Reid's Reviews > Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland
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Jan 10, 2012

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Notwithstanding the fact that this book was published in 1748 nor the fact that one might choose to call it "erotica" this is, in fine, a dirty book. It is neither more nor less than that, really. I don't know if it is possible to write a truly literary work about sex; it is too repetitive an act and the anatomy of it too similar from one person to another (within the same sex, that is) to admit of much in the way of variety or interest beyond the prurient. Not that Mr. Cleland does not give it the old college try. His various descriptions of male and female anatomy range from the ridiculous to the sublime, though they never reach the truly poetic.

Don't get me wrong, I am aware that many authors from Anais Nin to Roth to Nabokov to Henry Miller have included magnificent and quite accomplished descriptions of sexual acts of great variety in their works and that these are truly works of merit. But this book really is purely for the purpose of describing several acts of what is actually rather pedestrian heterosexual sex and, to be honest, that just gets plain boring after awhile if one is not a teenage boy (having been one quite some time ago, I am fairly certain this is true).

It is also rather laughable that Cleland writes as a woman here, since he seems to be rather ignorant of the parts of a woman which truly lead to sexual pleasure. I find it amusing, as well, that he flatters him and those of his sex by asserting that women, even those who do it for a living, are constantly panting for the touch of a man's hands and organs. And what organs! Except for one unfortunate man (who also quite conveniently has a deplorable personality) all of the penises described in this book are quite gargantuan and ready for work. How modest of John to attribute such acumen to so many of us.

Perhaps even more amusing is the high dudgeon that Fanny, our licentious narrator, finds herself in when she witnesses an act of (gasp!) homosexual sex between two men. She is in a state of such moral outrage that she proposes to denounce the men to the whole inn in which she is staying and is kept from it only by the expedient of an unfortunate accident which knocks her senseless. A little silly, isn't it, John, for a whore to deplore this act so thoroughly? It also strikes me as odd that Fanny has no familiarity with anal or oral sex herself, nor do any of her fellow inmates at the houses she works from seem to, as if they were the most Calvinist prostitutes alive. Mr. Cleland might have been sad had he known what he was missing!

Ah, well, it's all good fun. That this is sometimes esteemed a classic work is a bit of a head-scratcher. I like a dirty story as well as the next guy and few are the novels for adults that don't contain at least some sexual content; I would miss it if it were cut from them. But this is, as I said, your run-of-the-mill dirty book and not much more than that.

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