10 March 2009

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (John Cleland)

This is often hailed as the original erotic novel; it is 212 pages of the many and varied sexual romps of one young Fanny Hill. Written in 1748, it certainly caused a storm when it was published; it was banned and the author and publisher were apparently arrested for 'corrupting the king's subjects'. Hah.

I am a firm believer that a banned book should be read. I like to think there is a whole belt of kids reading Harry Potter under their covers at night, risking corruption and eternal damnation because they REALLY need to know if Hermione and Ron ever get it on. I love it that a few years ago Penguin released a box-set of previously banned books including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and A Clockwork Orange. They sold like you wouldn't believe. I bet no customers actually read the books, they would have just placed the set on their rough-hewn oak bookshelves and looked coy when Bollinger-sipping guests pointed it out. A cultivated air of anarchy will ALWAYS be in vogue.

Fanny Hill starts off mildly: a little innocent girl on girl action in a brothel... and just escalates from there. To enjoy the hilarity of the story you have to ignore Cleland's very liberal interpretation of how the English language should be written. The random italicisation of words that need no emphasis is bad enough; but it really started to annoy me when he only wrote out the first few letters of long words, apparently finding it too tiresome to write them out in their entirety.

Taking my own advice and pushing this issue aside, I can really recommend this novel. Any accounts of lewd behaviour in the 18th century should be enjoyable, but throw in Cleland's sophisticated wit and perceptive parodies of English society and government and you've got yourself a damn fine read.

Rating: 7/10.
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