It demonstrates how much times have changed. The heroine of the book, Fanny, is, as the title explains, a sex worker who is quite successful. Fanny, originally from Lancashire, moves to London when, at the age of 14, her parents die of smallpox, leaving her penniless. While looking for domestic work, she is lured into a brothel.
Eventually Fanny retires from her life of prostitution and takes a wealthy, elderly lover who dies and leaves her a fortune. Soon after, she is reunited with Charles, who insists on marrying her. 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.
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 , 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.
In , after the failure in of the British obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover , Mayflower Books, run by Gareth Powell , published an uncensored paperback version of Fanny Hill. The police became aware of the 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 of the 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 copies of the book, and in December Ralph Gold was summonsed under section 3 of the Obscenity Act. By then, Mayflower had distributed 82, copies of the book, but it was Gold rather than Mayflower or Fanny Hill who was being tried, although Mayflower covered the legal costs.
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The trial took place in February 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 s Britain, and was instrumental in shifting views to the point where in an uncensored version of Fanny Hill was again published in Britain.
This edition was also immediately banned for obscenity in Massachusetts, after a mother complained to the state's Obscene Literature Control Commission. Massachusetts that Fanny Hill did not meet the Roth standard for obscenity. Justice Douglas cited 5 primary defenses of the ruling:. The art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann recommended the work in a letter for "its delicate sensitivities and noble ideas" expressed in "an elevated Pindaric style".
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Many editions of this book have contained new illustrations, often depicting more of the novel's sexual content. Distributors of the novel such as John Crosby were imprisoned for "exhibiting [not selling] to sundry persons a certain lewd and indecent book, containing very lewd and obscene pictures or engravings". Sellers of the novel such as Peter Holmes were imprisoned and charged that they "did utter, publish and deliver to one [name]; a certain lewd, wicked, scandalous, infamous and obscene print, on paper, was contained in a certain printed book then and there uttered,  published and delivered by him said Peter Holmes intitled "Memoirs of a Woman Of Pleasure" to manifest corruption and subversion of youth, and other good citizens None of the story's scenes have been exempt from illustration.
Illustrations of this novel vary from the first homosexual experience to the flagellation scene. Editions of the book have frequently featured illustrations, but they have often been of poor quality.
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's account begins with the loss of her parents at the age of 14 followed by a journey to London, and ends with her union with Charles about five years later. The intermediate narrative is filled with many sexual experiences, which are described with vividness, whimsy, wit and humour.
Metaphors and similes are used to describe sexual organs and activities.
FANNY HILL : Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure
The plot was described as 'operatic' by John Hollander , who said 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 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.
Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland
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.
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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 and discerning clients in a pleasure-house run by Mrs Cole. It was kept in print surreptitiously, however, and for almost two centuries Fanny Hill enjoyed a salacious reputation. The book was not published legally until in the United States and in England.
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See Article History. This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Kuiper , Senior Editor. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. English literature, the body of written works produced in the English language by inhabitants of the British Isles including Ireland from the 7th century to the present day. The major literatures written in English outside the British Isles are treated separately under American literature,….
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