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.