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Abstract

If the emerging novel of the mid-eighteenth century developed new means of constructing and manipulating its readership, much may be gained by studying the novel in one of its most blatantly manipulative forms. This essay examines John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, the first pornographic novel in English, under the hypothesis that on the level of narrative technique its transgressions are not peculiar to pornography, but rather are widely shared by the emerging novelistic discourse as a whole. Central to this novel's manipulating strategy is the development of a voyeuristic narrative that becomes a powerful means of representing and constructing the reader's subjectivity. By exploring the way in which the voyeuristic narrative functions, we can better understand the dynamic nature of voyeuristic distance, and begin to see voyeuristic involvement with the text as the quintessential experience of novel reading. In the case of the pornographic work written by a man, it becomes particularly clear how the voyeuristic narrative can serve as a means of constructing and controlling representations of female subjectivity, in response to male anxieties and desires about sex and power.

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