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Richard Terry is Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature at Northumbria University. Helen Williams is Senior Lecturer in English at Northumbria University.
John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure has been described as the first erotic novel in English and is perhaps the greatest example of the genre. From the outset it was mired in disrepute. Cleland penned the novel to liberate himself from debtors' prison, and the book's manifestly lewd content led to its legal suppression within a year of publication. Though versions of the novel, nearly always abridged in some form, continued to find a way into print, the Memoirs remained an underground text until the 1960s. Only as that decade ushered in a culture less socially deferential and more sexually permissive was the moment opportune for the obscenity ban to be successfully challenged. Cleland's novel is a triumph of literary style, resting on his invention of an entirely new, vividly metaphoric, terminology for describing sexual pleasure.