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Alex Collinson

Alex Collinson

Research project title

The Sex Workers' Revolution: Prostitution, Feminism and 'Authentic' Virtue in Women's Writing of the 1790s


Dr Laura Kirkley and Prof Kate Chedgzoy

Contact details


Research interests

  • feminist literature and women’s life writing in the 18th century
  • issues surrounding race, gender, and class
  • representations of sexual violence and consent
  • representations of female sexuality and sex work
  • representations of maternity and motherhood
a close up of the Memoire of Miss Ann Sheldon

A brief outline of my research project

My thesis contends that revolutionary feminists were not the only female writers to intervene in the patriarchal domain of late eighteenth-century politics. It argues that sex workers — individuals impacted by converging factors of race, gender and class — made vital contributions to feminist discourses on women’s nature and social role in memoirs and legal testimonies published during this period.

The perspectives of sex workers like Margaret Leeson and Anne Sheldon converge with, and complicate, those of Marie-Madeleine Jodin, Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft, writers who, in their quest to liberate women from social subordination, condemned female sexual expression, and perceived prostitutes as little more than symptoms of womankind’s sickness under the weight of patriarchal hegemony. Sex worker writers challenge these ideologies by providing fresh, intersectional insights into female education, sexual agency, and male violence in this period.

This is a project of recognition, one that highlights the importance of listening to female voices from a range of backgrounds on the social issues that impacted women in the eighteenth century. Some of the most transformative, and fruitful, aspects of progress emerge from investigating elements of tension and discord between women’s voices; by exploring these sticking points, I hope to enrich scholarship on the history of feminist thought with new, intersectional meaning.

Research activities

My academic background

  • BA English Literature, Newcastle University
  • MLitt Eighteenth-Century Literature, Newcastle University