Alex'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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Nov 24, 2010

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bookshelves: 2011, favorite-reviews, reading-through-history, smut, rth-lifetime

If you've heard one euphemism for penis, you...well, you haven't heard them all. Once you finish this book, then you'll have heard them all.

I had more fun reading this porn than I did many other 18-century novels, but that's largely because it's very short; faced with 600 pages of this, and given that I've already seen the word "vermilion" at least 600 times, I would probably give up.

And as porn goes, it's....okay I guess? It's not exactly hot, but it's not unacceptably un-hot, either, which is more than one can say for most of the internet. I found myself skimming the sex scenes. It can be fairly entertaining, at least; I highlighted the euphemism "red-headed champion," which is legitimately funny. It's hotter than Moll Flanders, to which it's clearly somewhat of a response - although that's not saying much, as Moll Flanders is emphatically unsexy.

The fact that this is a book written by a grown man from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl sometimes intrudes with ickiness, but one tries to get past it. Guys have written porn from the points of view of the ladies they wish they were nailing since - well, since this, as far as I know - and one has to suspend one's definition of the age of consent when one reads anything from Pamela to Tolstoy. And Cleland was only in his 20s when he wrote this, which makes it (again, allowing also for the era) at least slightly less creepy than if he was 50. It still throws me out of the narrative (such as it is) occasionally - particularly when he falls into one of the tropes that dudes writing porn have submitted to since (see above): all women want to be chaste but find themselves transported by passion as soon as they see a penis, and all penises are huge. I have, startling as it might seem, talked to upwards of several women, and they've assured me that neither of the above things are even a tiny bit accurate for any man other than me.

I'll give you a (slightly spoiler-y) taste. See if you think you can handle the following two things:

1) A scene where a woman seduces a mentally handicapped man for no other reason than "She had had her freak out" (yes, he really wrote that, 250 years before Missy Elliott);

2) This thoroughly typical passage: "Presently the approach of the tender agony discover'd itself by its usual signals, that were quickly follow'd by my dear love's emanation of himself that spun out, and shot, feelingly indeed! up the ravish'd in-draught; where the sweetly soothing balmy titillation opened all the juices of joy on my side, which extatically in flow, help'd to allay the prurient glow, and drown'd our pleasure for a while. Soon, however, to be on float again!"

If the first didn't horrify you too much, and the second didn't put you in a coma, you're good to go.

There's a half-hearted sermon that closes the book; it reads, in part, "If I have painted Vice in all its gayest has been solely in order to make the worthier, the more solemn sacrifice of it, to Virtue." I don't think we're supposed to take that seriously. For what it's worth, this is a peculiarly feminist book. (Peculiarly, I said.) In sharp contrast to most books of its time, Fanny Hill presents a picture of a woman who enjoys sex and goes about getting it with no shame whatsoever. There are no nasty repercussions; things turn out quite well for her. Jane Smiley claims that shame was an obsession in the salacious 18th century; well, then, this book stands, possibly alone, above it. Good for Fanny Hill.
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Reading Progress

November 24, 2010 – Shelved
February 20, 2011 – Started Reading
February 22, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011
February 22, 2011 – Shelved as: favorite-reviews
February 22, 2011 – Finished Reading
July 19, 2011 – Shelved as: reading-through-history
May 20, 2013 – Shelved as: smut
January 2, 2015 – Shelved as: rth-lifetime

Comments (showing 1-21)

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Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I have heard it described as "the first competent porn in English." I was "eh" on it.

message 20: by Alex (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex Now I'm all curious to hear what the first incompetent porn was.

message 18: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Seeing the name Fanny Hill makes me giggle. It's some combination of Benny Hill and "fanny" in the UK. teehee.

message 17: by Alex (last edited Nov 03, 2011 07:29PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex There is, as Aylin would say - and I guarantee this is the dumbest thing you'll see today - a video for that.

message 16: by Cindy (new)

Cindy OMG, you did NOT just do that!!!?!?!!! OLO!

message 15: by Alex (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex I didn't! I just linked to it!

message 14: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Oh, well, in that case! pfffft.

message 13: by Renee (new)

Renee i don't know how you enjoyed this one and didn't enjoy venus in furs, shiiit.

message 12: by Alex (last edited Jul 14, 2013 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex That's like saying that I have to like Hugh Hefner just because I like Betty White. All they have in common is that they're dirty and old.

message 11: by Renee (new)

Renee hahah. i'm just a huge fangirl for VIF, to be honest, and this doesn't look very interesting to me. i usually really love your reviews/opinions, though.

message 10: by Alex (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex Why thank you! But I want to know why you're such a Venus in Furs fangirl. Write a review! Or at least give me the short defense.

Alex ...hadn't realized until just now that I didn't write a review myself. I hate when I forget to review a book. Shit. I'll have to try to remind myself why it rubbed me wrong.

message 8: by Renee (new)

Renee i may just do that! and you did write a review.


message 7: by Alex (last edited Jul 15, 2013 07:26AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex Ahhhhh, whew. I thought I'd remembered ranting at some length about it.

Teach me to try to check Goodreads from my phone in the eye doctor's office with no contacts in.

message 6: by Renee (new)

Renee hahaha. judging by the number of reviews i've seen by you, i don't blame you for forgetting a book you considered forgettable.

you've inspired me to review VIF, but i need to reread it again as it's been a while. i'll throw you a shoutout if you're at all interested.

message 5: by Alex (last edited Jul 16, 2013 10:24AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex Totally interested!

Honestly, I should probably move Fanny Hill's rating down a star. It's not that great. But the 18th century was my least favorite time period for books and I was so, so bored, all the time, that to find something that was at all entertaining - even in a "what euphemism for penis will he come up with next?" way - felt like Homer.

My big issue with Venus is that Masoch seems to think it's impossible to have his kink and be in a fulfilling relationship, because his kink has gotten twisted into his view of women. He wants to be treated cruelly, therefore he needs women to be cruel. And that just makes me bummed out on behalf of any poor kinksters who might look to his book as a guide. But I'd love to hear a rebuttal.

message 4: by Renee (last edited Jul 15, 2013 09:33AM) (new)

Renee i totally get that.

i don't know much about masoch as a person so i can't say much in the way of his personal preferences and ideals, but, from what i remember, i found his book so refreshing because here was a man that understood the inner-workings of female desire and doesn't ask for apologies. i'll explain more later in my review.

in my opinion, his purpose for writing was not to convey what must exist so much as it was to show what does exist and why. i understood it to be more of a philosophical exploration into the female mind.

message 3: by Renee (new)

Renee alex: thanks for the inspiration!

message 2: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary Great review. Thanks for the chuckles.

message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason I probably won't read this (part "2" did nearly make me comatose), but anything that evokes a kickass Missy Elliot vid can't be all bad. As for the big penis thing, you're not the only one so blessed, you know. A girl once asked me to give her nine inches and hurt her. So I fucked her three times and slapped her.

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