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Literary Erotics in the 18th Century

ENGL 241.401
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Pre-1900 Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

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.