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Fanny Hill - the book that started it all

Romance fiction continues to claim the highest percentage of fiction sold in the marketplace, and within that category the genre of erotic romance also continues to climb. Experts who’ve researched it say that’s because it is the highest forms of escapist literature. That women can lose themselves in it and live out fantasies they may never reach for or be able to achieve in real life. With the explosion of erotic romance publishers there’s an even wider variety to choose form, everything from really hot m/f sex to ménages, to group sex to every level of BDSM.

But where did it start? What was the beginning?

Researchers-far smarter people than me- claim the first modern “erotic” novel was the classic Fanny Hill. Also know as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, it was written by John Cleland while in debtors’ prison in London. It is still, today, one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history. It contained, among other things, an episode depicting sex between men. On the surface proper Victorian society was shocked to its pointed shoes.

Things have certainly changed, haven’t they.

Lordy, I remember in high school sneaking a copy into my house and hiding under the covers to read it, sure I would go straight to hell if someone found out about it. (As you can tell, I’ve changed a lot since then!)

Fanny Hill was printed in two installments, November 1748 and February 1749. After the second installment was released the author and his publisher we arrested and charged with “corrupting the King’s subjects.” Of course this ramped up the interest in the book and of course, the sales.

In the nineteenth century copies were sold “underground” but in 1963, after the failure of the obscenity trial involving the second greatest erotic book written, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Mayflower Books published an unexpurgated version of Fanny Hill.

The book eventually surfaced in the United states where again it was attacked for its “indecency.” During a trial the publisher argued that it was “but a light-hearted salute to regular non-perverted sex – lewd and bawdy and a valuable historical novel in addition.” It does, however, contain a scene of “flogging and S&M for pleasure” that shocked a society that on the surface was very prudish.

But the failure of the suit underscored the rift between outdated obscenity laws and the reality of modern sexuality. Today Fanny Hill: Memoirs of Woman of Pleasure, has become a real classic and ahs paved the way for the rest of us who understand the romance of every level of sexual activity and write about it with a great deal of pleasure. So thank you, John Cleland, for opening a door we continue to work through. If you haven’t read the book, you should run, not walk, to get a copy now.

Come visit me at and

And watch for the upcoming release of Party of Three and Pretty Kitty


Cerise DeLand said...

THANKS, DH, for posting this.
I tend to forget about the classics in this genre!

Cai said...

Did you know that's one of the free classic novels offered for the Amazon Kindle?

I'll admit that I read bits of it a looonnnggg time ago, and like you, Desire, thought I would go straight to hell for doing so! LOL

I've downloaded it (along with several other free reads from Amazon) onto my iPhone to read when I'm "sitting & waiting" places.

Jude Mason said...


I remember reading this when I was probably much too young, but being absolutely thrilled with the touch of BDSM. That was my first exposure to the genre and it showed me I wasn't alone.

A really wonderful post. Thanks for reminding me where all this started.


Annabeth Carew said...

I only recently read this beautifully written book. Wow! The use of language is absolutely exquisite.

To think that this author, who does the most wonderful job writing female POV, was actually imprisoned for writing what is really a rather sweet story!

The forces of repression are so threatened by sexuality.

She said...

I've read both Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterly's Lover. It's been a while since I read Fanny Hill but only recently re-read Lady Chatterly. Lady Chatterly's Lover has many layers to it. I found it to be about the changes wrought in society after WWI and how some cling to the old ways and others want to move forward. The elite have lost their place in society and are struggling to keep their place or to find a new place in post-WWI. With the changes in society, naturally come changes in how the classes react to one another and sex changes also. What wss forbidden is now occurring and being accepted. The 1920's were quite freeing sexually, second only probably to the 1960's.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Excellent post, Desiree!

Now we need someone to write about The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (by Henry Fielding published 1740)... another racy tale though perhaps less so than Fanny's!