English 123 - Winter, 2024

18th-Century British Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Qualls, Bethany
Time: TR 12:10-1:30pm
Location: H. Gym 290
GE Areas: World Cultures Writing Experience


Selling Sex, Work, and Texts: Literature from The Deep Eighteenth Century

Selling sex is nothing new, and we have the literature to prove it. This course surveys how sex work gets represented across the centuries in a transnational context, specifically comparing anglophone materials from the long eighteenth-century with examples of rhetoric from the last 30 years.

We will engage with texts from a range of genres--including poetry, biographies, novels, essays, and comics--and think through the commodification of both literature and bodies via sex work. It turns out people have been writing about sex workers, mostly by pretending to speak in their voices, for a long time. Beyond tracing ideas about gender, class, and sexuality, we will also examine the deep history of how new media forms build on each other. This course aims to help you continue to hone the reading and writing practices involved in studying literature at the university level as you work through the process of analyzing and contextualizing literature from an earlier historical period.

Questions we'll explore include: Why do people engage in sex work? Why are sex workers' voices so often left out of the moral and legal conversations about them? What happens when comparing words about sex workers with words by sex workers? Where do the images we have of sex workers come from? How have changes in cultural contexts impacted the views of sex work and sex workers? How do conversations about sex work dovetail with race, class, and gender? Why is sex work so frequently represented at extremes (workers are either totally empowered or totally disenfranchised)? Why does sex always sell, both for sex acts and literary objects? By the end of this course, you'll be able to situate texts from eighteenth-century Britain in a larger historical context, write literary analysis drawing on primary and secondary sources, and critically compare cultural patterns from the past with our present moment, pointing to both continuations and differences.


Response posts: 15%
Reading quizzes: 15%
Participation/Attendance: 10%
18th-century contexts archive project (3-4 pages): 20%
Research paper (5-7 pages): 30%
Final exam: 10%


A Harlot's Progress & The Rake's Progress , William Hogarth (1732, 1734)
Fantomina, Eliza Haywood (1725)
Working It: Sex Workers on the Work of Sex, Matilda Bickers, peech breshears, and Janis Luna, eds. (2023) *selections*
Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, John Cleland (1748)
Nightwalkers: Prostitute Narratives from the Eighteenth Century, Laura Rosenthal, ed.
Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer, Sylvie Rancourt (2015)
Threadbare: Clothes, Sex & Trafficking, Anne Elizabeth Moore and the Ladydrawers (2016)
Sex Work , Frederique Delacoste and Priscilla Alexander (1998) *selections*
The London Jilt , Anonymous (1683)