Tag: John Cleland

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Posted November 14, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Erotica / 8 Comments

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John ClelandTitle: Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Goodreads)
Author: John Cleland
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1748
Pages: 240
Genres: Classic, Erotica
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In 1748 English novelist John Cleland went to debtors’ prison; while he was there he wrote a novel that went on to become the most prosecuted and banned book in history. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure is often referred to as Fanny Hill and is considered one of the first pornographic novels in the English language. Due to the release of this book, Cleland and his publisher Ralph Griffiths were both arrested and charged with “corrupting the King’s subjects”. The book went on to become so popular that pirated editions were sold underground. The book’s popularity eventually saw the book being published in 1821 in the United States, where its first known obscenity case convicted publisher Peter Holmes for printing a “lewd and obscene” novel.

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure tells the story of an orphaned fifteen year old with no skill and very little education named Fanny Hill. She leaves her village to find employment in London, where she is hired by Mrs. Brown. Fanny believed her employment was legitimate and that she would be working as a maid but she discovered that Mrs. Brown ran a brothel and intended to sell her maidenhead. The prostitute that shared her room opened Fanny’s innocent eyes to the sensuality of sex. She eventually falls in love and runs away with a man named Charles.

I do not want to go into too much detail about the plot of this book; in fact I have only covered the very first part of the story. I started off this review with mentioning that John Cleland wrote this book while in debtors’ prison and I think this is an interesting fact to remember. Cleland plays out all types of sexual fantasies while he is locked away; the novel pretty much covers everything you can think of sexually. The all-important one in this book was losing her maidenhead, which was sold to at least three different clients. However there is something deeper going on within the pages of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

This novel kept getting banned until 1973 in the United States; it was the introduction of the Miller test which finally lifted its banning. The Miller test is a three prong obscenity tested used in the United States Supreme Court to determine if something should be labelled as obscene. The work is considered obscene if all three conditions are satisfied and I am going to quote the law here so you better understand the Miller test.

(a) Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest
(b) Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law
(c) Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

The ban was lifted because Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure holds literary and artistic value and rightly so. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure is a stunning book to read, the proses are elegant but I also found it fascinating how many erotic fiction tropes comes from this one book. I have not read many erotic novels, but from what I know and read, there is a lot that this genre needs to thank John Cleland. All the cliché scenarios and sex scenes owe a lot to this novel but one I am glad I don’t see any more is the use of the word ‘machine’. The idea of men walking around with machines between their legs bugged me and I just didn’t like that terminology; unfortunately the word ‘weapon’ seems to have survived.

This was a fascinating exploration into the origins of erotic fiction and sex scenes in literature and ultimately I am glad to have read Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. It is not that often that I associate steaming sex scenes with literature of the 18th century, so it is good to know that people were deviant back then. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure isn’t just about sex; Fanny Hill works as a sex worker but she also finds love. She discovers that sex outside love isn’t as pleasurable and this is the message that I really took away from this novel. Despite all the fantasies, I think John Cleland wanted to look at how important love is when it comes to pleasure seeking.


Five Must Read Memoirs from Bibliophiles

Posted October 23, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Top 5 / 26 Comments

As a book lover, I found that I get a lot of pleasure out of reading books about books. There is something about a book that revolves around other books that really works for me. Judging by the popularity of books like The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and more recently The Collected Works of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin I know I am not alone. I made a conscious effort to read more non-fiction this year and I quickly discovered a whole new genre that I enjoy; the bibliophile’s memoir. What could be better (also meta) than reading about someone reading, but be warned, it could also be damaging to your TBR list. So I thought I might offer five memoirs that people should read about reading and the reading life.

Memoirs from Bibliophiles

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