Eroticism and Reading in Britain, 1660-1760
Excitable Imaginations offers a new approach to the history of pornography. Looking beyond a counter-canon of bawdy literature, Kathleen Lubey identifies a vigilant attentiveness to sex across a wide spectrum of literary and philosophical texts in eighteenth-century Britain. Esteemed public modes of writing such as nationalist poetry, moral fiction, and empirical philosophy, as well as scandalous and obscene writing, persistently narrate erotic experiences - desire, voyeurism, seduction, orgasm. The recurring turn to sexuality in literature and philosophy, she argues, allowed authors to recommend with great urgency how the risqué delights of reading might excite the imagination to ever greater degrees of educability on moral and aesthetic matters. Moralists such as Samuel Richardson and Adam Smith, like their licentious counterparts Rochester, Haywood, and Cleland, purposefully evoke salacious fantasy so that their audiences will recognize reading as an intellectual act that is premised on visceral pleasure. Eroticism in texts like Pamela and Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, in Lubey's reading, did not compete with instructive literary aims, but rather was essential to the construction of the self-governing Enlightenment subject.
"I think Excitable Imaginations is a great book to encourage thinking about topics like this. Reading is far too important to be taken for granted. Lubey forces her own readers to think about the reading experience itself."
--George E. Haggerty, University of California, Riverside, Eighteenth-Century Fiction 26.2 (2013-2014): 303-305.
"Although I cannot guarantee that in future I will read authorial instructions without cynicism, Excitable Imaginations gave me new ways of seeing many of the images and texts that I draw upon in my history course on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sexualities. I highly recommend it."
--Marilyn Morris, University of North Texas; Journal of the History of Sexuality, Volume 24, Number 1, (Jan. 2015)
"She (Kathleen Lubey) clearly explains how novels' didactic intentions powerfully govern their representations of sexual desire and its gratification. Her intelligent commentary makes clear that while sex is a principal theme of eighteenth-century novels, they rarely provide a realistic representation of it. I intend to use this book to justify my course on the eighteenth-century novel and pornography, to enrich my lectures for this course, and to improve my professional reputation."
--William Walker, University of New South Wales, Eighteenth-Century Life, Volume 39, Number 2, April 2015
Read a review in Recent Studies in the Restoration and Eighteenth Century here.
Read the University press article here.
About the author:
Kathleen Lubey is associate professor of English at St. John's University.
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