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Fanny Hill in Bombay: The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland 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 knownIn 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 EnglandRather 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 outcastAs novelist, critic, journalist, and translator, Cleland engaged with the most challenging intellectual currents of his era yet at the same time was vilified as a 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 Fanny Hill in Bombay claims that it s not a literary biography, it s just a book that tells the life of an author, paying particular attention to his writing which sounds a lot like a literary biography to me but maybe I m just being dense.Facetiousness aside, the book does start off with an interesting discussion over what the point of a literary biography should be in an age which has declared the death of the author I m not much up on my French intellectuals, I once tore a Derrida essa Fanny Hill in Bombay claims that it s not a literary biography, it s just a book that tells the life of an author, paying particular attention to his writing which sounds a lot like a literary biography to me but maybe I m just being dense.Facetiousness aside, the book does start off with an interesting discussion over what the point of a literary biography should be in an age which has declared the death of the author I m not much up on my French intellectuals, I once tore a Derrida essays to pieces with my teeth, but the general argument is that text should stand alone as knowledge of the author and the contexts surrounding them serves to fix and make rigid something which should be personal and responsive This book argues back that knowingabout John Cleland actually destabilises his texts and providesavenues of discussion Although this was a striking way to start the book, I ultimately wanted it to cut with the wank and get into the proper stuff.For example, I did not know that Cleland was a younger son of a fading Scottish noble family, nor did I know that he didn t start off as author but as a colonialist in the East India Trading Company His early professional life had him as a foot soldier for the company where he was quickly moved into a civilian role and quickly rose up the civilian ranks, becoming an attorney in company courts There were discussions of a number of cases, one where he tried to prosecute a company board member for defaulting on the debt of a Hindu tradesman and another where he defended a woman who had become a freed slave though she may have obtained that position so she could testify in a rape trial and her freedom wasn t freedom as such because she wasn t free These cases showed Cleland to be fierce in speech and dedicated to those who may be trampled over by authority interesting traits in a man best known for a pornographic novel.What s , that novel, Fanny Hill was started in Bombay Cleland and a man called Carmichael had the idea that there could be an erotic novel that didn t use plain or course language but aroused in a way no less direct butpoetic It may have been that the two of them wrote together or that Cleland wrote and Carmichael made suggestions Most importantly, this book wasn t intended to be published,a game the two men played Cleland returned to London to sort out family business, his father was ill While there he also entered in conversation with the Portuguese government, even sending proposals to King Jo o V These negotiations were secret and concerned the setting up of a Portuguese East Indian Company, with Cleland as technical advisor The discussions went some way before being lost in the shuffle of Portuguese politics The next we hear of Cleland is five years later, when he is arrested for the staggering debt of eight hundred pounds The man holding the debt is called Cannon, and Cleland later accused him and his mother of trying to poison him on four separate occasions Stuck in the Fleet for a year, Cleland rewrote Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and sold it to Ralph Griffiths under the dummy imprint of his brother Fenton The book took off and the Griffiths managed to arrange a deal with Cannon in return for Cleland s writing services.Although the book was a big success, the moral crusade against it didn t really start until the second volume, which upped the range and frequency of the sex scenes and included a part where Fanny spies a gay couple About this time Cannon also got into trouble for a short pamphlet, only fragments of it remain in legal documents, but it is a compilation of historical and fictional gay sexual escapades Cannon fled to the continent and Cleland kept his briefly arrested but released.Here the book gets really interesting The various readings of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure really opened my eyes to the text I d thought of it as mainly being a slightly goofy, campy sex romp which mainly appeals now for it s peculiarly quaint shock value but this book opens it up to something a littleFor example, Fanny is essentially a drag persona but so is the reader, frequently addressed as Madam , it s unclear if the reader is supposed to be playing a role of a former madam themselves Adding to this, the route Fanny takes into her pleasure loving ways, first she is seduced by female talk of sex, then female sexual activity and then by being a voyeur of sex Hers is a same sexed attraction transferred to mixed sex The gay sex scene in the book is also the result of voyeurism, her appalled fascination with men on men action fixating on her disbelief that the parts will fit into each other, a disbelief she had previously held for male female relations The phrase the book frequently uses is unsexed The characters in the book are frequently detached from their sexed bodies and become androgynous people of pleasure Cleland was often referred to as a sodomite in his lifetime though never actually accused, whether he was gay himself and a gay identity is only gradually being formed at this time there is certainly something a little queer in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.From here the book looks at the next forty years of writing, never being quite unable to shake off the work that defined him There s a problem here for the reader, that the first book defined him and as interesting as some of the other books were, we frequently find ourselves back with Fanny Hill.Queerness permeates much of this future work, in every way the word can be intended His male followup, Memoirs of a Coxcomb features the far bleaker story of a man who can t escape his own romantic fantasies to truly love someone Memoirs of a Woman of Honour was stiff, awkward and no one liked it Eventually he became an angry old ranter in newspapers and a peculiar etymologist He claimed that he d deciphered the Celtic language fully and with it Celtic political culture and wrote three books as part of an intended masterwork designed to show Britain it s true history, language and greatness as a land run by law and the people , including the landless and women Gladfelder brings it all back together by making innuendo between Cleland s belief that the original spiritual symbol was the maypole and the manservant William s massive manservant I very much enjoyed this book and could have talked about it a lotCleland was a farinteresting person with a farinteresting pen than I expected

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