, sometimes known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure
, is a novel by John Cleland that follows the life of the former prostitute, Frances "Fanny" Hill. The novel was first published in London in 1748 and is considered one of the first erotic novels. It relies heavily on the use of euphemisms.
The story opens with Fanny telling the reader that she is going to divulge the "loose part" of her life, "written with the same liberty that I led it." Franny is born in a small village near Liverpool. Her father is a disabled net-maker and her mother runs a small school for girls.
When Fanny is only 14, both her parents die of small-pox. She meets a young lady named Esther from London who convinces her to go and find work in the city. Esther tells Fanny stories about masters marrying their maids and making them rich.
Fanny sets off for London, accompanied by Esther, with her few possessions. When they arrive at the Inn, Esther is cold toward Fanny and leaves her with only a few words of advice.
On Esther's advice, Fanny goes to the office of an intelligence officer the next morning. There, she meets Mrs. Brown who tells her she's there looking for a servant and companion. She ushers Fanny into her coach, and Fanny is soon overcome by the woman's kindness. She's given a room, which she's to share with a woman named Phoebe.
When she lays down with her bed-fellow that night, Phoebe seduces her.
The next morning, Mrs. Brown takes Fanny's money, saying that she'll keep it safe, and introduces her to her "cousin," an elderly gentleman. Still unaware that she's been lured into a brothel, Fanny takes tea with the old man and he attempts to force himself on her. She's shaken and bruised by the encounter.
One day, she hides in Mrs. Brown's closet and witnesses her pleasing a John. Fanny is intrigued and asks Phoebe about the encounter. Phoebe arranges for Fanny to watch another meeting the next day between another girl in the house, Polly, and her John. After observing these interactions, Fanny finds herself eagerly awaiting the arrival of the guest who is to take her virginity, a mysterious "Lord B--."
The next morning, Fanny finds a young man passed out with Mrs. Brown in the parlor. She is instantly attracted to him, and upon waking the man, Charles, he asks if she'll keep him company. Fanny refuses and Charles then offers to set her up in a house as his mistress. Fanny, already in love with him, agrees.
The two concoct a plan that she'll leave early the next morning and he'll pick her up in his carriage. Charles will send payment of any debt owed to Mrs. Brown for Fanny's stay. Things go as planned and Charles takes Fanny's virginity.
The next day, Charles and his lawyer return to the brothel. Charles is careful not to let on that he has any association with Fanny, and the lawyer convinces Mrs. Brown, under threat of legal action, to give Fanny her things and clear her debts.
Under the pretense that Fanny is his secret wife, Charles sets her up in an apartment. Fanny finds out eight months later that she's pregnant. Charles decides to introduce Fanny to his father who, it turns out, is actually the man who tried to force himself on her at the brothel. Charles' father sends him to the South Seas, leaving Fanny alone. She miscarries the baby.
Meanwhile, Fanny's greedy landlady Mrs. Jones nurses her back to health and finds Mr. H, who begins using Fanny as his mistress. Fanny's understanding of sex evolves and she begins enjoying it for pleasure rather than love.
When Fanny witnesses Mr. H having sex with her maid, she vengefully seduces one of her master's servants. Mr. H catches her in the act and discards her.
Fanny finds another brothel run by a woman named Mrs. Cole. There, along with fellow sex workers Emily, Harriet, and Louisa, she learns about the variety of needs that are serviced at the brothel. She sells her "virginity" to a gullible gentleman, participates in sadomasochism with birch-rods, and is involved in an orgy. She also meets a bisexual man and witnesses two men having sex.
Eventually, the other girls at the brothel leave for different reasons. Louisa leaves with a young, mentally handicapped man whom she seduces, and Emily returns to her parents in the country. Mrs. Cole retires and Fanny meets an older gentleman who offers to keep her.
Fanny stays with the man (whose treatment of her is more paternal than sexual) until he dies. He leaves her his fortune.
Fanny begins searching for Charles, having heard that he had disappeared during his sailing journey. She soon finds him at a tavern and learns that he had been shipwrecked. He has no money and Fanny offers him her fortune. She tells him about her career up to this point and he insists that he forgives her. The two make love again and he asks her to marry him. She agrees.
As the story ends, Fanny is middle-aged and married to Charles. They have children.
The novel is now a part of the public domain. A year after the first installment was published in 1749, Cleland was arrested for "corrupting the King's subjects." The charge was withdrawn when Cleland renounced the novel in court. The book flourished in the underground scene in the 19th century and made its way to the US. It was outlawed in Massachusetts in 1821, and the publisher Peter Holmes was convicted of printing the illegal novel.