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Fanny Hill in Bombay

The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland

Hal Gladfelder

Publication Year: 2012

John Cleland is among the most scandalous figures in British literary history, both celebrated and attacked as a pioneer of pornographic writing in English. His first novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, or Fanny Hill, is one of the enduring literary creations of the eighteenth century, despite over two hundred years of legal prohibition. Yet the full range of his work is still too little known. In this study, Hal Gladfelder combines groundbreaking archival research into Cleland’s tumultuous life with incisive readings of his sometimes extravagant, sometimes perverse body of work, positioning him as a central figure in the development of the novel and in the construction of modern notions of authorial and sexual identity in eighteenth-century England. Rather than a traditional biography, Fanny Hill in Bombay presents a case history of a renegade authorial persona, based on published works, letters, private notes, and newly discovered legal testimony. It retraces Cleland’s career from his years as a young colonial striver with the East India Company in Bombay through periods of imprisonment for debt and of estrangement from collaborators and family, shedding light on his paradoxical status as literary insider and social outcast. As novelist, critic, journalist, and translator, Cleland engaged with the most challenging intellectual currents of his era yet at the same time was vilified as pornographer, atheist, and sodomite. Reconnecting Cleland’s writing to its literary and social milieu, this study offers new insights into the history of authorship and the literary marketplace and contributes to contemporary debates on pornography, censorship, the history of sexuality, and the contested role of literature in eighteenth-century culture.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

For help in locating archival and rare published materials, I would like to thank the librarians, archivists, and readers’ assistants at the British Library (especially staff working with the India Office Collection in the Asian and African Studies reading room); the British National Archives...

John Cleland: A Chronology

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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: “Old Cleland”

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pp. 1-14

On a Sunday afternoon in 1778, James Boswell paid a visit to John Cleland, although he had not really meant to. “The day,” he writes—it was late April—“was charming.”1 After calling on Sir Joshua Reynolds, he had planned to go on an outing with a friend, but “was too late”; he...

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1. Fanny Hill in Bombay (1728–1740)

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pp. 15-36

For John Cleland, the paradox of authorship was immediate and acute: the same book that delivered him from one prison led to his confinement in another and, in time, both made and unmade his reputation. To his enduring shame and disgust, Cleland was famous in his own life for only one...

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2. Down and Out in Lisbon and London (1741–1748)

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pp. 37-53

If Cleland’s dozen years in Bombay saw both his rapid rise in the colonialist ranks and his sometimes clandestine, sometimes contested emergence as an author, the name he had begun to make for himself was shadowed by intimations of scandal or danger. Even though he prevailed in the Lowther...

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3. Sodomites (1748–1749)

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pp. 54-84

On 27 May 1781, when Cleland was seventy years old and living “in the Savoy,” off the Strand near Somerset House, he was paid a visit by the lawyer and antiquary Josiah Beckwith. Beckwith had read Cleland’s treatises on etymology and the origins of language and wanted to discuss some...

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4. Three Memoirs (1748–1752)

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pp. 85-138

In form, the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure is an uneasy hybrid of two common types of eighteenth-century narrative: the fictional autobiography and the novel in letters. Its hybridity is uneasy because it apes the format of both narrative genres without fulfilling the expectations usual to either. It deviates...

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5. The Hack (1749–1759)

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pp. 139-176

Trying to write his way out of the jail into which the Woman of Pleasure had landed him, Cleland painted his “present low abject condition” as that of “a writer for Bread” forced by economic necessity into “the meanness of writing for a...

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6. The Man of Feeling (1752–1768)

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pp. 177-212

Of all the works he produced in the 1750s, the one whose failure stung Cleland the most was his translation of Pietro Metastasio’s libretto for La Clemenza di Tito (1734). First set to music by Antonio Caldara, this heroic melodramma, best known today in Mozart’s version of...

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7. A Briton (1757–1787)

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pp. 213-237

In one of The Woman of Honor’s deviations from the ready-made plotlines of romance, Mellefont launches into an attack on the practice of imprisonment for debt, whose chief misery, as Cleland knew well, is “corrosive grief for the coolness or desertion of tired-out...

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EPILOGUE: Afterlife

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pp. 238-244

John Cleland died on 23 January 1789, aged seventy-eight. His death was reported the next day in a notice in the Public Advertiser: “Yesterday died at his house in Petty France, Westminster, John Cleland...

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Appendix: Cleland’s Mémoire to King João V of Portugal (1742)

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pp. 245-247

The author of this memorandum, having resided for the span of many years in the East Indies, has long been in a position to learn a great deal about the situation and interests of the Portuguese nation in India, from the many dealings and conversations he has had on this matter with the most respectable persons of that nation, both...


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pp. 249-288


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pp. 289-302


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pp. 303-311

E-ISBN-13: 9781421405261
E-ISBN-10: 1421405261
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421404905
Print-ISBN-10: 1421404907

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2012