Literary Erotics in 18th Century

Often identified as the period in which the roots of modern pornography emerged, the eighteenth century in England saw a proliferation in narratives and plots about sex, composed in styles ranging from what we might call explicit or pornographic to highly allusive, satirical, even moral and didactic. This course will explore the diverse ways in which eighteenth-century authors
employ eroticism to achieve diverse effects in readers--to produce comedy, to refine their tastes, to purge them of corruption, to cultivate morality and politeness. But even as they claim to promote traditional social practices such as chastity, reason, and self-government, authors recognize that "warm," sexualized narratives threaten to change readers from enlightened, moral
subjects to passionate, lustful brutes. How, authors persistently ask, can erotic scenes and plots be presented in such a way that they will benefit readers rather than corrupt them? We will read across the generic and moral spectrum of literature in the period to investigate the various ways in which authors approach the challenge of balancing sex with reason, paying special attention to their editorial commentary on those lessons they expect readers to derive from books. Authors will include Rochester, Behn, Wycherley, Mandeville, Addison, Swift, Pope, Montagu, Haywood, Cleland, Sterne, Boswell; secondary readings will include historical and literary-critical accounts of the rise of pornography, the discourse on sexuality, and gender in the period. Evaluation will be based primarily on papers (totaling 20+ written pages) and a final.

TR 3-4:30


  • ENGL-241

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