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Fanny Hill

By: John Cleland

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure—popularly known as Fanny Hill (possibly 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.

The novel consists of two long letters (which appear as volumes I and II of the original edition) written by Frances 'Fanny' Hill, a rich Englishwoman in her middle age, who leads a life of contentment with her loving husband Charles and their children, to an unnamed acquaintance identified only as 'Madam.' Fanny has been prevailed upon by 'Madam' to recount the 'scandalous stages' of her earlier life, which she proceeds to do with 'stark naked truth' as her governing principle.


The first letter begins with a short account of Fanny's impoverished childhood in a Lancashire village. At age 14, she loses her parents to smallpox, arrives in London to look for domestic work, and gets lured into a brothel. She sees a sexual encounter between an ugly older couple and another between a young attractive couple, and participates in a lesbian encounter with Phoebe, a bisexual prostitute. A customer, Charles, induces Fanny to escape. She loses her virginity to Charles and becomes his lover. Charles is sent away by deception to the South Seas, and Fanny is driven by desperation and poverty to become the kept woman of a rich merchant named Mr H—. After enjoying a brief period of stability, she sees Mr H— have a sexual encounter with her own maid, and goes on to seduce Will (the young footman of Mr H—) as an act of revenge. She is discovered by Mr H— as she is having a sexual encounter with Will. After being abandoned by Mr H—, Fanny becomes a prostitute for wealthy 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 vulgar language and "mincing metaphors and affected circumlocutions". Fanny then describes her adventures in the house of Mrs Cole, which include a public orgy, an elaborately orchestrated bogus sale of her "virginity" to a rich dupe called Mr Norbert, and a sado-masochistic session with a man involving mutual flagellation with birch-rods. These are interspersed with narratives which do not involve Fanny directly; for instance, three other girls in the house (Emily, Louisa and Harriett) describe their own losses of virginity, and the nymphomaniac Louisa seduces the immensely endowed but imbecilic "good-natured Dick". Fanny also describes anal intercourse between two older boys (removed from several later editions). Eventually Fanny retires from prostitution and becomes the lover of a rich and worldly-wise man of 60 (described by Fanny as a "rational pleasurist"). This phase of Fanny's life brings about her intellectual development, and leaves her wealthy when her lover dies of a sudden cold. Soon after, 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's developed characters include 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.

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John Cleland was an English novelist best known for his fictional Fanny Hill: or, the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, whose eroticism led to his arrest. James Boswell called him "a sly, old malcontent...

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