Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Title:     Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure)
Author:   John Cleland
Rating:   ★★★
Availability:   Amazon
Note:   Book recommended only for mature readers

Fanny Hill was one of the hardest classical books I have ever enjoyed. It was the type of story that I definitely needed to prepare for before reading, not just because John Cleland's usage of words was so insanely artistic, and both explicit and very euphemistic at times, but because of the content itself. I don't think I've ever read a book with this much coitus, and with every encounter described differently. I do got to hand it to Cleland.

From her position of wealth and happy respectability, Fanny Hill looks back at her early life and disreputable adventures. Arriving in London alone, poor and innocent, she falls into the hands of a brothel-keeper. But only when she is separated from the man she loves does she enrol in the 'unhappy profession' of prostitution. Fanny becomes a kept woman and also works in an elegant bawdy-house, entertaining polite voluptuaries. By the age of eighteen, she can afford to retire; in her marriage she can at last combine sexual passion with romantic love.

I'm not going to pretend: reading classics is hard work for me. The classical authors arrange the English language in ways that leave me dumbfounded if I'm not concentrating (although Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is an exception -- one of the easiest classics I've ever read). John Cleland is no exception to this however, so I found myself pretty immersed in the book just so I will truly understand the story. And honestly, reading and unraveling these complex sentences makes my geeky side alight with joy. Ehem. Moving on.

I admit as well that there were a lot of times that I almost stopped reading Fanny Hill because of the content. A lot of people have kidded around the web that it's sort of porn. I thought they were kidding until I read the book. It is explicit, only if you understood every euphemism that he makes. Also, it was explicit in a way that would have made 18th century females blush and hide the book under their bed covers for shame. I understood why it was a previously Banned Book. Me? I brought the book and read it almost everywhere (well, okay, I did bend the cover a little to mind the sensibilities of other people. After all, a book cover with an uncovered bosom would make people more uncomfortable than, say, if I was lugging around Fifty Shades of Grey before it became popular for its content). Fanny Hill, and I say this with the utmost reverence that I have come to feel for the book afterwards, is almost eighty percent porn and twenty percent sorrow.

Fanny Hill is, like a lot of the classics, quite heavy. Right off the bat, you get a really young character whose misfortunes in life seemed unending. Her family died, she was unwittingly fooled into staying in a brothel, raped/forced into it unwittingly, became a prostitute and a kept woman, lost her first love, and lost a benevolent mentor. And mind you, all of these happened before she was nineteen. In fact, as I joked to my sister, I was only eleven pages into the book and I was already feeling depressed about her life! If you're wondering if this book has a happy ending, well let me spoil it for you: it does. Fanny Hill is about, well, Fanny retelling her adventures to an unnamed person, ending with her arguing that she was in fact a slave to virtue, despite everything that she had partaken in. And I do agree that Fanny couldn't have done better in her life because she truly didn't know anything, and being a prostitute was all she knew since she was fourteen.

Furthermore, John Cleland has interspersed Fanny's adventures with keen reflections on human nature. His tone sometimes took on a sarcastic, mildly disparaging tone, especially towards men.

"There is, in short, in the men, when once they are caught, by the eye especially, a fund of cullibility that their lordly wisdom little dreams of, and in virtue of which the most sagacious of them are seen so often our dupes." (p. 155)

Despite the numerous months it took me to finish Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, I did enjoy it. In fact, it was really enjoyable that I finished the book, but I had to make sure that I was in a proper state of mind to fully understand and appreciate it. John Cleland can be quite specific. What I didn't like about the book is that there were times when the male member was too grossly praised, and there were too many metaphors for the male and female genitalia -- most of which made me laugh. There was also a chapter where I felt the female genitalia was too praised by Fanny that it felt like I was reading the male point of view, instead of Fanny's, especially since she wasn't really bisexual. Also, there were sentences that were too long - like 14 lines long, and that's just one sentence.

"Charles, whose whole frame, all convulsed with the agitation of his rapture, whilst the tenderest fires trembled in his eyes, all assured me of a perfect concord of joy, penetrated me so profoundly, touched me so vitally, took me so much out of my own possession, whilst he seemed himself so much in mine, that in a delicious enthusiasm, I imagined such a transfusion of heart and spirit, as that coalescing, and making one body and soul with him, I was him, and he, me."

While the rest of the book was not to my liking, I really enjoyed the ending. After all the men (and even women) that Fanny Hill had been with, none has caused her as much rapture as being with her one true love did. I like how John Cleland has portrayed, from the start of the book till the end, that without that principal emotion, love, all the other acts were not really to her pleasure.

"I felt the prodigious keen edge with which love, presiding over this act, points the pleasure: love! that may be styled the Attic salt of enjoyment; and indeed, without it, the joy, great as it is, is still a vulgar one, whether in a king or a beggar; for it is, undoubtedly, love alone that refines, ennobles, and exalts it." (p. 216)

Despite Fanny Hill not making it to my favorite books of all time, it is still one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. That being said, I don't think I could and would re-read this book, and I'll probably stay away from books of the same ilk - for my own peace of mind. To end my review, I'm going to leave you with some other fantastic lines to boggle your mind to portray John Cleland's fantastic usage of language.

"...whilst, on my side, a convulsive grasp, in the instant of my giving down the liquid contribution, rendered me sweetly subservient at once to the increase of joy, and of its effusions..." (p. 217)
"...but the pleasures of love had been to us what the joy of victory is to an army: repose--refreshment--everything." (p. 218) - One of my favorite lines
"...I yielded my consent to waive the remonstrance I did not fail of making strongly to him, against his degrading himself, and incurring the reflection, however unjust of having, for respects of fortune, bartered his honour for infamy and prostitution, in making one his wife who thought herself too much honoured in being but his mistress." (p. 219)

Have you read Fanny Hill? Let me know your thoughts.

Manigong Bagong Taon! :)


  1. Ah, seems like a very humorous book but I am sure that it's one of these books that I will not pick even if my life depended on it. Classics aren't just my thing mainly because of this, "I'm not going to pretend: reading classics is hard work for me. The classical authors arrange the English language in ways that leave me dumbfounded most of the time if I'm not concentrating."

    In my entire reading career, I've only read 2 classics: Sherlock Holmes and Oliver Twist. I tried reading Austen's Pride and Prejudice but gods, I just can't get into the writing. It's still on my currently reading shelf.I started it last August 2013 I think and until now, I haven't moved past the 50th page.

    I have a horrible feeling that it's going to be my first DNF. Hahahahah. :d

    Excellent review BTW. And belated Happy New Year!

    1. It's actually not a humorous book. As I said, the character went through a lot of depressing times, so the book was saddening.

      Pride and Prejudice isn't for everyone, I agree :( My mom and sister, who are both avid readers as well, can't even get past the first chapter hehe. We all have different tastes. I, myself, cannot read werewolf/vampire-human relationships.

      Happy New Year! :)

  2. Ah. Classics. I don't read them simply because they're hard to read. Hahaha! I can't even read fantasy/paranormal YA these days, I'm resorting to contemporary romance because they're easier to digest. Although I want to read classical books. I'll try it this year. I'm not ready for Fanny Hill, I think. What would you recommend for me?

    1. I haven't been reading contemporary romance either, I love regency though it's hard to find a good story nowadays.

      For classics, try A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and Silas Marner by Elliot. They're short, and very nice :) But I think a classic book still depends on the person's tastes, not the genre as a whole. Because, for example, I cannot read Dickens' Pickwick Papers or even Ivanhoe. Some classics bore me to death, while I cannot get enough of Jane Austen's!

  3. I love classics, however, I preferer to read them in Spanish. When the book is written in what I like to call "old English" I have to be in the right mood or I find it hard to trully enjoy the story. Despite this, I read Edgar Allan Poe and Jane Austen in English and enjoyed their stories :)
    Great review, I haven't read Fanny Hill and I'm not sure I ever will but thanks for the warning x)

    1. I prefer the usual English used, unabridged versions, so they are hard to read! But I can't read in any other language. I wish I can speak Spanish like you!

  4. I love reading classics, but some are easier on the mind than others. Fanny Hill sounds very interesting, though, especially because it tells the story of a pretty unconventional woman. I enjoy those kinds of stories, and I will add it to my TBR as I may be participating in a classics challenge this year.

    Thanks for your lovely review, Goldie :)

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    1. Wow, I feel good that you're going to add this to your topping TBR pile! Hihi thank you Lexxie! It's a very interesting book, but I do have to say it's not for everyone. But I enjoyed it anyway. :)

      Have a good day! :) cheer


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