My main fields of interest are eighteenth-century British literature and culture; history and theory of the novel; the history of authorship; and the history of sexuality and gender. In my first book, Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England: Beyond the Law (Johns Hopkins, 2001), I examined the relations between early modern crime narratives and the conflicting attitudes towards violence, transgression, and the law that such narratives both mirrored and elicited. By attending to a variety of criminal genres, from canting dictionaries and the picaresque to trial reports and execution ballades, I traced the formal strategies and social preoccupations of the eighteenth-century novel to these popular and ideologically conflicted precursors, whose focus on transgression and rupture powerfully influenced later novelistic representations of individualist self-assertion. My second monograph, Fanny Hill in Bombay: The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland, was published by Johns Hopkins in 2012. Cleland has been both celebrated and attacked as the pioneer of pornographic writing in English based on his first novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure orFanny Hill, but his role in the development of the novel and in the construction of modern notions of authorial and sexual identity is too little known. Reconnecting Cleland’s writing to its literary and social milieu, the book addresses key issues in the history of authorship and the literary marketplace and contributes to contemporary debates on pornography, censorship, the history of sexuality, and the role of literature in eighteenth-century culture.
In addition to these monographs, I have produced critical editions of John Cleland’s second novel, the satirical Memoirs of a Coxcomb (Broadview, 2005) and John Gay’s two most important ballad operas, The Beggar’s Opera and its long-suppressed sequel Polly (Oxford World’s Classics, 2013).
Current research projects:
I have recently completed an article on ‘Literature and Pornography, 1660-1800’, a critical overview of current debates in the field; and am beginning work on a new project, a cultural history of the castrato in eighteenth-century London.