketplace exposes the pretenses of the capitalist ethos as ludicrous, and the narrative of sentiment exposes the bourgeois sensibility, a sensibility grounded in Richardson though it would not be fully legible until the emergence of the Cult of Sensibility in the third quarter of the century, as equally ludicrous.

Among Fanny's fantasies about the relations within the world of the marketplace, what Leo Braudy identifies as the "egalitarian possibilities of sexuality" is the most prominent. "In Fanny's world of class," says Braudy, "it is sexuality that makes all men and women equal" (37). Fanny indeed suggests that sexuality levels all, but she is not, as Braudy suggests, simply Cleland's mouthpiece. Cleland includes passages which at least problematize Fanny's suggestion and at most comically undercut it. Braudy cites the affair with Will to justify his claim about Cleland (see also Epstein 102). A closer study of that affair, however, will show some textual subtleties that are passed over in Braudy's essay:

Oh! but say you, this was a young fellow in too low a rank of life to deserve so great a display. May be so! but was my condition, strictly consider'd, one jot more exalted? or had I really been much above him, did not his capacity of giving such exquisite pleasure sufficiently raise and enoble him, to me at least? . . . The talent of pleasing, with which nature has endow'd a handsome person, form'd to me the greatest of all merits; compared to which the vulgar prejudices in favour of title, dignities, honours, and the like, held a very low rank indeed! (80)

Fanny's evaluation of Will indeed debunks oppressive aristocratic structures, but it creates new problems. Douglas J. Stewart sees the treatment of sexuality here as a prelude to the reification of the worker in Adam Smith's system. As the worker became a quantifiable unit of labor under capitalism, so the sexual performer in Memoirs became "little more than an efficient producer of sexual effects" (389-90). Fanny does not scorn Will because of his class but she does treat him as little more than a quantifiable unit of sexual power. Thus the egalitarianism voiced by Fanny entails a heavy and specific cost, as human beings become interchangeable and reified units of sexual power.(3)

Fanny's egalitarian claims are not only problematic in Memoirs, but they are suspiciously contradicted by the behavior of Fanny herself. In the scene that sets up the affair with Will, Fanny's own classist snobbery is manifest in her condemnation of the "coarse country-strammel" (68) who is seduced by Mr. H-- and thereby "spoil'd at least for my servant" (69). As a result of that seduction, Fanny is propelled into her flirtation with Will and with the egalitarian fantasy that accompanies that flirtation. When, however, Mr. H-- catches Fanny and Will, the egalitarian fantasy collapses. "The thunderstruck lad stood trembling and pale, awaiting his sentence of death" (85), and Fanny places herself "entirely at his [Mr. H--'s] mercy" (86). When Fanny says that "we stood like criminals under examination" (85), the crime in question is clearly an offense against the social hierarchies which grant Mr. H-- absolute authority over his mistresses and his servants. Although those hierarchies seem to be threatened by Fanny's fantasy, they are threatened only within Fanny's fantasy. Fanny now concedes that Mr. H-- "irrevocably pronounc'd my doom" (87), and the egalitarian rhetoric quickly yields to the rhetoric of "submission" (87) and the image of Fanny "throwing myself at his [Mr. H--'s] feet" (86). Fanny's equivocation here exposes a hypocritical core to the emerging capitalist ideology insofar as its proponents remain enamored with hierarchical power structures despite occasional lip-service paid to egalitarianism.

If Fanny's fantasy about the egalitarian possibilities of sexuality collapses within Memoirs, does she not at least transcend the world of the marketplace through contact with Charles and with the world of romance? At the very beginning of the novel, Fanny gives the world of the marketplace a comic telos:

I shall recall to view those scandalous stages of my life, out of which I emerg'd at length, to the enjoyment of every blessing in the power of love, health, and fortune to bestow; whilst yet in the flower of youth, and not too late to employ the leisure afforded me by great ease and affluence. (1)

Hence the text is framed at the beginning as well as at the end by Fanny's happy marriage. The world of the marketplace, the world of capitalist reification, in which people are identified in terms of marketable attributes and in which the sexual body becomes the sexual "machine," is circumscribed and undermined by the comic frame of Fanny's true love. This framing device leads Braudy to conclude that Fanny's love for Charles is the rehumanizing factor of the text (36), as it leads Michael Shinagel to conclude that Memoirs "celebrates the joys of sex, love, and marriage" (234; see also Trumbach 72). My own line of argument suggests two important qualifications to that laid out by Braudy and Shinagel. The first has to do with historically specific allegiances embedded in Fanny's romantic humanism. The privileging of a romantic, and a conjugal, bond based on "a mutual love-passion" (64) may seem nonpartisan enough to the modern audience, but work such as Lawrence Stone's suggests that in 1748-49, such a move had a more politically determinate edge. Specifically, it aligns the speaker with emerging puritan-bourgeois forms of the "companionate" marriage and the nuclear family, as opposed to the older, more hierarchical and patrilineal forms (Stone, FSM passim). In this historically specific context, Fanny's humanism, manifested as a faith in the power of reciprocal and ultimately conjugal affection, is not mere platitude but a marker of specific ideological allegiances, allegiances with bourgeois values in general and Pamela Andrews in particular. The second qualification concerns Fanny's unreliability. In arguing that Cleland debunks Fanny's romantic humanism and debunks bourgeois capitalist ideologies along with it, I intend to show that Memoirs is more consistently and more seriously committed to the anti-Pamelist camp than is generally acknowledged. If the first qualification gives clearer political edges to the issues discussed by Braudy and Shinagel, the second jeopardizes their positions more seriously and requires more serious demonstration and analysis.

A close scrutiny of the text reveals, in fact, that the romantic frame of true love is Fanny's own fantasy and bears little relation to the real world of Memoirs. Fanny describes Charles as "tender, naturally polite, and gentle-mannered" (48). But when she goes on to say that any apparent discrepancy between this characterization and Charles's behavior "could never be his fault" (48), she indicates a refusal to acknowledge any flaws in Charles's character and thereby loses credibility. Indeed, Fanny's insistent punctuation of tales told by Charles with such glosses as "every tittle of which was true" (47) ironically makes an issue of Charles's veracity, while Fanny's admission that "prodigious love" for Charles "blinded me" (36) renders her own comments on that veracity suspect.

Fanny continues to dash her own reliability with such expostulations as "He might use me ill! let him! he was the master!" (37). These phrases undermine Fanny's reliability both in terms of tone and in terms of diction. The tone of such phrases can hardly be confused with that of a disinterested observer. In terms of diction, Fanny's frequent and indiscriminate use of the term "master" to signal both relations within the world of the marketplace and relations between herself and Charles provides a vital link between the two worlds. "Master" suggests at once economic dominance and male dominance, and Fanny's heavy reliance upon it suggests that her fantasies of egalitarianism are generated by and within a hierarchical linguistic framework.

If Fanny is no more a reliable source of information at the level of romance than she was at the level of the marketplace, we must ask if there are any textual details from which we might glean more objective information about the character of Charles. There are, in fact, many details which suggest that there is more (and less) to Charles than meets Fanny's eye.(4) In introducing Charles, Fanny tells us that he awakes "eagerly surveying me," and "asking briskly and at once, if I would be kept by him . . . my person happening to hit his fancy" (35-36). This imperious and proprietary desire to possess Fanny's person as a sexual object among his wares is nicely complemented by Charles's swollen male ego:

He thought that possibly I had not been enjoy'd by any so advantageously made in that part as himself. . . . He looks, he feels, and satisfies himself. (40)

As the truth of Fanny's virginity comes out, she becomes "infinitely endear'd [to Charles] by his compleat triumph over a maidenhead" (41), and the ego and the proprietary desire merge in Charles's "inspection" of the various "part[s]" of Fanny's body: "Budding breasts . . . flesh . . . features . . . limbs, all seem'd to confirm him in his satisfaction with his bargain" (46). Charles, it seems, is revealed between the lines of Fanny's narration as something less than the romantic hero of Fanny's fantasy.

But, Fanny's advocates might say, perhaps Charles's relationship to Fanny enables him to transcend the mentality of the marketplace. Again, details support the contrary. Charles, as his own biography implies, is on the "look-out for" a cheap mistress (47). Fanny is easily persuaded that "he brought me constantly all [the money] he receiv'd" (53), and would not "harbour any idea of being burdensome to him" by asking for clothes or money (54). Fanny, who immediately upon defloration surrenders "to Charles the whole charge of my future happiness" (50), is a perfect find for Charles and is hardly an encouragement for him to alter his attitudes. When Fanny says "my good fortune . . . threw me in his way" (47), the judicious reader catches the ironic suggestion that it is rather Charles's good fortune that has suddenly thrown his way a "fresh piece" (38) whose maintenance cost "was very trifling, in comparison with his former less regular course of pleasures" (50). Moreover, the romantic rhetoric Fanny uses to describe her relationship to Charles is repeatedly betrayed by her own marketplace rhetoric. In the case of this first meeting with Charles, for example, the rhetoric of "sprightly fires" of "true passion" (35) is punctured by Fanny's irresistible urge to gloat at "having clapt up such a bargain with a perfect stranger" (50).

Charles's first exploit after deflowering Fanny is to settle accounts with Mrs. Brown. As part of the bargain, "the choice of the house-conveniencies, was offer'd, and not accepted" (49). Fanny can only assume that the conveniencies were not accepted if Charles has told her so, and Cleland provides details that render that assumption dubitable. Fanny tells us that "this negociation had however taken up some time," and later adds that "the evening deepened, and the hour set for his return was elaps'd" (49). Fanny never explains this delay and admits that it was somewhat alleviated by a remarkably well-timed visit from the landlady "to whom Charles had liberally recommended me" (49). Upon Charles's belated return, Fanny tells us that "the soft reproach I had prepar'd for him, expir'd before it reached my lips" (49), reinforcing a pattern of silent acceptance in which Fanny "receiv'd as oracles all he [Charles] said" (53).(5) By including the offer, the unexplained delay, the convenient visit by the landlady, and the policy of silent acceptance, it seems that Cleland is directing the reader to make certain inferences about Charles which his first-person narrator is incapable of making. These details invite the hypothesis that Charles has accepted the house-conveniences and that in so doing he has established a pattern of domination through deceit in his relationship with Fanny.

The hypothesis of Charles's duplicity is best tested against the two most critical moments after the defloration, the moments of Charles's departure and Charles's reappearance. The first event results in Fanny's sexual tryst with Mr. H--, after which she plunges into debauchery in earnest:

As soon as he was gone, I felt the usual consequences of the first launch into vice; (for my love attachment to Charles never appear'd to me in that light.) I was instantly born away down the stream, without the power of making my way back to shore. (65)

This is a major turning point in Fanny's biography. Her experiences at Mrs. Brown's can be seen as flirting with corruption, but the preservation of her maidenhead is a powerful symbol of the fact that her innocence has not yet been irrevocably exploded. Although her sexual activities with Charles may be a transgression of sorts, her love for Charles is certainly a mitigating factor, and most readers would in this case agree with Fanny that her encounter with Mr. H-- is truly her "launch into vice." Although Fanny introduces the ship metaphor in the first paragraph of the text, it is at this point in Fanny's biography, as Peter Sabor points out, that Fanny-as-ship actually begins her journey (195).

Taking Fanny's account at face value, Shinagel, in the typical vein of Cleland criticism, refers to "the 'domestic happiness' toward which they were tending when they were separated" (219). But since we have seen that Fanny is an unreliable source and that Charles has arguably lied to her about the acceptance of the house-conveniences, we have no reason to accept unconditionally the tale of Charles's abduction. We do, however, have reason to believe the contrary. In light of her pregnancy, Fanny no longer quite fits the mold of a mistress Charles is "very sufficiently enabl'd to keep" (47). Moreover, Mr. H--, a neighbor more sufficiently enabled to keep her, "had long taken a liking to my person" (58). With a pregnant mistress and a neighbor prepared to purchase her person, Charles is suddenly abducted, "debar'd from writing . . . more strictly watch'd than a state criminal . . . and forc'd on a long voyage without taking leave of one friend" (55). He thus escapes an increasingly complicated scenario with his now pregnant mistress at a total cost of "seven guineas left by chance" (57). It is too pat. Charles, who has already concerned himself with his sexual "advantage" three times (40, 41, 46), can hardly have overlooked the material advantage of such a timely departure. Cleland's diction would tend to support this view, insofar as the use of the phrase "pregnant circumstances" in reference to the tale of Charles's exit (56) is surely intended to call to mind the more literal circumstances of pregnancy which make the exit such a convenient one for Charles. Hence it is Charles who, in launching himself abroad, launches Fanny on the sea of vice.

If Charles is responsible for Fanny's launch into vice, does he not redeem himself and Fanny by consummating their relationship in marriage upon his return? First of all, the circumstances of Charles's return are not without question. Upon his departure, Fanny claims that the landlady "stretch'd maliciously" the duration of Charles's voyage to four years in order to convince her that she "could not expect in reason ever to see him again" (56). The details of the departure and sudden reappearance would rather suggest that Charles himself had "stretch'd maliciously" the duration of his voyage in order to secure a clean break, and that when he suddenly meets Fanny two years and seven months later, he discredits the landlady by fabricating the details which Fanny tellingly admits she "did not learn minutely till some time after" (56). At this point, in fact, the initial information that Charles was "debar'd from writing" (55), so convenient at the time of departure, gives way to Charles's report that "he wrote several letters which had all miscarried" (176), a report perhaps more useful at the moment of rapprochement. Although these accounts are not necessarily contradictory, the remarkably convenient data adjustments they encode into the text cast a shadow on Charles's veracity, and Fanny's unquestioning acceptance of data on both occasions further undermines her reliability as narrator.

Although the narrator Fanny is able to punctuate her recounted exploits with the moral that true love transcends the physical act of sex, it is the reunion scene that, for Fanny, locks in the lesson of "joys, that affecting me infinitely more with my distinction of the person, than of the sex, now brought my conscious heart deliciously into play" (182). Charles' s interests, however, comically contrast with Fanny's reverie in this scene:

Charles then rouz'd me somewhat out of this extatic distraction, with a complaint softly murmur'd amidst a croud of kisses, at the position, not so favourable to his desires, in which I receiv'd his urgent insistence for admission. (183)

Charles's attitude echoes that of Mr. H--. When Fanny, in bed with Mr. H--, reflects in grand language upon the distinction between "a pleasure merely animal" and "a mutual love passion," Cleland comically cuts to the sentence: "Mr. H-- whom no distinctions of that sort seem'd to distract . . . was in a condition for renewing the onset . . . preluding with a storm of kisses" (64). Charles's attitude comically undercuts Fanny's fantasy in much the same way as did Mr. H--'s. Moreover, the repeated images of "distraction," and of a "croud/storm of kisses," suggests that Charles has in no way transcended the purely material pleasure associated with Fanny's marketplace lovers and with his own earlier lifestyle.

Hence the marriage that consummates the reunion scene undercuts rather than ratifies Fanny's sentimental fantasy of a world where love "refines, ennobles and exalts . . . [sensual] enjoyment" (184), a world of "eternally unfading . . . roses" (187). The sentence in which the marriage is sealed is a travesty of Fanny's fantasy and is worth quoting in its entirety:

After his flatly refusing the unreserv'd, unconditional donation that I long persecuted him in vain to accept, it was at length, in obedience to his serious commands (for I stood out unaffectedly, till, he exerted the sovereign authority which love had given him over me) that I yielded my consent to wave the remonstrance I did not fail of making strongly to him, against his degrading himself, and incurring the reflexion, however unjust, of having, for respects of fortune, barter'd his honour for infamy and prostitution, in making one his wife, who thought herself too much honour'd in being but his mistress. (186)

In this scene, Fanny's fantasy of a mutual love passion, when engaged in the real world of social relations, comically deteriorates into mutual manipulation. Charles, with his eye on Fanny's fortune, objects to charity in order to entice Fanny into marriage. Fanny, in "making strongly" the remonstrance against his degrading himself, teases Charles into exerting his "sovereign authority" by commanding her to marry him. Although elaborate syntax is characteristic of the larger Cleland corpus, and of Augustan prose in general, the tortuous syntax seems to have a singular function here and elsewhere in Memoirs. Fanny is certainly a narrator peculiarly aware of the "mincing metaphors and affected circumlocutions" requisite to her subject matter (91). This rhetorical problem, outlined in the opening paragraphs of volume 2, and often cited as Cleland's stylistic self-commentary (e.g., Markley 343; Slepian and Morrissey 72), might better be seen as the problem of a narrator struggling to preserve her romantic fantasy in the face of a reality which resists that fantasy.(6) If Myron Taube derides Fanny's escape into "a wonderworld of sexual permissiveness" (77), we might add here that her escape into romantic love is equally illusory. Neither Fanny nor Charles can ultimately transcend the world of the marketplace.

The reunion, as the moment of the plot's resolution, not only undercuts Fanny's romantic fantasies but further debunks her egalitarian fantasies and reinstitutes class and gender hierarchies. Class status is the material precondition of the reunion. When Fanny "stept into the hall-kitchen" to speak to the coachman, "not caring that his shoes should spoil the very clean parlour" (177), she suggests that the "very clean parlour" is reserved for a class of people above that of the coachman and above that of her own earlier status. Without her improved status and the material amenities which go along with it (including servants as the material accoutrements "suitable to my fortune" [177]), it would have been too gross a violation of eighteenth-century decorum for Fanny to have been mingling with members of Charles's class at the provincial inn. Moreover, Charles, part of whose original appeal lay in his "gentility" (36), still carries "nobly . . . that air of distinction" which makes him attractive to Fanny (179). Essential to Fanny's "happy ending" is the notion that both characters have found their natural niche in that class which affords "great ease and affluence" (1).

It is also essential to Fanny's happy ending that the gender hierarchy is reaffirmed. There are two levels of meaning to Fanny's metaphor of having "got snug into port" (187), which concludes the metaphorical pattern of Fanny as ship. On the one hand, Fanny has provided an explicitly "snug" feminine port for many a manly vessel. But this final metaphor retroactively justifies the entire metaphorical pattern with the image of Fanny being fit snugly back into the norms of the eighteenth-century marriage. What exactly those norms were is still a subject for debate. I have suggested that Fanny's view of her own marriage is commensurate with the emerging puritan-bourgeois view of marriage as a bond based on reciprocal duties and mutual affection. A close look at that marriage shows the now predictable gap between Fanny's fantasy and reality. In reality, the marriage is impossible until Charles explicitly exerts the aforementioned "sovereign authority." In this way the marriage is a final index in$what Nancy K. Miller identifies as the peculiarly lopsided economy of romance, an economy in which the female sacrifices all in gratitude for the male lover's affection (HT 58, "I's" 52-53). Although I find that Miller's reading does adequately describe the marital relations of power in question, I am more interested in the ideological cover which obscures those power relations: i.e., the bourgeois sensibility which proclaims the redemptive power (and the leveling power) of private and mutual affections. It is this ideological cover which is consistently a satiric target of Memoirs. What we have is a patriarchal and hierarchical power structure shrouded in a newfangled and disingenuous rhetoric of mutuality and reciprocity. As with the rhetoric of class egalitarianism in the seduction of Will, the rhetoric of gender egalitarianism within marriage turns out to be a kind of smokescreen which mystifies actual relations of power. In this sense it seems clear to me that Cleland mocks the class and gender ideologies of bourgeois capitalism. On the score of gender, I should add, I do not intend to suggest that Cleland has a feminist agenda.(7) If we turn from the bourgeois component of the ideologies in question to the patriarchal component, Cleland does not seem very interested in debunking patriarchy per se. Although Cleland is not advocating prostitution but merely using the prostitute as a Pamela-unmasked figure,(8) a patriarchal definition of "woman" as the object of male desire or the space of male desire survives a close reading of Memoirs quite intact. By selectively debunking bourgeois constructions of femininity and not patriarchal constructions in general, Cleland, in the manner of Fielding and Bolingbroke and Smollett (all of whom Cleland praised in The Monthly Review, cited in Epstein 112-16), would seem to be venting a sentimental attachment to landed patriarchy as opposed to bourgeois patriarchy.

The "tail-piece of morality" which follows the marriage has generally been taken in two ways. On the one hand, it has been considered as merely a conciliatory gesture at the end of a pornographic novel, evidenced for example in Hollander's cynical comment that "the story concludes with a little paean to sexual virtue founded on experience, which Fanny goes to great lengths to insist is not hypocritical" (73). Raymond K. Whitley, arguing against this position, claims that the moral reflects Fanny's "ultimate enthusiasm for monogamous love" (397). Thus the tail-piece of morality is alternately used to ratify the view of the novel as mere pornography and the view of the novel as a humanist document more or less synchronized with the bourgeois domestic ideology.

A third position, and the one toward which this essay has been pointing, holds that the novel goes beyond pornography not by offering a bourgeois humanist solution but by betraying the naivete of such a solution. Although Fanny utters the humanist moral sincerely, that moral is not the moral of the novel but is rather one feature being manipulated within the novel. Fanny's moral is a sentimentalist fantasy that she believes undercuts the values of the marketplace mentality but that proves to be indeed another fantasy bearing little relation to reality. Aware that the claim to display vice in order to repulse is a "paultry" and generic claim that might be the epilogue to any pornographic work (187), Fanny attempts to validate the claim with specific reference to Charles. She directs her reader's attention to Charles's "good sense" in acting as the "master of ceremonies" for his son, guiding the boy "by the hand thro' the most noted bawdy houses in town" (188). She adds: "The experiment, you will cry, is dangerous. True, on a fool" (188). This eloquent defense of virtue patently proves Fanny a fool. The term "master of ceremonies" occurs at only one other place in the text, at the moment in which Mrs. Cole leads Fanny "by the hand" (111) Fanny "by the hand" (111) to the public gallery of sex and to the man who will be her "master of ceremonies" (121) therein. The display does not "form [Fanny] to virtue" (188) but rather awakens her to "the policy and power of such rare and exquisite provocatives as the examples of the night had proved towards exalting our pleasures" (123).

Fanny's final question--"Are fools worth the least attention to?"--is an ironic reflection of her own foolish assumption that the "good taste" of Charles and his son are being "nauseated" by the scenes at the bawdy-houses (188). Charles, who has never given any indication of regret concerning his own youthful exploits, has in all likelihood taken his son to "those scenes of debauchery" to "inspire" him with something other than a "rational contempt for vice" (188).(9)

When Whitley concludes that "the only context in which sensuality can escape these [physical] limits is that of the benevolent romantic affection which Cleland's novels share with almost all their contemporaries" (402), he echoes Fanny's own moral. In light of the above analysis of Fanny's relationship to Charles, it rather seems that Cleland's novel calls into question its contemporaries' naivete in offering a sentimentalist solution of "benevolent romantic affection" to real historical problems.(10) Thus Fanny's fantasies--of class and gender egalitarianism, of the sentimentalist solution--are all undercut by details within the text.

The two-tier project enacted in Memoirs--that of crystallizing the emerging capitalist world view from a presumably female vantage point and debunking that world view--has often led, somewhat ironically, to one-sided criticism which touts Cleland's egalitarianism and/or his humanism, or emphasizes the self-interested construction of female identity by a male writer. Careful attention to Cleland's handling of the narrative voice allows us to recontexualize these strands of criticism and to reposition Memoirs in cultural and literary history. As Pamela unmasked, Fanny's ethic is literally the ethic of prostitution, tellingly framed in ideologies of egalitarianism and sentiment which are themselves unmasked as either naive or disingenuous. In these ways Cleland consistently tips his hand against Fanny and against bourgeois values.

With the bourgeois fantasies of egalitarianism and romance exposed as such, I would like to turn to the issue of Fanny as the object of the reader's fantasy. Despite the debunking nature of Cleland's anti-Pamelist project, it is clear that Memoirs is written from a peculiarly male point of view and for a male readership. Michael J. Preston goes so far as to say that Fanny is a "dream girl" who is "in a sense, every man's Everywoman" (xi). Although useful in identifying Fanny's important function as the object of male fantasy, Preston's comment implies a generalized view of male mentality that is cynical and reductive. The constellation of "machine" metaphors alone would suggest that the fantasy with which we are dealing is something more historically specific. What Cleland has produced, and implicitly comments upon, is the dream girl signalled by gender and class ideological structures characteristic of eighteenth-century patriarchal and bourgeois interests.

As the dream girl projected by such ideological structures, Fanny is the moral wife, ruled over by her sovereign and slightly less than moral husband, recognizing that the penis "commands us all" (183). She is also the dream subject of capitalist exploitation. Early in the novel, when Esther exploits her by "making [her] bear all the travelling charges" (4), Fanny not only complies cheerfully but is genuinely grateful. Her attitude toward Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Cole link this pattern of gratitude in the face of economic exploitation to a pattern of gratitude in the face of sexual exploitation. And the intersection of the two patterns is most succinct in her relationship to Charles, where, as an "easily contented" mistress (47), her gratitude for both economic exploitation and sexual exploitation reaches what she feels to be a transcendent and eternal justification.

The complexity of the character Fanny opens Memoirs to readers on several ideological fronts. For those who take issue with the conditions of capitalist patriarchy, Fanny represents the pernicious consequences of economic and sexual reifications well under way in the eighteenth century. From this vantage point, Memoirs is primarily a satire which, through the focus of an unreliable narrator, uses sexual relations to implicate the presumably degraded social relations, along both class and gender trajectories, associated with emerging bourgeois capitalism. On the other hand, the aura of sexual desire remains intact for many readers irrespective of the satirical work being done. Of these readers, some will find Memoirs liberating and progressive, others will find it sexist and oppressive, and still others will no doubt continue to buy the book in order to participate in the fantasies of desire and power it affords. Although this essay takes the first course, which highlights the relation between ideology and satirical form and which I believe goes furthest toward placing Memoirs into the web of texts and ideologies in mid-Georgian England, it is surely that larger, multiple appeal which guarantees Memoirs's survival into a new age of critical as well as popular readings.


1 Careful elaborations of this reading are in Nancy K. Miller's "'I's' in Drag" (hereafter "I's") and The Heroine's Text (hereafter HT) and also in Markley.

2 It has become customary in Cleland criticism to give the nod to Memoirs's status as anti-Pamela, but no one has fully worked out all the implications of that alignment. See, for example, Copeland, Taube, Shinagel (esp. 213-14), Epstein (91-92, 99-101), and Kibbie. Kibbie in particular pursues the link between the two texts in an interesting way but quickly rejects the idea of Memoirs as "a pornographic satire of Richardson's novel" (561). Granting the plot discrepancies Kibbie cites, I will suggest that both the satiric tone and the ideological alignment against Richardsonian values stick and stick consistently in Memoirs.

3 See Kibbie's related discussion of "the interchangeability of metaphoric terms in Fanny Hill's commercial and sexual transactions" (570).

4 My argument about Charles, grounded in Fanny's unreliability as narrator, cuts against Shinagel's crediting of Charles as a good-natured character of the Fielding mold (119) as well as against Hollander's appraisal of Fanny's "shrewd assessments of character" (71).

5 Preston, in the preface to the concordance, notes a related pattern in which Fanny uses the phrase "stopping my mouth with kisses" in reference to Charles at two crucial moments (42, 178), the moment of defloration and the moment of reunion. Also, I acknowledge a general debt to the concordance for augmenting and streamlining my textually specific analyses of Memoirs.

6 Compare to Michel Foucault's discussion of "the injunction, so peculiar to the West . . . [of] transforming sex into discourse" (1:20).

7 Compare to Braudy, who dubs Cleland "the first feminist" (37), a designation cited and rejected in Miller's "I's" (51).

8 Trumbach notes that Cleland published in the same year as Memoirs "an account of the sailors' riots against the whores," which included "a description of the lives of the common women of the town that was as grim as anything in the legal sources" (72). See also Epstein on Cleland's sensitivity to systemic injustices suffered by women (92, 97-99).

9 My argument contests those that accept Fanny's own view of the matter. See, for example, Shinagel (217) and Slepian and Morrissey (68).

10 Note that Stone's exhaustively documented Open Elite leads to the same conclusion concerning eighteenth-century sentimentalist solutions to real problems: "The heir of a squire who marries a milkmaid may occur in fiction, but very rarely in real life" (121).

Works Cited

Braudy, Leo. "Fanny Hill and Materialism." Eighteenth-Century Studies 4 (1970): 21-40.

Cleland, John. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Ed. Peter Sabor. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.

Copeland, Edward. "Clarissa and Fanny Hill: Sisters in Distress." Studies in the Novel 4 (1972): 343-52.

Epstein, William H. John Cleland: Images of a Life. New York: Columbia UP, 1974.

Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality. Tr. Robert Hurley. 3 vols. New York: Vintage, 1978.

Foxon, David. Libertine Literature in England, 1660-1745. New Hyde Park: University, 1965.

Hollander, John. "The Old Last Act: Some Observations on Fanny Hill." Encounter 21 (1963): 69-77.

Kibbie, Ann Louise. "Sentimental Properties: Pamela and Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure." English Literary History 58 (1991): 561-77.

Markley, Robert. "Language, Power, and Sexuality in Cleland's Fanny Hill." Philological Quarterly 63 (1984): 343-56.

Miller, Nancy K. The Heroine's Text: Readings in the French and English Novel, 1722-1782. New York: Columbia UP, 1974.

-----. "'I's' in Drag: The Sexuality of Recollection." Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 22 (1981): 47-57.

Preston, Michael J., and Samuel S. Coleman, eds. A KWIC Concordance to John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. New York: Garland, 1988.

Shinagel, Michael. "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure: Pornography and the Mid-Eighteenth-Century English Novel." Studies in Change and Revolution. Ed. Paul Korshin. London: Scolar, 1972. 211-36.

Slepian, B., and L. J. Morrissey. "What Is Fanny Hill?" Essays in Criticism 14 (1964): 65-75.

Stewart, Douglas J. "Pornography, Obscenity, and Capitalism." Antioch Review 35 (1977): 389-98.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. London: Weidenfeld, 1977.

-----. An Open Elite? England 1540-1880. Oxford: Clarendon, 1984.

Taube, Myron. "Moll Flanders and Fanny Hill: A Comparison." Ball State University Forum 9 (1968): 76-80.

Trumbach, Randolph. "Modern Prostitution and Gender in Fanny Hill: Libertine and Domesticated Fantasy." Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment. Ed. G. S. Rousseau and Roy Porter. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1988. 69-85.

Whitley, Raymond K. "The Libertine Hero and Heroine in the Novels of John Cleland." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture. Ed. Roseann Runte. Vol. 9. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1979. 387-404.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Northern Illinois University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:character in 'Memoirs of a Woman in Pleasure' by author John Cleland
Author:Gautier, Gary
Date:Jun 22, 1994
Previous Article:Herbarium Verbarium: The Discourse of Flowers.
Next Article:Direct addresses, narrative authority, and gender in Rebecca Harding Davis's "Life in the Iron Mills."

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters