{Review} Memoirs of Fanny Hill or A Lady of Pleasure – John Cleland

26 Mar

Erotica has never been ‘my shelf’ in the library, with the one exception of a short story by Neil Gaiman in Smoke and Mirrors, even Lady Chatterley’s Lover made me flinch. This should become apparent fairly quickly in the review. All I can say is that I can’t help but be ‘English’. 

Why did I choose Fanny Hill to read? Because I never say no to a free book (thank you, Project Guternberg!) Also, I wanted to read a book for European Reading Challenge

Blurb (From Goodreads) 
From her position of wealth and happy respectability, Fanny Hill looks back at her early life and disreputable adventures. Arriving in London alone, poor and innocent, she falls into the hands of a brothel-keeper. But only when she is separated from the man she loves does she enrol in the ‘unhappy profession’ of prostitution. Fanny becomes a kept woman and also works in an elegant bawdy-house, entertaining polite voluptuaries. By the age of eighteen, she can afford to retire; in her marriage she can at last combine sexual passion with romantic love.
Fanny Hill, shrouded in controversy for most of its more than 250-year life, & banned from publication in the U.S. until 1966, was once considered immoral & without literary merit, even earning its author a jail sentence for obscenity.

The tale of a naïve young prostitute in bawdy eighteenth-century London who slowly rises to respectability, the novel & its popularity endured many bannings & critics, & today Fanny Hill is considered an important piece of political parody & sexual philosophy on par with French libertine novels

The language was, for the most part, beautiful and varied – I learnt three new words from it! Fanny’s voice and narration were mostly perfectly pitched, although like most heroines, she is a tiny bit silly. Several parts of the narrative were eye-wateringly painful with virtuous women instantly becoming uncontrollably lustful at the sight of a turgid male member and one bloody instance involving an over-large… part.

It is an interesting read from an historian’s point of view as the main ‘plot’ of Fanny’s love, separation from him etc. is obviously just whacked in there in an attempt to stay on the less salacious side of ‘indecency’ (rather like the music included in most of the videos on MTV channels nowadays).

The conflict between vivid descriptions of homosexual acts between men and the condemnation of the afore-mentioned scenes is also interesting, especially as scenes of a Sapphic nature don’t seem to have drawn the same level of censure from the author.

Whilst I doubt that erotica will ever be a favourite genre, this novel is very well written and I shall certainly re-read it at some point over the next few years.

Wild Night In’s Verdict? Wavering towards… win!


  If anyone knows of any books written about homosexuality in pre-Victorian England, do please post the titles as this is a subject I would like to learn more about.


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4 responses to “{Review} Memoirs of Fanny Hill or A Lady of Pleasure – John Cleland

  1. Rose City Reader

    April 2, 2012 at 23:49

    This was the first audio book I listened to from Libre Vox — an audio version of Project Gutenberg. I appreciated the effort and the readers did a good job, but amateurs and porn don’t mix, even if the amateurs were good and the porn from the 1750s. 🙂

    Thanks for including your review in the European Reading Challenge!

    • wildnightin

      April 5, 2012 at 15:21

      Haha! I almost want to hear the audio book version now. 🙂


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