*WINNER* Fanny Hill: An Eighteenth Century Bisexual Woman


  • Hayle Moore


What exactly counts as "sex"? John Cleland's Fanny Hill: Memoir of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) works to answer this question even as it, of course, titillates its readers. Fanny Hill's conception of "sex" is fundamental to modern conceptions of sexuality. Not only was it the first pornographic novel written in English, read widely in the three centuries since its initial publication. The novel grapples with the concept of sexual desire and related paradigms of consent. To do so, it suppresses homoerotic pleasures it displays through sexual scenes, emphasizing the idea that homoerotic relationships are less satisfying than penetrative heterosexual sex. In the text, Fanny feels desire for and has sexual relations with both men and women. However, the novel never considers her homoerotic relations "sex". Instead, the women who engage in this type of pleasure describe the events as acts of masturbation or mutual masturbation if they are with women and "sex"only if a penis comes into play. Situations that would be labeled as rape today, are portrayed in a way that suggests that women consent by being women are available for intercourse at the time the men desire it. These two paradigms work together to limit the control that women can exercise over their sexuality. I use Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality to explain how Fanny Hill relates to changing definitions of women's sexuality and suggest that the novel displays a bisexual erotic experience.