Before beginning this review I must admit that it’s been some time since I read this. I recall enjoying it greatly and there are quite a few underlined passages in my copy. Like such:
Then the turtle-billing kisses, and the poignant painless love-bites, which they both exchang’d in a rage of delight, all conspiring towards the melting point; it soon came on, when Louisa, in the ravings of her pleasure-frensy, impotent of all restraint, cry’d out: ‘Oh Sir!–Good Sir!–pray do not spare me! ah! ah–I can no more.’ And all her accents now faltering into heart-fetch’d sighs, she clos’d her eyes in the sweet death, in the instant of which she was deliciously embalm’d by an injection, of which we could easily see the signs, in the quiet, dying, languid posture of her late so furious driver, who was stopp’d of a sudden, breathing short, panting; and for that time, giving up the spirit of pleasure.
Did I mention this is the first pornographic novel written in English? The first one. We started with this in 1748 and 49 and have devolved to… It doesn’t bear thinking about.
The plot is one of innocent young thang (IYT), orphaned at the tender age of fifteen, who makes her way to the big city of London to live with a friend. Said friend dumps her quickly and IYT shelters under the wing of kind woman who turns out to be a madam of multiple prostitutes quelle surprise!
Then again, this is the first book to use that plot device so it’s every other book that’s the cliche. Perhaps it was an actual surprise to readers at the time. Trying to image that breaks my brain a little.
IYT is introduced to the wonders of her own body by another woman in the house (lesbianism ftw) who has also discovered our heroine is a virgin. This also makes her the original virgin-to-be-debauched in a novel of this sort. You have much to answer for, Cleland. Much.
The rest of the plot doesn’t matter, does it? You’re not reading this for the plot–let’s not kid. Lots of things happen, though, in a fairly short book. And LOTS of sex happen. Some of it is even a little kinky. One of her lovers needs to be whipped and another man has a fetish for her gloves. She even meets a bisexual, my stars and garters, and witnesses anal sex between two men.
No wonder Cleland and the publisher were charged with corrupting the King’s subjects. My word.
The novel was also the subject of the first obscenity case in the U.S. (in 1821, in Massachusetts). In case you need another reason to read it.
Something I find interesting is that this book was written when people thought (‘knew’) that both sexes ejaculated upon orgasm. And not in the way that’s popular today–it was internal and all women did it every time they came. It was just accepted that’s what happened so there are descriptions of it. So if that does something for you then this one should be right up your street.
(They also believed babies were made by the mixing of the two ejaculates–the male and female. So a woman couldn’t get pregnant from being raped because she’d have to ejaculate to become pregnant and everyone knew that women never orgasmed during rape. This has been your Random Feminist Fact from History for the day.)
You can download Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure for free from Gutenberg, though I don’t know if that’s the unexpurgated edition. I paid for mine and read the Oxford World’s Classics edition with all the smutty bits. The Kindle version of that one is only .99 USD, which is worth it, in my estimation.
5/5. Know your erotica classics, kids.