Literary texts come in two varieties: texts that people feel they ought to read and texts that people actually like to read. Sometimes those categories overlap. This article explores Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, a novel that has been popular for over 250 years, arguing that texts that cater to the fantasies and desires of their readers, in particular their sexual fantasies and desires, will offer productive insights into the evolutionary origins of human behaviour. Addressing the seemingly counterintuitive evolutionary advantages of masturbation and stimulation by pornographic imagery, it argues that the most frequently suggested mating strategies, those focussed on long-term pair-bonding, might be amended by other possible prehistoric scenarios that would have favoured behaviours which are more compatible with the inherent human drives indicated by the narratives and patterns of erotic art and literature. The article furthermore discusses the pastoral metaphors employed in the text and thus the fusion of sexual narrative with a favoured imagery that equally has its origin in our evolutionary past.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.