Fanny Hill (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

Overview


Fanny Hill, also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, has been a notorious novel since it first appeared in London in 1748-9. Banned for its "obscene" content, this fictional account of a young woman's unconventional route to middle-class respectability is, in fact, a lively and engaging comic romp through the boudoirs and brothels of Augustan England, with a heroine whose adventures and setbacks never lessen her humanity or her determination to find real love and happiness. Fanny's story offers modern ...
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Fanny Hill (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview


Fanny Hill, also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, has been a notorious novel since it first appeared in London in 1748-9. Banned for its "obscene" content, this fictional account of a young woman's unconventional route to middle-class respectability is, in fact, a lively and engaging comic romp through the boudoirs and brothels of Augustan England, with a heroine whose adventures and setbacks never lessen her humanity or her determination to find real love and happiness. Fanny's story offers modern readers sensuality and substance, as well as an unusually frank depiction of love and sex in the eighteenth century.
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Product Details

Meet the Author


Born in Surrey in 1710, John Cleland rushed the completion of Fanny Hill to escape debt. The subsequent obscenity lawsuits landed Cleland in serious legal trouble, but the novel's notoriety generated demand from curious readers, and Cleland eventually authored a heavily revised, expurgated edition of the book in an effort to produce additional income while avoiding further legal actions. He died in Westminster in 1789.
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Introduction

INTRODUCTION

John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, more widely known as Fanny Hill, has been a notorious novel since it first appeared in London in 1748-9. Banned for its “obscene” content, this fictional account of a young woman’s unconventional route to middle-class respectability is, in fact, a lively and engaging comic romp through the boudoirs and brothels of Augustan England, with a heroine whose adventures and setbacks never lessen her humanity or her determination to find real love and happiness. Occupying a space somewhere between straightforward pornography and the mainstream domestic fiction of its day, Fanny’s story offers modern readers both sensuality and substance, as well as an unusually frank depiction of love and sex in the eighteenth century.

Although John Cleland produced numerous pamphlets, plays, and other works in his career as a London hack writer, he is only known today for his authorship of Fanny Hill. Born in Surrey in 1710, Cleland was the eldest child of a transplanted Scotsman, William Cleland, and his wife, Lucy. John Cleland turned to writing for a living after a twelve-year tenure with the East India Company in Bombay, but his finances were bad enough to land him in Fleet Prison for debt in 1748. Spurred by an urgent need of funds and aided by the abundance of free time offered by his situation, Cleland finished and revised the original manuscript of the Fanny Hill, which he had begun work on some years earlier. The subsequent obscenity lawsuits landed Cleland in serious legal trouble, but the novel’s notoriety generated demand from curious readers, and Cleland eventually authored a heavily revised, expurgated edition of the book in an effort to produce additional income while avoiding further legal actions. Although Cleland continued to write for many more years, he never enjoyed any greater success; when he died in Westminster in 1789, the event attracted little public notice.

The obscenity charges brought against Cleland, his publishers, and his printer in 1749 launched Fanny Hill into instant notoriety. Although all of the defendants were found guilty, and the novel was officially banned from publication, the verdict did not prevent the book from being quietly printed and sold throughout the remainder of the century. It continued to circulate surreptitiously for the next two hundred years, even though Victorian prudery attempted to sink the novel into general obscurity, and early twentieth-century critics typically ignored or condemned Cleland’s work, as well. Ironically, it was another obscenity suit that finally brought Fanny Hill back into the limelight. In 1963, Fanny Hill again became the subject of legal scrutiny when G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a well-known American publishing company, attempted to release a new edition of Fanny Hill in the United States. The case, brought by the City of New York, was ultimately dismissed by the New York State Supreme Court, and in 1966 the U.S. Supreme Court also cleared the novel for legal publication in the United States. Not surprisingly, the publicity and controversy surrounding Fanny Hill and its publication produced a boom in critical and popular interest; both serious academic studies and pornographic film adaptations appeared in abundance for the next several years. One of the most important scholarly productions of this period was William H. Epstein’s 1974 biography, John Cleland: Images of a Life, which continues to be the most thorough and extensive study of the author and his work. Although widespread popular interest faded over time, Fanny Hill has enjoyed more lasting attention from scholars in the field of eighteenth-century studies because it addresses so many of the period’s central issues and concerns, particularly those relating to the developing roles and functions of the novel, the construction of women’s social and sexual identities, and the period’s attitudes toward sex and personal pleasure.

The literary importance of Fanny Hill can only be fully appreciated if we know something about its cultural and historical context. It appeared almost simultaneously with many of the century’s greatest novels, and it shares several key characteristics with them. Samuel Richardson’s enormously successful Pamela was published in 1740, while Richardson’s second novel, Clarissa, appeared in 1748, and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones was published in 1749. All three of these novels would come to be seen as tremendously important, influential texts; the course of English fiction would be molded by their influence on later writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Richardson’s two novels feature sympathetic heroines struggling against social and sexual antagonism; in Pamela, this struggle ends in a Cinderella marriage between the heroine and her former antagonist, while in Clarissa a violent rape leads to the deaths of both the title heroine and her ravisher. Fielding’s comic masterpiece follows the escapades of a roguish young hero whose love for his sweetheart does not prevent him from indulging in a series of casual encounters with women of all sorts, although he does ultimately settle down to marriage and domestic bliss. Literary critics have found a great deal to say about the relationships between these more celebrated novels and Fanny Hill; Malcolm Bradbury, for example, discusses this issue in a general sense in “Fanny Hill and the Comic Novel.” More specific comparisons are provided by Ann Louise Kibbie in Sentimental Properties: Pamela and Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and by Edward W. Copeland in Clarissa and Fanny Hill: Sisters in Distress.

Novels like Pamela, Clarissa, and Tom Jones appealed to an increasingly literate public because they adopted lower- and middle-class characters as their protagonists, and they advanced the moral, political, and social ideals that were coming to dominate English popular culture. Like Pamela and Tom Jones, Fanny Hill begins with neither wealth nor social status and eventually, through good luck, common sense and basic goodness of heart, acquires both. This kind of plot became a standard of English comic fiction; we see it repeated in other popular novels of the period like Frances Burney’s Evelina and in later works like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Lower- and middle-class readers were inspired by these tales of success; they wanted to believe that they, too, could move up the social ladder and find personal happiness in spite of the apparent obstacles. Fanny is an extreme example of this kind of success; she climbs the ladder farther than many of her fellow protagonists because she starts out so much lower. Orphaned and penniless at the opening of her tale, she hopes only to become a servant in London, which would be a step up for a poor country girl like herself. Instead, she falls down the ladder by becoming a prostitute in Mrs. Brown’s brothel; she is, quite literally, a “fallen” woman. According to the popular attitudes of the time, Fanny is thus at the very bottom of the social ladder, which makes her ultimate position as a wealthy middle-class matron all the more remarkable. If a girl like Fanny could make it, then her eighteenth-century readers might hope to do so, too.

The novels of Richardson and Fielding also appealed to readers because they combined their claims to serious moral instruction with generous amounts of titillation, although the authors generally avoided explicit descriptions of sexual exchanges between their characters. While Cleland’s descriptive passages are certainly both explicit and extensive, Fanny Hill also features a purportedly moral objective; in the concluding paragraphs of the novel, Fanny professes herself to be devoted to “VIRTUE” and excuses the sensuality of her story by saying, “If I have painted vice in all its gayest colours, if I have decked it with flowers, it has been solely in order to make the worthier, the solemner, sacrifice of it to virtue.” Fanny’s evocation of “virtue” here and throughout the novel is a pointed reference to Richardson’s Pamela, which was subtitled Virtue Rewarded, and which came under attack from critics because it seemed to imply that servant girls could induce their masters to marry them if they only played hard to get. This idea is directly invoked by Cleland when, early in the novel, one of Fanny’s friends tells her “how several maids out of the country had made themselves and all their kin forever, that by preserving their VIRTUE, some had taken so with their masters that they had married them, and kept them coaches, and lived vastly grand, and happy, and some, mayhap, came to be duchesses.” Since playing hard to get is not a game to Fanny’s taste, Cleland’s novel operates as a parody of Richardson’s story, with Fanny’s equally successful ending flying in the face of Richardson’s warning to young women to preserve their virginity at all costs if they want to be happy. Cleland was by no means the only writer to take issue with Richardson’s view of virtue. Parodying Pamela was such a popular employment at this time that a whole group of novels, known as “anti-Pamelas,” appeared for public consumption, including Henry Fielding’s Shamela, which was successful enough to spawn its own sequel, Joseph Andrews.

Fanny, however, is temperamentally more similar to Fielding’s Tom Jones than she is to Pamela, and this may be one reason why Fanny Hill was officially banned while other novels were not. In the eighteenth century, men’s sexual impulses were considered perfectly natural, and their indiscretions were winked at or accepted; gentlemen might keep their mistresses and acknowledge their illegitimate offspring without concern for their reputations. Tom Jones, himself illegitimate, can move from one lover to another without really damaging his credibility as a sympathetic character or his chance at a good marriage. Women, however, were strongly encouraged to remain virgins until marriage, and they faced serious consequences if they strayed and were discovered. In real life, women could and often did manage a good degree of sexual liberty without repercussions, but novels of the period tended to enforce a higher standard of conduct and a stricter sense of poetic justice. Most of the respectable women in eighteenth-century novels seem to have no sexual desires whatever; they accept sex only as an obligation to their husbands. Fictional women who allow themselves to be seduced or even raped, like Clarissa, almost always die as a result. We see some of this double standard at work in the Fanny Hill; Fanny’s keeper, Mr. H-, thinks nothing of seducing Fanny’s maid, but he immediately ends his relationship with Fanny when she retaliates by taking another lover herself. For the most part, however, Fanny’s story opposes the double standard by showing a woman’s comic sexual adventures. Fanny is not merely an object of desire, but also the owner of desire, and she acts upon her urges with the casual abandon usually reserved for men. Her brief interlude with the sailor after a frustrating meeting with her impotent keeper serves as a particularly striking example of Fanny’s cavalier attitude toward sex.

Fanny’s libertine notions about sex do, however, have their limits, thus reflecting some of the deeply held sexual attitudes of her time. Fanny is initially taken aback by the sight of a couple in the nude; her reaction might strike modern readers as comically naïve, but most English people at that time thought that shifts and shirts were necessary for both modesty and good health. Being naked was, therefore, particularly exotic and daring, and Fanny and the other women typically remain at least partially clothed during their encounters. More significantly, Fanny is later shocked and disgusted by the spectacle of homosexual intercourse, and both she and other characters in the novel condemn homosexuality as perverse. After all of the other episodes that Fanny reports with either pleasure or acceptance, especially the lesbian interludes with Phoebe and the “country dance” at Mrs. Cole’s house, her strong negative reaction to homosexuality might seem surprising, but sodomy was a serious criminal act in eighteenth-century England, and homosexuals were frequently singled out for public censure. The importance of this scene in relation to the rest of the novel and to eighteenth-century culture has been argued at length by a number of scholars, including Peter Sabor in From Sexual Liberation to Gender Trouble: Reading Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure from the 1960s to the 1990s.

The modern reader may or may not share Fanny’s reactions to some of the acts described in Fanny Hill, but he or she is almost certain to be struck by the language that Cleland employs for those descriptions. Given the fact that Cleland never uses any profanity or coarse language in the novel, even in the most explicit passages, readers today might consider Fanny Hill to be pretty tame. We are, after all, accustomed to the graphic images and four letter words that have spilled out into our mainstream media over the last decade or so, and modern pornography must cross ever-broadening boundaries to retain its shock value. Some might even find the novel to be unintentionally comic because of its euphemisms and metaphors, but Cleland’s theme in the novel is pleasure, not crudity, and his work is meant to be erotic rather than strictly pornographic. Cleland associates pleasure with beauty, grace, and youth, and his language attempts to describe sexual pleasure in graceful terms; both he and his characters abhor the vulgar language that degrades the sexual act and those who enjoy it. Indeed, Cleland was himself aware of the difficulty his readers might have with the novel’s descriptive language; he has Fanny remark on this very problem to the recipient of her account. Fanny laments the “extreme difficulty of continuing so long in one strain, in a mean tempered with taste, between the revoltingness of gross, rank, and vulgar expressions, and the ridicule of mincing metaphors and affected circumlocutions.” If Cleland fails to achieve this perfect balance, at least he attempts it, and his polite descriptions may at least offer the modern reader a respite from our own era’s cruder versions of eroticism.

Fanny Hill is, ultimately, a book that many might call a guilty pleasure, but it offers more than mere titillation and amusement. We can see in Cleland’s novel many of the same themes and ideals of the era’s greatest works, and we are allowed an unusual glimpse of the most private aspects of eighteenth-century life. We are fortunate that we, as modern readers, have the opportunity to enjoy this important and engaging text, which more than two centuries of scandal and censorship could not repress.

Jennifer C. Garlen received her doctoral degree from Auburn University and teaches English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She specializes in the study of the British novel in the eighteenth century.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2011

    Erotic and Exciting - Must Read!

    I bought this on a whim and wasn't sure if I'd like it - Turns out I LOVE this book! I highly recommend the Fanny Hill book to anyone looking for a bit of excitement and erotica in a book.

    You'll enjoy every page as I did.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2012

    Terrible format

    Not worth the money. Odd formatting of the text.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    I enjoyed it

    It is one of those that you have to take your time reading. This book was banned for a while for obvious reasons. It is very interesting with a great ending. Good interesting details.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Recommend as a historical read

    I always wondered what this book was about and why it was such a hushed book in its time. It is quite interesting to read the ideas and value system of this era. It is a good book for those who might think that woman were not less than second class chattel in the last 100 plus years. Reading this book just puts perspective onto a young woman's sexual situation and lack of freedom. For that reason alone it'sworth the time to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012

    Terrible

    Cannot get past the first page.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 2, 2011

    classic erotica

    brings back memories of yesteryear

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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