Fanny Hill (First Edition) by John Cleland



2015-06-26 10:57:10

Fanny Hill: or, the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure is a novel by John Cleland (1709-1789). The first edition of this work was published in two installments in 1748 and 1749 by ‘G. Fenton’, the brothers Fenton and Ralph Griffiths. Background

John Cleland wrote Fanny Hill when he was in debtor’s prison. It was released in two installments, and a year later, he and his publishers were arrested, charged with corruption and obscenity. Cleland renounced the novel to save himself, and it was withdrawn.

However, the book became popular, and pirated editions were circulated for years. In the 1800s, copies were sold by the underground press. It was not until 1963, in great part due to the failed British obscenity trial of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, than Fanny Hill was publically published again, by Mayflower Books. A bookseller involved was prosecuted, but not the publisher. Finally in 1970, the first British publication of Fanny Hill not to be contested was published.

It was banned in the US from its first appearance in 1821, until a court case in 1966 that allowed the novel to be published.

This is one of the most banned and prosecuted books ever written.

Plot, Characters, Themes

The novel is considered the very first English pornographic novel. It presents the memoirs of a prostitute in the form of letters to an unknown recipient, justifying her life choices and career. It tells how she fell into prostitution and her experiences thenceforth, in much erotic detail.


John Cleland was by all accounts a no-good cad. His other works are little known, and his notorious reputations rests solely on his pornographic masterpiece, Fanny Hill.

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

Due to the consistent banning of this book, the first edition is a true rarity. Therefore any early edition is considered valuable, though as pirated copies, many of them may have incomplete or inaccurate text. Regardless, this book is a true collector’s item, enticing to many due to its fraught and controversial history.

Christie’s sold a 1791 edition for 4,560 euros in December 2006, a 1786 French edition for 8,160 euros in December 2006, an unknown early edition for 10,200 euros in December 2006, and a 1760 edition for 66,000 euros in April 2006.

Sothebys sold an unknown early edition for 59,950 euros in June 2001.

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