Fanny Hill / Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland (1748-49)

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Fanny Hill / Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland (1748-49)


[Cleland, John], Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. 2 vols. London: printed [by Thomas Parker] for G. Fenton [Fenton & Ralph Griffiths] in the Strand, 1749. Lilly Library: HQ461.C62 M53 v.2.


John Cleland (1709-89) wrote Fanny Hill, which is considered the first English pornographic novel (in the etymological sense of pornography: writing about prostitutes) and whose original title is Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, in Fleet Prison in London in 1748. The novel, consisting of two letters addressed by the fictional character Frances “Fanny” Hill to a “Madam,” recounts in vivid and explicit detail Fanny’s transgressive sexual experiences from her adolescence through her middle age. According to Peter Sabor, “the rare first edition of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure contains an important two-paragraph description of a male homosexual encounter deleted from all subsequent editions, including the modern paperbacks” (Censorship, 2121). This novel was perhaps the most heavily challenged book in court, in both England and the United States, since its first edition was censored and the author and publisher arrested by the duke of Newcastle in November 1749, until the landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Memoirs v. Massachusetts (383 U.S. 413) in March 1966, which lifted the ban imposed by the Attorney General of Massachusetts on the first unabridged edition of Fanny Hill published in the United States by Putnam in 1963. In his concurring opinion, Justice William O. Douglas declared: “As I read the First Amendment, judges cannot gear the literary diet of an entire nation to whatever tepid stuff is incapable of triggering the most demented mind. The First Amendment demands more than a horrible example or two of the perpetrator of a crime of sexual violence, in whose pocket is found a pornographic book, before it allows the Nation to be saddled with a regime of censorship.”

Full text:

Text of Attorney General of Massachusetts v. A Book Named "John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure":

Text of Memoirs v. Massachussets:


“Fanny Hill / Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland (1748-49),” Banned Books, accessed July 13, 2024,

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