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."
-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."
-Journal of the History of Sexuality, Volume 24, Number 1, (Jan. 2015)
"[Lubey] quite rightly insists on the preoccupation with sexual desire in eighteenth-century British fiction, philosophy, and aesthetic theory. She argues convincingly that many poets and novelists aim to promote in their readers various kinds of reflection by evoking in them a wide range of sexual imaginings and excitations. And she clearly reveals the inadequacies of thinking of the novel in terms of realism, where "realism" is defined as a literal, denotative mode of representation."
-Eighteenth-Century Life, Vol. XXVIX, No. 2 (April 2015)
"(Its) stated goal of bringing 'the history of sexuality into contact with the history of reading'(p12) has already proved generative for other scholars."
-Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Volume 56, Number 3, Summer 2016
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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