Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (popularly known as Fanny Hill, an anglicisation of the Latin mons veneris, mound of Venus) is an erotic novel by English novelist John Cleland first published in London in 1748. Written while the author was in debtors' prison in London, it is considered "the first original English prose pornography, and the first pornography to use the form of the novel". It is one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history.
One of earliest editions, 1749 (MDCCXLIX)
|Original title||Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure|
|21 November 1748; February 1749|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|LC Class||PR3348.C65 M45|
There is a critical edition by Peter Sabor, which has a select bibliography and detailed explanatory notes. The collection 'Launching "Fanny Hill"' contains several essays on the historical, social and economic themes underlying the novel.
The novel was published in two instalments, on 21 November 1748 and in February 1749, by Fenton Griffiths and his brother Ralph under the name "G. Fenton". There has been speculation that the novel was at least partly written by 1740, when Cleland was stationed in Bombay as a servant of the British East India Company.
Initially, there was no governmental reaction to the novel. However, in November 1749, a year after the first instalment was published, Cleland and Ralph Griffiths were arrested and charged with "corrupting the King's subjects." In court, Cleland renounced the novel and it was officially withdrawn.
As the book became popular, pirate editions appeared. It was once believed that the scene near the end, in which Fanny reacts with disgust at the sight of two young men engaging in anal intercourse, was an interpolation made for these pirated editions, but the scene is present in the first edition (p. xxiii). In the 19th century, copies of the book sold underground in the UK, the US and elsewhere.
The book eventually made its way to the United States. In 1821, a Massachusetts court outlawed Fanny Hill. The publisher, Peter Holmes, was convicted for printing a "lewd and obscene" novel. Holmes appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. He claimed that the judge, relying only on the prosecution's description, had not even seen the book. The state Supreme Court wasn't swayed. The Chief Justice wrote that Holmes was "a scandalous and evil disposed person" who had contrived to "debauch and corrupt" the citizens of Massachusetts and "to raise and create in their minds inordinate and lustful desires."
Mayflower (UK) editionEdit
This section may be too long and excessively detailed. (February 2014)
In 1963, after the failure in 1960 of the British obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover, Mayflower Books, run by Gareth Powell, published an unexpurgated paperback version of Fanny Hill. The police became aware of the 1963 edition a few days before publication, after spotting a sign in the window of the Magic Shop in Tottenham Court Road in London, run by Ralph Gold. An officer went to the shop, bought a copy and delivered it to Bow Street magistrate Sir Robert Blundell, who issued a search warrant. At the same time, two officers from the vice squad visited Mayflower Books in Vauxhall Bridge Road to determine whether copies book were kept on the premises. They interviewed the publisher, Gareth Powell, and took away the five copies there. The police returned to the Magic Shop and seized 171 copies of the book, and in December Ralph Gold was summonsed under section 3 of the Obscenity Act. By then, Mayflower had distributed 82,000 copies of the book, but it was Gold rather than Mayflower or Fanny Hill who was being tried, although Mayflower covered the legal costs. The trial took place in February 1964. The defence argued that Fanny Hill was a historical source book and that it was a joyful celebration of normal non-perverted sex—bawdy rather than pornographic. The prosecution countered by stressing one atypical scene involving flagellation, and won. Mayflower decided not to appeal.
The Mayflower case highlighted the growing disconnect between the obscenity laws and the social realities of late 1960s Britain, and was instrumental in shifting views to the point where in 1970 an unexpurgated version of Fanny Hill was again published in Britain.
First US editionEdit
In 1963, Putnam published the book in the United States under the title John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. This edition was also immediately banned for obscenity in Massachusetts, after a mother complained to the state's Obscene Literature Control Commission. The publisher's challenge to the ban went up to the Supreme Court. In a landmark decision in 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Memoirs v. Massachusetts that Fanny Hill did not meet the Roth standard for obscenity.
Editions of the book have frequently featured illustrations, but they have often been of poor quality. An exception to this is the set of mezzotints, probably designed by the artist George Morland and engraved by his friend John Raphael Smith that accompanied one edition.
Frances "Fanny" Hill is a rich Englishwoman in her middle age, who leads a life of contentment with her loving husband Charles and their children. The novel consists of two long letters (which appear as volumes I and II of the original edition) addressed by Fanny to an unnamed acquaintance, who is only identified as 'Madam.' Fanny has been prevailed upon by the 'Madam' to recount the 'scandalous stages' of her earlier life, which she proceeds to do with 'stark naked truth' as her governing principle.
Fanny's account begins with the loss of her parents at the age of fourteen followed by a journey to London, and ends with her eventual union with Charles about five years later. The intermediate narrative is filled with an immense variety of sexual experiences, which are described with a clinical degree of vividness, whimsy, wit and humour. A rich store of imaginative metaphors and outlandish similies is brought to bear upon the sexual organs and actions of several participants, both male and female, in their various states of arousal and exertion (cf. the 'Excerpts' below). The plot has been described as 'operatic' by John Hollander, who opines that "the book's language and its protagonist's character are its greatest virtues."
The first letter begins with a short account of Fanny’s impoverished childhood in a village in Lancashire. She loses her parents to small-pox, arrives in London to look for domestic work, and gets lured into a brothel. She is a clandestine witness to two separate sexual encounters (one between an ugly older couple and another between a young pretty pair), and is a far from unwilling participant in a lesbian dalliance with a bisexual prostitute named Phoebe. Charles (who is a customer at the brothel) induces Fanny to make an escape, which she manages to do with her virginity intact. Soon thereafter, she loses it to Charles and becomes his lover. Charles is sent away by deception to the South Seas, and Fanny is driven by her desperation and destitution to become the kept woman of a rich merchant named Mr H—. After enjoying a brief period of stability, she espies Mr H— in casual congress with her own maid, and goes on to seduce Will (the young footman of Mr H—) as an act of calculated revenge. However, she is soon discovered by Mr H— having a sexual encounter' with Will. After being abandoned by Mr H—, Fanny becomes a prostitute for wealthy and discerning clients in a pleasure-house run by Mrs Cole. This marks the end of the first letter.
The second letter begins with a rumination on the tedium of writing about sex and the difficulty of driving a middle course between vulgarity of language on the one hand, and 'mincing metaphors and affected circumlocutions' on the other. Fanny goes on to describe her adventures in the house of Mrs Cole, which include a public orgy, an elaborately orchestrated bogus sale of her 'virginity' to an enervate rich dupe called Mr Norbert, and a sado-masochistic session with one Mr Barville involving mutual flagellation with birch-rods. These are interspersed with narratives which do not involve Fanny directly; for instance, three of her companion girls in the house (Emily, Louisa and Harriett) describe their own losses of virginity, and the nyphomaniac Louisa seduces the immensely endowed but imbecile 'good-natured Dick'. The only scene in the novel involving male homosexuality occurs towards the end, when Fanny spies upon a scene of anal intercourse between two young boys. (This episode was expurgated from several later editions.) Eventually Fanny retires from prostitution and becomes the lover of a rich and worldly-wise man of sixty (described by Fanny as a 'rational pleasurist'). This phase of Fanny's life brings about her intellectual development, and leaves her prodigiously wealthy when her lover dies of a sudden cold. Shortly thereafter, she has a chance encounter with Charles, who has returned as a poor man to England after being shipwrecked. Fanny offers her fortune to Charles unconditionally, but he insists on marrying her.
The novel contains several complex characters, such as Charles, Mrs Jones (Fanny's landlady), Mrs Cole, Will, Mr H— and Mr Norbert. The prose includes long sentences with many subordinate clauses. Its morality is conventional for the time, in that it denounces sodomy, frowns upon vice and approves of only heterosexual unions based upon mutual love.
Fanny's immediate impression of Will's penis, after she has unbottoned his buckskin breeches:
"...and now, disengag’d from the shirt, I saw, with wonder and surprise, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a maypole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant. Its prodigious size made me shrink again; yet I could not, without pleasure, behold, and even ventur’d to feel, such a length, such a breadth of animated ivory! perfectly well turn’d and fashion’d, the proud stiffness of which distended its skin, whose smooth polish and velvet softness might vie with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair round the root, through the jetty sprigs of which the fair skin shew’d as in a fine evening you may have remark'd the clear light ether through the branchwork of distant trees over-topping the summit of a hill: then the broad and blueish-cast incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether compos’d the most striking assemblage of figure and colours in nature. In short, it stood an object of terror and delight.
"But what was yet more surprising, the owner of this natural curiosity, through the want of occasions in the strictness of his home-breeding, and the little time he had been in town not having afforded him one, was hitherto an absolute stranger, in practice at least, to the use of all that manhood he was so nobly stock’d with; and it now fell to my lot to stand his first trial of it, if I could resolve to run the risks of its disproportion to that tender part of me, which such an oversiz’d machine was very fit to lay in ruins."
Fanny espies an act of [same-sex] anal intercourse:
Slipping, then, aside the young lad's shirt, and tucking it up under his clothes behind, he shewed to the open air those globular fleshy eminences that compose the Mount Peasants of Rome, and which now, with all the narrow vale that intersects them, stood displayed and exposed to his attack; nor could I without a shudder behold the dispositions he made for it. First, then, moistening well with spittle his instrument, obviously to make it glib, he pointed, he introduced it, as I could plainly discern, not only from its direction and my losing sight of it, but by the writhing, twisting and soft murmured complaints of the young sufferer; but at length, the first straits of entrance being pretty well go through, every thing seemed to move and go pretty currently on, as on a carpet road, without much rub or resistance; and now, passing one hand round his minions' hips, he got hold of his red-topped ivory toy, that stood perfectly stiff, and shewed, that if he was like his mother behind, he was like his father before; this he diverted himself with, whilst, with the other he wantoned with his hair, and leaning forward over his back, drew his face, from which the boy shook the loose curls that fell over it, in the posture he stood him in, and brought him towards his, so as to receive a long breathed kiss; after which, renewing his driving, and thus continuing to harass his rear, the height of the fist came on with its usual symptoms, and dismissed the action.
Literary and film adaptationsEdit
Because of the book's notoriety (and public domain status), numerous adaptations have been produced. Some of them are:
- Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980) (a retelling of 'Fanny Hill' by Erica Jong purports to tell the story from Fanny's point of view, with Cleland as a character she complains fictionalised her life).
- Fanny Hill (USA/West Germany, 1964), starring Letícia Román, Miriam Hopkins, Ulli Lommel, Chris Howland; directed by Russ Meyer, Albert Zugsmith (uncredited)
- The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill (USA, 1966), starring Stacy Walker, Ginger Hale; directed by Peter Perry (Arthur Stootsbury).
- Fanny Hill (Sweden, 1968), starring Diana Kjær, Hans Ernback, Keve Hjelm, Oscar Ljung; directed by Mac Ahlberg
- Fanny Hill (West Germany/UK, 1983), starring Lisa Foster, Oliver Reed, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Shelley Winters; directed by Gerry O'Hara
- Paprika (Italy, 1991), starring Debora Caprioglio, Stéphane Bonnet, Stéphane Ferrara, Luigi Laezza, Rossana Gavinel, Martine Brochard and John Steiner; directed by Tinto Brass.
- Fanny Hill (USA, 1995), directed by Valentine Palmer.
- Fanny Hill (Off-Broadway Musical, 2006), libretto and score by Ed Dixon, starring Nancy Anderson as Fanny.
- Fanny Hill (UK, 2007), written by Andrew Davies for the BBC and starring Samantha Bond and Rebecca Night.
Comic strip adaptationsEdit
Erich von Götha de la Rosière adapted the novel into a comic book version.
References in popular cultureEdit
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References in literary worksEdit
- 1965: In Harry Harrison's novel Bill, the Galactic Hero, the titular character is stationed on a starship named Fanny Hill.
- 1966: In Lita Grey's book, My Life With Chaplin, she claims that Charlie Chaplin "whispered references to some of Fanny Hill's episodes" to arouse her before making love.
- 1984: In the book Frost at Christmas by R. D. Wingfield, the vicar has a copy of Fanny Hill hidden in his trunk amongst other dirty books.
- 1993: In Diana Gabaldon's novel Voyager, in a scene set in 1758, the male protagonist Jamie Fraser reads a borrowed copy of Fanny Hill.
- 1999: In a portrait that appears in the first volume of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Fanny Hill is depicted as a member of the 18th century version of the League. She also appears more prominently in "The Black Dossier" as a member of Gulliver's League, as well as a "sequel" to the original Hill novel, complete with illustrations by Kevin O'Neill. The setting of her involvement with the League begins with her divorce from Charles after he is caught in the act in a brothel kept by former League member Amber St. Clare, and is shown to have been sexually involved with both Gulliver and Captain Clegg nearly 40 years before the second League was founded. She doesn't age as an effect of her stay at Horselberg. This version has apparently pursued a lesbian relationship with a character named Venus (who seems to be an amalgamation of the various versions of the Goddess of love in literature) for at least a century and a half as of the Black Dossier and in contrast to the novel's relationships this one seems to be enduring.
- 2016: In the book The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis, set in 1763. The father of beautiful Anne Jaccob (madly in love with a young butcher) who wants her married off to a wealthy, old, and ugly business acquaintance is found by his daughter sneaking a read of Fanny Hill in his study. He hides the book immediately and says "Dull, very dull".
References in film, television, musical theatre and songEdit
- I thrill / To any book like Fanny Hill, / And I suppose I always will, / If it is swill / And really fil- / thy.
- The 1968 version of Yours, Mine, and Ours, Henry Fonda's character, Frank Beardsley, gives some fatherly advice to his stepdaughter. Her boyfriend is pressuring her for sex and Frank says boys tried the same thing when he was her age. When she tries to tell him that things are different now he observes, "I don't know, they wrote Fanny Hill in 1742 [sic] and they haven't found anything new since."
- A tongue-in-cheek reference appears in the David Niven, Lola Albright film The Impossible Years. In one scene the younger daughter of Niven's character is seen reading Fanny Hill, whereas his older daughter, Linda, has apparently graduated from Cleland's sensationalism and is seen reading Sartre instead.
- 23 November 1972: An episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, fittingly titled "The War Against Pornography", featured a sketch that parodied the exploitation of sex on television for ratings, in which John Cleese played the narrator of a documentary on molluscs who adds highly sexualised imagery to maintain his audience's interest; when discussing the clam, he describes it as "a cynical, bed-hopping, firm-breasted, Rabelaisian bit of seafood that makes Fanny Hill look like a dead Pope!"
- 1974: In a segment in the film The Groove Tube, children's TV show host Koko the Clown (Ken Shapiro) asks the children in his audience to send their parents out of the room during "make believe time." He then proceeds to secretly read an excerpt from page 47 of Fanny Hill in response to a viewer's request.
- 1975: In the M*A*S*H season 4 episode "The Price of Tomato Juice", Radar thanks Sparky for sending the book Fanny Hill but says the last chapter was missing and asks "Who did it?" He repeats back Sparky's answer: "Everybody".
- In the season 4 episode "Some 38th Parallels", Hawkeye tells Colonel Potter that he was reading Fanny Hill in the back of a truck on top of a pile of rotting peaches, and adds that when the truck hit a bump he was "in heaven".
- In the season 6 episode "Major Topper", Hawkeye tells a person knocking on the door to "go read Fanny Hill". The person at the door is Father Mulcahy, and B.J. Hunnicutt makes out that Fanny Hill was a famous nurse. Hawkeye comments, "Yeah, she made a lot of soldiers very happy in World War I."
- The 2006–07 Broadway musical Grey Gardens has a comedic reference to Fanny Hill in the first act. Young Edith Bouvier Beale (aka "little Edie") has just been confronted about a rumour of promiscuity that her mother, Mrs. Edith Bouvier Beale (aka "Big Edie") told her fiancé. Little Edie was allegedly engaged to Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., in 1941 until he discovered that Little Edie may have been sexually acquainted with other men before him. Little Edie implores Joe Kennedy not to break off the engagement and to wait for her father to come home and rectify the situation, vouching for her reputation. The musical line that Little Edie sings in reference to Fanny Hill is: "Girls who smoke and read Fanny Hill / Well I was reading De – Toc – que – ville"
- Sutherland, John (14 August 2017). "Fanny Hill: why would anyone ban the racy novel about 'a woman of pleasure'?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
- Wagner, "Introduction," in Cleland, Fanny Hill, 1985, p. 7.
- Lane, Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age, 2000, p. 11.
- Foxon, Libertine Literature in England, 1660–1745, 1965, p. 45.
- Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Pat (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Popular Press. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-87972-821-2.
- Oxford World's Classics, 1985.
- Patsy S. Fowler and Alan Jackson, eds. Launching "Fanny Hill": Essays on the Novel and Its Influences. New York: AMS Press, 2003.
- Roger Lonsdale, "New attributions to John Cleland", The Review of English Studies 1979 XXX(119):268–290 doi:10.1093/res/XXX.119.268
- Gladfelder, Hall, Fanny Hill in Bombay, The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2012.
- Kopelson, K. (1992). "Seeing sodomy: Fanny Hill's blinding vision". Journal of Homosexuality. 23 (1-2): 173–183. doi:10.1300/J082v23n01_09. ISSN 0091-8369. PMID 1431071.
- Graham, Ruth. "How 'Fanny Hill' stopped the literary censors". Boston Globe. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
- Winckelmann, Briefe, H. Diepolder and W. Rehm, eds., (1952–57) vol. II:111 (no. 380) noted in Thomas Pelzel, "Winckelmann, Mengs and Casanova: A Reappraisal of a Famous Eighteenth-Century Forger" The Art Bulletin, 54.3 (September 1972:300–315) p. 306 and note.
- Hurwood, p.179
- Hollander, John: The old last act: some observations on Fanny Hill, Encounter, October 1963.
- Cleland John, Memoirs of a woman of pleasure, ed. Peter Sabor, Oxford University Press, 1985.
- Fanny Hill (1964) on IMDb
- Fanny Hill (1968) on IMDb
- Fanny Hill (1983) on IMDb
- Paprika on IMDb
- Fanny Hill (1995) on IMDb
- Article from The Guardian
- Fédération française des ciné-clubs (1975). Cinéma. 200–202. Fédération française des ciné-clubs. p. 300.
- Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Pat (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Popular Press. ISBN 978-0-87972-821-2.
- Cleland, John (1985). Fanny Hill Or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Penguin Books Limited. ISBN 978-0-14-043249-7.
- Foxon, David. Libertine Literature in England, 1660–1745. New Hyde Park: University Books, 1965.
- Gladfelder, Hal Fanny Hill in Bombay: The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012
- Hurwood, Bernhardt J. The Golden age of erotica, Tandem, ISBN 0-426-02030-8, 1969.
- Kendrick, Walter M. (1987). The Secret Museum Pornography in Modern Culture. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20729-5.
- Lane, Frederick S. (2000). Obscene Profits The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-92096-4.
- Sutherland, John (1983). Offensive Literature Decensorship in Britain, 1960–1982. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-389-20354-4.
- Cleland, John (1985). Fanny Hill Or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Penguin Books Limited. ISBN 978-0-14-043249-7.
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