Reading Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure against Cleland's life and letters

Richard Terry, Helen Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our essay documents some of the issues we faced as modern editors of John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748–49). We were conscious of the groundbreaking earlier editions of Peter Sabor and Peter Wagner, and also of the particular difficulties posed by editing a text that was both the author’s first literary work and one that he subsequently repudiated. Our edition argues for the continuity of this early text with some of the concerns that become evident in Cleland’s later life and writings. In particular, we explore some of the novel’s many references to the physical health of its characters, such as Fanny’s mild smallpox in childhood, Mr. Norbert’s “flimsy consumptive texture,” and Mr. Crofts’s aggressive sexual impotence. We see these facets of the novel as being consistent with Cleland’s regular concern, evident from his letters, for the health of his friends, and his authorship in 1761 of the Institutes of Health, which details how individual well-being could be promoted by exercise, hygiene, and a good diet.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-37
JournalEighteenth-Century Life
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


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