Fanny Hill: Or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasureby John Cleland
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Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, first published in 1749 & known popularly as Fanny Hill, was one of the most famous novels of the eighteenth century & has been in print ever since. Though not the first erotic novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure has survived as both an illustrative social document & a keenly insightful look into the nature of sexuality.
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By John Cleland
North BooksCopyright © 2001 John Cleland
All right reserved.
Sit down to give you an undeniable proof of my considering your desires as indispensible orders: ungracious then as the task may be, I shall recall to view those scandalous stages of my life, out of which I emerg'd at length, to the enjoyment of every blessing in the power of love, health, and fortune to bestow; whilst yet in the flower of youth, and not too late to employ the leisure afforded me by great ease and affluence, to cultivate an understanding naturally not a despicable one, and which had, even amidst the whirl of loose pleasures I had been tost in, exerted more observation on the characters and manners of the world, than what is common to those of my unhappy profession, who looking on all thought or reflexion as their capital enemy, keep it at as great a distance as they can, or destroy it without mercy.
Hating, as I mortally do, all long unnecessary prefaces, I shall give you good quarter in this, and use no farther apology, than to prepare you for seeing the loose part of my life, wrote with the same liberty that I led it.
Truth! Stark naked truth, is the word, and I will not so much as take the pains to bestow the strip of a gauze-wrapper on it, but paint situations such as they actually rose to me in nature,careless of violating those laws of decency, that were never made for such unreserved intimacies as ours; and you have too much sense, too much knowledge of the originals themselves, to snuff prudishly, and out of character, at the pictures of them. The greatest men, those of the first and most leading taste, will not scruple adorning their private closets with nudities, though, in compliance with vulgar prejudices they may not think them decent decorations of the stair-case or saloon.
This, and enough, premised, I go souse into my personal history. My maiden name was Francis Hill. I was born at a small village near Liverpool in Lancashire, of parents extremely poor, and I piously believe, extremely honest.
My father, who had received a maim on his limbs that disabled him from following the more laborious branches of country-drudgery, got, by making of nets, a scanty subsistance, which was not much enlarg'd by my mother's keeping a little day-school for the girls in her neighbourhood. They had had several children, but none lived to any age, except myself, who had received from nature a constitution perfectly healthy.
My education, till past fourteen, was no better than very vulgar; reading, or rather spelling, an illegible scrawl, and a little ordinary plain-work, composed the whole system of it: and then all my foundation in virtue was no other than a total ignorance of vice, and the shy timidity general to our sex, in the tender stage of life, when objects alarm, or frighten more by their novelty, than any thing else: but then this is a fear too often cured at the expence of innocence, when Miss, by degrees, begins no longer to look on man as a creature of prey that will eat her.
Excerpted from Fanny Hill by John Cleland Copyright © 2001 by John Cleland. Excerpted by permission.
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John Cleland was born in 1710, eldest son of William Cleland, an officer and friend of the Pope. For a while hoe worked for the East India Company, rising from soldiers to businessman to secretary of the Bombay Council, though he returned to London in 1741. He then became a literary hack and journalist and was imprisoned for debt on several occasions, and on one such occasion used the time to write Fanny Hill. He died in Westminster in January 1789.
Peter Wagner is a lecturer at the Catholic University of Eichstatt in Bavaria. His books in English include a study of Puritanism in colonial New England, and a survey of erotica in the age of Enlightenment.
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