The Most Banned Book In The History - Fanny Hill

The story of the most banned book in the history of the world starts in 1748. It is the year when the book “Memoirs Of Woman Of Pleasure” also known as Funny Hill was published in London. The author John Cleland was in debtors’ prison at the time of publishing. It is the first English prose pornography and the first pornography to use the form of a novel.

Fanny Hill: Or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Penguin Classics)

What are Memoirs Of Woman Of Pleasure?

Fanny is a woman who first falls into prostitution and then rises to respectability. The book is written in a form of a confession. The confession is featured by vivid descriptions and explicit physiological details of her carnal adventures. The moral outrage that this has always provoked has only recently been countered by serious critical appraisal. The confession is written in a form of two letters.

Letter One

The first letter speaks of Fanny’s hard childhood. She was born in a Lancashire village. When she was 14 she lost her parents to smallpox. After the tragedy she to London to look for domestic work. However, she gets lured into a brothel. There Fanny witnesses a sexual encounter between an ugly older couple and another young attractive couple. She engages in lesbian sex with Phoebe, a bisexual prostitute. One of the customers, Charles, induces Fanny to escape. She loses her virginity to Charles and becomes his lover. Charles sails to South Seas and leaves Fanny. Alone and unprotected, in absolute poverty, she decides to become the kept woman of a rich merchant named Mr. H. However, after acknowledging Mr. H. and his sexual encounters with her own maid, she decides to revenge. Fanny seduces Will (the young footman of Mr. H). When Mr. H. discovers her affair he kicks her out. It is when Fanny becomes a prostitute for wealthy clients in a pleasure-house run by Mrs. Cole. It is how the first letter ends.

Letter Two

Orgies of Fanny Hill

Fanny Hill’s Orgies

This letter is full of controversy. Fanny describes her adventures with Mrs. Cole. This includes public orgies and sales of virginity besides many other things. Some narratives do not directly include Fanny. They are related to three other girls and their loss of virginity. The highest controversy is a description of the anal-sex of two older boys. Eventually, Fanny leaves the oldest craft to become the lover of a rich and wise 60-year-old man. This allows Fanny a certain intellectual development and leaves her wealthy after her lover dies of a sudden cold. Then Charles returns from the seas. He was shipwrecked and has no a single penny with him. Fanny offers her wealth to him providing that he marries her.

The book is full of euphemisms. There is not a single dirty word or scientific term describing body parts. For example, the vagina is called “the neithermouth.”

Novel’s Life – Publishing History

The Most Banned book in history of the world

Memoirs of Fanny Hill

The novel was published in two installments. The first took place on November 21st, 1748 while the other one happened in February 1749. Brother Griffiths published it. At first, the government had no reactions. The prosecution started only a year later. John Cleland and Ralph Griffiths were arrested under the charge of corrupting the king’s subjects. In November 1749 the case went to court and Cleland renounced his novel. What ensued was the official withdrawal of the book.

Pirate Editions And Book Smuggling

It wasn’t long before the pirate editions appeared. What made an additional fuss was the newly inserted scene at the end. It describes Funny’s disgust with two young men engaging in sexual intercourse. However, further researches proved that the scene was present in the first edition as well.

Book made its way across the ocean to the U. S. In 1821 Massachusetts court banned the book. The publisher Peter Holmes was convicted for the printing of lew an obscene novel. He appealed to Massachusetts Supreme Court. However, he did not manage to sway anyone of being innocent. His defense was based on the claim that the judge didn’t even see the book, let alone read it and check if the material is confronted with the moral standards of the society. Still, the chief justice confirmed the previous decision of the court and even added that Holmes is, ” a scandalous and evil-disposed person” who had contrived to “debauch and corrupt” the citizens of Massachusetts and “to raise and create in their minds inordinate and lustful desires.”

Lifting The Ban

In 1663, New York book publisher Putnam’s Sons published the book under the name John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. The owner of the bookstore Irwin Weisfeld was arrested. This was due to an anti-obscenity campaign orchestrated by few prominent political figures. However, the outcome was different this time. Weisfeld’s conviction was eventually overturned in the New York State court. In addition to it, the ban was lifted from Fanny Hill. However, it did take some time for the book to get the freedom it deserves. The new edition was banned for obscenity in Massachusetts. This happened after a mother of a boy complained to the state’s Obscene Literature Control Commission. However, in a landmark decision in 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Memoirs v. Massachusetts that Fanny Hill did not meet the Roth standard for obscenity.

Why Was This Book Banned?

Adventures of Fanny Hill

Adventures of Fanny Hill

Since there were no dirty words and literal descriptions the question is: Why was this book banned?

You need to understand that at the time of writing, societies all across the world were based on slavery. But not just physical but spiritual and intellectual slavery as well. It was of high importance to keep people in a state of close-mind. This is due to a fact that close-minded people are much easier to manipulate. Description of new things, especially those related to human intimacy, appeared as a grave enemy to the state of close-mind. When people acknowledge new things their curiosity gets invoked and they usually want to try them. One thing after another and before you know it you have people striving to live completely different lives. That would mean the end of slave societies and religious autocracy. It is why this book was considered to be so dangerous and had to be banned.

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