Document Type



Master of Arts



First Adviser

Gordon, Scott P.


Contemporary theoretical criticism of John Cleland's Memoirs' of a Woman of Pleasure has undergone a shift, centering on reconsidering whether Memoirs' sexual politics is ultimately liberatory or oppressive. In light of this formulation, this paper deploys Judith Butler's theories of gender performativity and precarity to conceptualize how, while the surface politics of the body in Memoirs liberates libidinal energies that grant both the protagonist, Fanny, and the reader access to pleasure, it also participates in regulating and territorializing ambiguous bodies and erotic desire in the interest of an eighteenth-century English heteronormative ethics of pleasure. Charting the trajectory of Fanny as prostitute through the course of the text, I identify an emergent pattern: As Fanny ascends the prostitution hierarchy, she moves closer to the realization of a domestic fantasy. Along the way, she cultivates an alliance of fallen women that mitigates their collective state of precarity, and internalizes a discourse of taste, which allows her to eventually conform to established norms of embodiment that qualify her as a subject of recognition. She thus extinguishes her state of precarity and allows access to the benefits of patriarchy.