FannyHill600 Fanny Hill   Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland
Fanny Hill – Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Fanny Hill – Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

With Illustrations by Paul Avril

In 1748, John Cleland (c. 1709-1789) was in debtor’s prison where he finished up Fanny Hill – Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and made it ready for publication. The novel was published in two installments.  Letter the First  was published in November 1748 and  Letter the Second  was published in February 1749.

Initially, there was no governmental reaction to the novel. However, Cleland was arrested again in November 1749, along with the publishers and printer of Fanny Hill. In court, Cleland disavowed the novel and said that he could only “wish, from my Soul,” that the book be “buried and forgot”. The book was then officially withdrawn and not legally published again for over a hundred years. However, it continued to sell well in pirated editions.

It is one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history. In the 19th century, copies of the book sold underground in the United States, the UK, and throughout Europe. The book has never been truly ‘out of print’.

Efforts to publish the book were prosecuted in 1821 in Massachusetts, in 1963 in London, and in 1963 in New York. However, in a landmark decision in 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in  Memoirs v. Massachusetts  that  Fanny Hill  did not meet the Roth standard for obscenity. The book has been readily available since that time.

In 1887, Édouard-Henri Avril (1849-1928) better known as Paul Avril was commissioned to illustrate a French edition of the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. The two-volume French edition featuring Avril’s illustrations, Mémoires de Fanny Hill, was so successful that the twelve illustrations were also issued separately in a discrete folder to fulfill the demand from a discerning readership.

This edition reproduces the 1748-1749 unexpurgated text and includes the suite of twelve illustrations from Avril.

FannyHill01 Fanny Hill   Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Excerpt: Fanny Hill – Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Letter the First
Part 1


I 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 lost 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.

My poor mother had divided her time so entirely between her scholars, and her little domestic cares, that she had spared very little of it to my instruction, having, from her own innocence from all ill, no hint, or thought of guarding me against any.

I was now entering on my fifteenth year, when the worst of ills befell me in the loss of my tender fond parents, who were both carried off by the smallpox, within a few days of each other; my father dying first, and thereby hastening the death of my mother, so that l was now left an unhappy friendless Orphan: (for my father’s coming to settle there, was accidental, he being originally a Kentish-man.) That cruel distemper which had proved so fatal to them, had indeed seized me, but with such mild and favourable symptoms, that I was presently out of danger, and, what I then did not know the value of, was entirely unmark’d.

I skip over here, an account of the natural grief and affliction, which I felt on this melancholy occasion. A little time, and the giddiness of that age, dissipated too soon my reflections on that irreparable loss; but nothing contributed more to reconcile me to it, than the notions that were immediately put into my head, of going to London, and looking out for a service, in which I was promised all assistance and advice, from one Esther Davis, a young woman that had been down to see her friends, and who, after the stay of a few days, was to return to her place.

As I had now nobody left alive in the village, who had concern enough about what should become of me, to start any objections to this scheme, and the woman who took care of me after my parents death rather encouraged me to pursue it, I soon came to a resolution of making this Iaunch into the wide world, by repairing to London, in order to seek my fortune, a phrase, which, by the bye, has ruined more adventurers of both sexes, from the country, than ever it made, or advanced.

Nor did Esther Davis a little comfort and inspirit me to venture with her, by piquing my childish curiosity with the fine sights that were to be seen in London; the Tombs, the Lions, the King, the Royal Family, the fine Plays and Operies, and in short all the diversions which fell within her sphere of life to come at; the detail of all which perfectly turn’d the little head of me.

Nor can I remember, without laughing, the innocent admiration, not without a spice of envy, with which we poor girls, whose church-going cloaths did not rise above dowlass shifts, and stuff gowns, beheld Esther’s scower’d sattin-gown, caps border’d with an inch of lace; taudry ribbons, and shoes belaced with silver! all which we imagined grew in London, and entered for a great deal into my determination of trying to come in for my share of them.

The idea however of having the company of a townswoman with her, was the trivial, and all the motive that engaged Esther to take charge of me during my journey to town, where she told me, after her manner and style: “as how several maids out of the country had made themselves and all their kin for ever, that by preserving Vartue, some had taken so with their masters, that they had married them, and kept them coaches, and lived vastly grand, and happy, and some, may-hap came to be Dutchesses: Luck was all, and why not I as well as another,” with other almanacs to this purpose, which set me a tiptoe to begin this promising journey, and to leave a place, which though my native one, contained no relations that I had reason to regret, and was grown insupportable to me, from the change of the tenderest usage into a cold air of charity, with which I was entertain’d, even at the only friend’s house, that I had the least expectations of care and protection from: She was how ever so just to me, as to manage the turning into money the little matters that remained to me after the debts, and burial charges were accounted for, and at my departure put my whole fortune into my hands, which consisted of a very slender wardrobe, pack’d up in a very portable box, and eight guineas, with seventeen shillings in silver, stowed in a spring-pouch, which was a greater treasure than ever I had yet seen together, and which l could not conceive there was a possibility of running out: and indeed I was so entirely taken up with the joy of seeing myself mistress of such an immense sum, that I gave very little attention to a world of good advice which was given me with it.

Excerpt From: John Cleland. “Fanny Hill – Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.”

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