Memoirs of a Woman Term Paper

Pages: 8 (3024 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature


[. . .] Interestingly, Fanny is still concerned with "decency, modesty and order" even as she enjoys more wildly sexual escapades. Not only is she unrepentant, she continues with her life style throughout the novel, as her indoctrination into Mrs. Cole's house of ill repute clearly illustrates,

The company who had stood round us in a profound silence, when all was over, help'd me to hurry on my cloaths in an instant, and complimented me on the sincere homage they could not escape observing had been done (as they term'd it) to the sovereignty of my charms, in my receiving a double payment of tribute at one juncture: but my partner, now dress'd again, signaliz'd, above all, a fondness unbated by the circumstance of recent enjoyment: the girls too kiss'd and embrac'd me, assuring me, that for that time, or indeed any other, unless I pleas'd, I was to go through no farther publick trials, and that I was now consummately initiated, and one of them (Cleland 124).

Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
for $19.77
While giving in to his weaknesses and vices, man and woman manages to salvage some self-respect by his more righteous attitude toward his faults, one of honesty, humility, and penitence, never with the excuse that such behavior should really be condoned or thought virtuous. Fanny thus concludes her second letter: "If I have painted vice in all its gayest colours... It has been solely in order to make the worthier, the solemner sacrifice of it, to Virtue" (Cleland 188). This extolment of virtue appears to be Moll's purpose too when she describes her encounter with her future husband's elder brother, here. "Thus I gave of myself to ruin without the least concern, and am a fair memento to all young women whose vanity prevails over their virtue" (Defoe Chapter 2). Both women try to be as virtuous as they can be in their circumstances, but Moll succeeds in altering her life, while Fanny only succeeds in wallowing deeper in prostitution until she finds her first love and marries him. Fanny is still a highly sexual being, and her underlying feeling is that good comes to those people who are inherently good, even if they have sinned in the past.

Term Paper on Memoirs of a Woman of Assignment

But, independent of my flattering myself that you have a juster opinion of my sense, and sincerity, give me leave to represent to you, that such a supposition is even more injurious to Virtue, than to me: since consistently with candour and good-nature it can have no foundation but in the falsest of fears, that its pleasures cannot stand in comparison with those of Vice, but let truth dare to hold it up in its most alluring light: then mark! how spurious, how low of taste, how comparatively inferior its joys are to those which Virtue gives sanction to, and whose sentiments are not above making even a sauce for the senses, but a sauce of the highest relish! whilst vices, are the harpies, that infect, and foul the feast. The paths of Vice are sometimes strew'd with roses, but then they are for ever infamous for many a thorn; for many a canker-worm: those of Virtue are strew'd with roses purely, and those eternally unfading ones (Cleland 187).

She can lead a life of virtue because she has finished with her life of vice, but that does not mean she is remorseful about her previous life. In fact, she brings her sexuality, her love of life, and her experience to her union, making a better, more mature match than she every would had she married Charles in the beginning. She simply realizes a life of virtue is preferable to a life of vice.

Another difference in these two women is their attitude toward love, marriage, and men. Moll is the more practical, hardheaded, even cynical one. She reveals this attitude when she describes her plans for the future after the death of her first husband. "I had been tricked once by that cheat called love, but the game was over; I was resolved now to be married or nothing, and to be well married or not at all" (Defoe Chapter 4). Fanny, on the other hand, remains ever a romantic with her sentimental nature untarnished by the compromises made upon it during the years that separated her and her first lover, as she shows here:

He was soon drest in these tempory cloaths, which neither fitted him, nor became the light my passion plac'd him in, to me at least: yet as they were on him, they look'd extremely well, in virtue of that magic charm which love put into every thing that he touch'd, or had relation to him; and where indeed was that dress that a figure like his would not give grace to? For now as I ey'd him more in detail, I could not but observe the even favourable alteration which the time of his absence had produc'd in his person (Cleland 179).

She is clearly still romantically in love with her former lover, and she sees him in a sentimental and sweet light, glowing with youth, even though she is no longer young. While Defoe's reason for writing "Moll Flanders" may have been to show the evils of vice and the goodness of virtue, Cleland's main reason for writing "Fanny Hill" does not seem to be moral. In fact, it was so sexually explicit for its time, it was banned in Massachusetts, the first book to ever be banned in the United States. Cleland quite graphically shows that women were sexual beings, who not only enjoyed sex, they took part in it with gusto.

The distinction these two books about what two very different women share is that they have given us an insight into the more private social life of eighteenth century England - what was really happening underneath the calm surface of prosperous living and good manners. In speaking of the crisis that results from the incestuous relationship with her third husband, Moll states: "but I am giving an account of what was, not of what ought or ought not to be" (Defoe Chapter 7). This statement really serves as an accurate apology for her whole story, and probably reveals Defoe's purpose for writing it. Fanny more clearly states what her purpose is in the opening paragraphs: "Truth! Stark, naked truth, is the word" (Cleland 1), and it is through the medium of these two books that we can get an inkling of what the truth was of eighteenth century life.

In conclusion, Fanny is quite clearly an unrepentant woman. Her life ends happily, and while she does recognize her life was filled with vice, she brings a heightened sense of her own sexuality to a mature and loving union. It is clear throughout the novel that Fanny is not a bad woman, but she has been thrown into situations where she survived the only way she knew how, by using her body. This is as much a social commentary on the times as it is a bawdy novel, and so is "Moll Flanders." Each book really shows how few choices were open to women. Sadly, even fewer choices were open to older women, as Moll's situation when her husband dies clearly indicates. Women could not make their own way in the world as men could, and so they were forced onto the streets, to make a living any way they could. The Puritanical morality Defoe advocates in his novel gives no way out for Moll, other than her repentance. However, even if a woman did repent, how was she to feed herself and her family? Each woman did what she could in the circumstances, and each woman survived, which is a testament to their own strengths, rather than a testament to the rigid moral standards of the times.

Nothing less than a self-contained worldview written by men for men about women, Cleland's "Memoirs" inscribes whores in the timeless other space where it "is always bedtime." In the novel the prostitutes' specific and literal predicament is avoided, and instead the human geography of the erotic/pornographic body becomes the silenced ground for a nationalist and colonialist agenda (Nussbaum 19).

However, Moll does repent, and blames her earlier transgressions totally on necessity. "As a religious convert she feels that she ought to condemn her former actions, while her more genuine and certainly more convincing sentiment seems to be an attempt to excuse all her actions on the grounds of necessity" (Novak 80). As such, she is probably the more moral of the two heroines, but each brings their own strengths and weaknesses to their characters, making them more real and appealing to the reader, and more representative of women than many eighteenth century novels ever came close to capturing.


Cleland, John. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Ed. Sabor, Peter. New York: University of Oxford, 1999.

Defoe, Daniel. "The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders." 2003. 21 April 2003.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

Two Ordering Options:

Which Option Should I Choose?
1.  Buy full paper (8 pages)Download Microsoft Word File

Download the perfectly formatted MS Word file!

- or -

2.  Write a NEW paper for me!✍🏻

We'll follow your exact instructions!
Chat with the writer 24/7.

Women in Society Term Paper

Woman Warrior Term Paper

Rethinking Orientalism: The Woman Warrior Essay

Professions for Women Essay

Lillian Faderman's Memoir Naked in the Promised Land Term Paper

View 200+ other related papers  >>

How to Cite "Memoirs of a Woman" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Memoirs of a Woman.  (2003, April 21).  Retrieved February 16, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Memoirs of a Woman."  21 April 2003.  Web.  16 February 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Memoirs of a Woman."  April 21, 2003.  Accessed February 16, 2020.