Oh, my darlings. If you've somehow managed to miss The MacGyver Rage Incident spawned by our last installment, please do catch up here. I have carefully sifted through our cultural detritus to ensure that John Cleland, author of this week's dusty gem, Fanny Hill, a.k.a. Memoirs Of a Woman Of Pleasure, has no similarly hyped-up, under-medicated relatives who might conceivably call for my blood to be spilled in an act of ritual atonement. (Prove me wrong, hyped-up, under-medicated relatives of John Cleland!)
Let's talk a little bit about said illustrious author first. When you initially learn that the novel was written in debtor's prison, you may imagine a sad wastrel of a man, slinging his tin cup against the bars, wishing he hadn't stolen that loaf of bread to feed his freaky, perverted family of flagellists and [insert fetishes we probably don't even have any more because various animals have gone extinct in the interim]. Well, no, as a matter of fact, he just got himself impressively in hock for 840 pounds, which was A Whole Lot of 1748 Dollars, basically. So, you know, the sort of man who would probably build casinos and unattractive apartment buildings he couldn't really afford while maintaining various revolving lines of credit. Ahem. And then he wrote a pornographic novel (plus some other books, but we don't care about those.) He may also have been a 'mosexual; once we get to his Mr. Garrison-like descriptions of the quote unquote male member, you can draw your own conclusions.
Make no mistake, this is a pornographic novel. It's not, oh, it's the 18th century, and he runs his hand over her heaving bodice, blah blah. It is pure filth. What fun for us! (If you've missed reading it, the full text is all over the Net, including a free Kindle edition, so make haste to remedy the situation and rejoin us for our discussion.) No, it is truly, truly pornographic. Erotic? Depends what floats your boat, really. Girlfriend manages to make pit stops to engage in at least forty separate types of perversion. (Note: "Perversion" used here purely as a descriptive adjective, mind! All forms of human sexuality art rich and beautiful in the eyes of Classic Trash!)
Dear Fanny Hill is born to pious, yet impoverished parents, they die, she goes to London with a couple of gowns and a little over eight guineas—you know, the whole "I got off the bus at Port Authority with a pair of jean shorts, sixty bucks, and the phone number of some chick who went to my high school who had a one bedroom with a fake wall in Alphabet City" deal. And, of course, within 15 seconds, girlfriend finds herself a pimp (well, madam, technically), who pretends she's looking for a nice lady's maid. (She's not.) And then it's your standard chaka-chaka-wow-wow for the next few hundred pages, starting with her sapphic deflowering at the hands of a super-elderly hooker of 25 years of age who explores her "two hard, firm rising hillocks, that just began to shew themselves," followed by "the soft silky down that had but a few months before put forth and garnished the mount-pleasant of those parts," followed by some fruitless poking at what I BELIEVE is supposed to be her hymen, but, obvi, we're saving that for the male member.
Which member, you know, so inflames her when she eventually spots one that she makes sad, desultory jabs at herself, which, minus a male member, are of course doomed to fail. "At length, I resorted to the only present remedy, that of vain attempts at digitation…" Not that she thinks herself CAPABLE of experiencing true penetration: "…having very curiously and attentively compared the size of that enormous machine, which did not appear, at least to my fearful imagination, less than my wrist, and at least three of my hand-fuls long, to that of the tender small part of me which was framed to receive it, I could not conceive its being possible to afford it entrance without dying, perhaps in the greatest pain…"
It takes her about nine pages of ceaseless battering before a young man manages, finally, with "one violent merciless lunge" to overcome her iron hymen, followed by about two days of profound agony, but, eventually, "the true unalloyed relish of that pleasure of pleasures, when the warm gush darts through all the ravished inwards; what floods of bliss! what melting transports! what agonies of delight!", etc. etc., and she finally gets to be super-slutty and totally into it for the rest of the book. Which, in case you missed it, serves her well indeed, considering she has do a lot of freaky shit. (This is after her beloved is sent away to sea by his family, leaving her destitute and needing to turn tricks, of course.) Don't worry, he eventually comes back, and they do it twice.
Is it any good? Why, it's VERY GOOD. In that way that everyone's penmanship used to be all pretty, you know? Cleland has a great turn of phrase, even when it's not particularly explicit in nature. "…all my foundation in virtue was no other than a total ignorance of vice." I mean, right? You could drop whole chunks of Fanny Hill into Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, ain't no one gonna notice.
Context-Free Excerpts From Fanny Hill Which Support The Idea That John Cleland Probably Preferred The Company Of Men—And Was Likely A Size Queen To Boot
• "Then the cavity to which she guided my hand easily received it; and as soon as she felt it within her, she moved herself to and fro, with so rapid a friction, that I presently withdrew it, wet and clammy, when instantly Phoebe grew more composed, after two or three sighs, and heart-fetched Oh's! and giving me a kiss that seemed to exhale her soul through her lips, she replaced the bed-clothes over us."
• "The whole greasy landscape lay fairly open to my view; a wide open mouthed gap, overshaded with a grizzly bush, seemed held out like a beggar's wallet for its provision."
• "Her sturdy stallion had now unbuttoned, and produced naked, stiff and erect, that wonderful machine, which I had never seen before, and which, for the interest my own seat of pleasure began to take furiously in it, I stared at with all the eyes I had…"
• "I admired then, upon a fresh account, and with a nicer survey, the texture of that capital part of man: the flaming red head as it stood uncapt, the whiteness of the shaft, and the shrub growth of curling hair that embrowned the foots of it, the roundish bag that dangled down from it, all exacted my eager attention, and renewed my flame."
• "…that fierce erect machine of his, which threatened no less than splitting the tender victim."
• "He looked upon his weapon himself with some pleasure."
• "The flaming point of this weapon of pleasure."
• "…its globular appendage, that wondrous treasure bag of nature's sweets, which revelled round, and pursed up in the only wrinkles that are known to please, perfected the prospect."
• "…not the play thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a Maypole, of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observed, it must have belonged to a young giant."
Okay, I think we get it.
A Single Context-Free Excerpt From Fanny Hill Which May Put You Off The Whole Idea Of Finding Employment As A Sex Worker
• "Imagine to yourself, a man rather past threescore, short and ill-made, with a yellow cadaverous hue, great goggle eyes, that stared as if he was strangled; an out-mouth from two more properly tusks than teeth, livid lips, and breath like a Jake's: then he had a peculiar ghastliness in his grin, that made him perfectly frightful, if not dangerous to women with child; yet, made as he was thus in mock of man, he was so blind to his own staring deformities, as to think himself born to please, and that no woman could see him with impunity: in consequence of which idea, he had lavished great sums on such wretches as could gain upon themselves to pretend love to his person, whilst to those who had not art or patience to dissemble the horror it inspired, he behaved even more brutally."
• Pretend you are a hyped-up, under-medicated, email-savvy relative of John Cleland who demands blood-expiation from me for my insolence. What is your opening throw-down?
• You take three separate classes in 18th-century literature as an undergraduate. Six years later, you get to reference Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded for an unpaid stint as a reviewer of Classic Trash. Do you feel vindicated, or do you begin to support those who say that four-year degrees in liberal arts should be replaced with vocational classes in basic auto repair?
• Picture Pretty Woman, but with all the dialogue replaced with John Cleland's. Is the Rodeo Drive scene weird, or kind of Dadaist and amazing?
• Lesbians, do you have an opinion on the suggestion that what you really need is "more solid food," and to give up "this foolery of woman to woman"?
• Which book shall we process next? I leave the choice in your capable, trashy hands. I'll announce the Official Choice in the comments here in a few days.
• Refer to someone's sack as a "wondrous treasure bag of nature's sweets" with a straight face, receive our undying admiration and love.
Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.