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Literature / Fanny Hill

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John Cleland's classic erotic novel. Originally published in England in 1748, it was banned in the United States until 1966.

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure details the sexual adventures of a teenage girl in London. Orphaned at fifteen, Frances Hill, with little skill and education, must find a way to survive. She leaves her village for London and finds employment at Mrs. Brown’s brothel. Fanny believes her new job to be legitimate, but her curiosity and sensuality are aroused when the prostitute with whom she shares a room introduces her to sex. Mrs. Brown then tricks Fanny into “servicing” a client, and the girl is nearly raped. She escapes from the bordello and falls in love with a man named Charles, who is sent to sea by his father before he can provide for Fanny. Once more destitute and alone, Fanny finds work at an upper-class brothel, where she experiences a multitude of sexual acts and discovers that sex for money is not as satisfying as sex for love. Fanny is removed from the bordello by an elderly gentleman, who cares for her, instructs her in the arts and sciences, and, after eight months, dies, leaving her his fortune. Soon after her benefactor’s death, Fanny is reunited with Charles, and the two live happily ever after.

Fanny Hill contains examples of:

  • Appropriated Title: The original work was actually titled Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Fanny Hill was adapted by a variety of publishers, who released a number of often bowdlerized versions.
  • Author Appeal: Cleland wrote it from prison, as a young man.
  • Band of Brothels: Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Cole's establishments, though they differ exceedingly in particulars...
  • Double Standard: So, so very many:
    • Fanny repeatedly emphasizes her purity and innocence to the reader, even as she describes in explicit detail her various bedroom adventures.
    • In a scene expurgated from the original novel, Fanny spies on two men having sex, and expresses disgust at their immoral behavior...while simultaneously getting off on watching them, and after she's had sex with other women herself.
  • Epistolary Novel: The premise of the novel is a middle-aged Fanny, now happily married with children, reminiscing on her sordid youth via a series of letters to a woman addressed only as "Madam."
  • Epunymous Title: At first glance Fanny Hill is a perfectly reasonable name, being a diminutive of Frances. Except of course that "fanny" was and still is slang for the female genitalianote  - "Fanny Hill" is a pun on the mons pubis.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Fanny's wholesome, fresh-faced prettiness is desirable to everyone who meets her, including her fellow prostitutes and other women. Encounters with female admirers frequently devolve into scenes where Everybody Has Lots of Sex.
  • First Girl Wins: Early in the book, Fanny meets a handsome young man named Charles. They lose their virginity to each other, but are separated. After many years and many lovers, Fanny is reunited with Charles.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Throughout the novel, no matter what depravities she undergoes, Fanny retains her cheerful, wide-eyed idealism and faith in the power of true love.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Or rather, a dress in which to be pimped out. Interchangeable, really.
  • Unreliable Narrator: On two levels.
    • In-Universe: Fanny claims to have suffered a Convenient Miscarriage but many critics suspect she actually had an abortion. She's been abandoned, she owes the equivalent of 200 years' wages (at an honest job) to her landlady, and the landlady is an abortionist. She also can't work as a prostitute while pregnant at the time.
    • In Real Life Cleland took his plot from stories he was told by the prostitutes he met in prison. Unfortunately, it appears that their stories were nothing but self-justifying lies, since prostitution at the time wasn't anything like Cleland describes.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Cleland is extremely...creative in his efforts to employ unique and varied descriptions for genitalia. The word "machine" will never be the same.

Alternative Title(s): Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure