Women of Pleasure - Courtship, Seduction and Sexuality in 18th Century British Literature and Culture

When Frances Burney’s protagonist Evelina is asked "in a low voice" to join Lord Orville in the garden, the 18th century reader was suddenly alert and knew that Evelina’s next steps needed thoughtful planning, as it was in the garden, and in particular in the pleasure gardens of this time where young girls were often seduced and sexually approached. This class will look at the manifold positive and negative roles of/for women in the 18th century and introduce students to the rules of courtship, the attitude towards sexuality in various genres from explicit courtship novels and amorous fiction to early erotic literature. Our readings will thereby look at the subject from two perspectives – the female, but also the male gaze. Together we will explore some great pieces of literature of 18th century women writers, such as Eliza Haywood, Frances Burney and Aphra Behn, before we will move to a male approach on the topic in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders and finally in, what some scholars argue, is one of the greatest literary approaches to 18th century prostitution, sexuality and eroticism in John Cleland’s “forbidden” novel Fanny Hill.

This class will work on the topic from different perspectives. We will look at gender and sexuality in 18th century everyday life and culture, the male/female gaze, look at appropriate and inappropriate spaces and places for courtship, work on the social ideals for young girls and encounter a variety of genres throughout the semester. The cultural picture of the everyday life of women in the 18th century will be completed with background presentations on motherhood, inheritance laws, jobs and other subjects relevant to the topic.