Fanny Hill

From Academic Kids

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, also known as Fanny Hill is a novel by John Cleland. Written in 1749 while Cleland was in debtor's prison in London, it is considered the first "erotic" novel1, and has become a byword for the battle of censorship of erotica.

Initially, there was no governmental reaction to the novel. However, as the book became popular, pirate editions appeared. In particular, though, two chapters were interpolated into the book depicting homosexuality between men, which Fanny observes through a chink in the wall. Once this edition began to appear, the Church of England, along with many others, asked the British Secretary of State to "stop the progress of this vile Book, which is an open insult upon Religion and good manners". As a result, Cleland was arrested and charged with "corrupting the King's subjects." In fact, Cleland was innocent of writing the chapters that had caused such particular offense.

The book concerns the title character, who begins as a poor country girl who is forced by poverty to leave her village home and go to town. There, she is corrupted by a handsome man, who deflowers her and abandons her, after many false professions of love. Fanny then seeks the help of a woman who is, in fact, a madam. This woman introduces Fanny to lesbianism, masturbation, and the ability to make a living by prostitution. Fanny soon becomes a willing prostitute who repeatedly sells her "virginity." As the novel progresses, she moves from one type of eroticism to another, with increasingly marginalized practices (culminating in sado-masochism with a baron who wishes to be whipped).

What is remarkable and innovative about the novel is that Cleland's writing style is witty, learned, and full of Classical asides. Also, Fanny herself does not, like Roxana or Moll Flanders, repent. She has no remorse for her education in sex, although she does realize that she is being exploited. Further, Fanny acts as a picaro, for as a prostitute she shows the wealthy men of the peerage at their most base and private. Samuel Richardson and Daniel Defoe had written about women forced into compromised situations before, and they had hinted graphically enough that the subversive and erotic context was present, but neither made their heroines women of pleasure. Neither of them imputed to degraded women any joy in their position, whereas Cleland does.

Nonetheless, copies of the book were sold "underground," and the book eventually made its way to the United States where, in 1821, it was banned for obscenity.

In 1963, G. B. Putnam published the book under the title John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure which also was immediately banned for obscenity. The publisher challenged the ban in court.

In a landmark decision in 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Memoirs v. Massachusetts that the banned novel did not meet the Roth standard for obscenity.

Fanny Hill is still banned in Australia.

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Film adaptations

Because of the book's notoriety (and public domain status), numerous film adaptations have been produced. Some of them are:

External links

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