Ra(w)R: Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Published in two pieces: Nov 21, 1748 and February 1749 [side note: I’m kind of loving that it was published on my birthday (granted, 240 years before, but the feeling is the same). But have no fear parental units, no plans of following in the illustrious Fanny Hill’s footsteps.]

Published in the U.S.: 1963! Huzzah for obscenity laws!

Publisher: According to wikipedia, Fanny Hill was published by the Fenton Brothers, who were arrested a year after publication for “corrupting the King’s subjects.”  While you’re on the wikipedia page, I highly recommend the extract from the book. Just so you can get a taste.

Genre: Erotica

Allie stats:

Time to completion: a week

Difficulty: so much with the blushing. and words that died out two hundred years ago.

Stars: ahh. See the rating scale for Shades of Grey here.

Review:

You can’t really review a book that’s over 250 years old. What’s the point? It’s not going anywhere.

For those who have never encountered Fanny Hill, it’s the story of a young girl who at the tender age of 15 becomes a prostitute. It’s written as a series of letters from Fanny to an unnamed woman, seemingly of higher social status. She’s trying to explain herself and her decisions, and her own happy ending. Fanny ran away from home to London (“by repairing to London, in order to SEEK MY FORTUNE, a phrase which, by the bye, has ruined more adventurers of both sexes, from the country, than ever it made of advanced”) and was taken on, she thought, as a maid to a lady. The lady, it turns out, thought Fanny was a whore, tried to give her a client, whereupon Fanny fainted dead away and fell in to a fever. Upon discovery that Fanny was still *gasp* in a state of virginity, the lady schemes to sell her most precious jewel to the highest bidder, which she does. Blah blah blah, Fanny falls in love and runs away, her lover gets sent off by his father, and she’s heartbroken. She floats around for the rest of the book, mistress to this man, mistress to another, discovering the infinite variety and pleasure the act of love can bring. Eventually, she’s her own mistress and upon repairing to a house in the country, runs back into her love Charles, and they get married. Note that when the book ends, Fanny is 18 years old. EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD. ohmigod.

This book is, to my knowledge and understanding, one of the oldest, if not the original, erotic novel. And as such, has been banned over and over again. Obscenity laws must love this book. The number of different ways sex is described is magnificent. The number of ways John Cleland describes various body parts is breathtaking. I do stop to wonder- who was John Cleland and how did he reach these conclusions about what women like (or don’t like)? I don’t know, and I won’t try to speculate on his sex life, but I’m pretty sure it was active, to say the least.

It’s hard not to laugh while reading this. One, it is a legitimately funny book. Any book worth reading should be, in my mind, funny. At least once in a while. Two, as I said above, the number of metaphors and euphemisms written here are just beyond counting. I tried to find a list, but didn’t try very hard- the results aren’t shocking but I dare you to google “the number of ways sex is described in Fanny Hill” and try to come up with useful information. Most of them made me giggle, if not laugh loudly, generally in the middle of rush hour back to Queens.

For your reading pleasure, some of the more ridiculous bits. (and this is just a sampling. There are so, so many.)

I, struggling faintly, could not help feeling what I could not grasp, a column of the whitest ivory, beautifully streak’d with blue veins, and carrying, fully uncapt, a head of the liveliest vermillion: no horn could be harder or stiffer; yet no velvet more smooth or delicious to the touch.

Maybe this is what John Cleland thought women thought? Whatevs.

…as he introduc’d his plenipotentiary instrument into her…

Plen-i-po-ten-ti-ar-y. Adjective: invested with full power or authority, as a diplomatic agent; conferring or bestowing full power, as a commission; absolute or full, as power (via dictionary.com). Ok then.

In the mean time his machine, which was one of those sizes that slip in and out without being minded…

Harsh.

You probably get the picture by now. It should be a rather vivid one. At least, I thought it was pretty vivid. More vivid than today’s romance novels? Well, depends on who you ask. For what I read, hoo boy yeah. Compared to Fifty Shades? Well, maybe not so much. Better written to be sure; there may have been more sexytimes in Fifty Shades, but they were definitely more effective in Fanny Hill.

There were two things that stood out to me about Fanny Hill that showed how romance has NOT changed in three hundred years and it probably  never will. The description of female beauty was just as hackneyed and stereotypical and standardized as it is today. This is a personal issue I have that I will probably never get over. The second is marriage as happily-ever-after (HEA). I almost died when I realized that Fanny’s HEA was marrying her Charles. For the love of god, whyyyy does every romance novel end with marriage and a house and 2.5 kids and a dog? I thought this book would end with her taking charge of her destiny, running a half-way house for other 15 year old girls so they didn’t have to become whores or something but NO, she gets married. Augghhh. Frustrating to the max. How about an ending where the hero and the heroine just end up in the same city with steady jobs and a social schedule that allows them to go to free movies in the park during the work week? Is that asking too much? Because I really don’t think so.

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Ra(w)R: Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy

Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One, Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two, Fifty Shades Freed: Book Three by EL James (aka Erika Leonard)

Release date: May 25, 2011, September 13, 2011, and January 17, 2012

Publisher: Vintage

Allie stats:

Difficulty: Sometimes the writing was so awful that I had to take a couple of runs at it to get it. Also, the blushing slowed me down a little. But not by much.

Time to completion: all three books in a weekend

Rating:
This conversation:
Me: I don’t know how I’m going to rate these books.

Chelsey: On a scale from one to porn?

Review:

I had to read these because EVERYONE was talking about them and sometimes but not always I like to know what’s going on.

The books themselves (BEWARE this is sort of spoiler-y, but not really, but still..sort of): doofy, clutzy, not-at-all-chic college senior Anastasia has to fill in for her roommate, a journalist, and interviews Christian Grey, mega-bazillionaire hotty who apparently runs some really impressive company that does some really impressive stuff. She trips into his office (literally, I don’t mean the skipping along kind of trip. She falls on her face) and they have “a moment,” followed by an awkward interview, whereupon she again trips out of his office, and boogies home, glad its over with a little of the “what the heck that was weird ok whatever” feeling. She runs into him again a couple of times, and its clear there’s this weird mutual attraction thing, and then  stuff happens, and then he asks her to be his submissive. Boom. She has a little taste of what it would be like, and the weird thing is that although she’s not sure how she feels about BDSM, she’s very much into him. And while he’s normally really removed from his submissives (except for this crazy contract they have to sign about working out an hour every day and eating healthy and no snacks between meals except for fruit [AMC: deal’s off right there] and signing an NDA, which is my favorite part), he’s into her too, in a romantic way? Except for the part where he likes the uber-kinky during the sexytimes.

SO, Ana is busy trying to understand Christian (who is “fifty shades of fucked up,” and therefore, she’s trying to figure out her “fifty shades of Grey”- HA clever. No.), and in the meantime, shenanigans happen, like her job, her friends and family trying to understand what she’s doing and why she’s basically just disappeared, her trying to get her over-controlling boyfriend to back the freak down and calm down about her work (also, buying her extremely fancy and apparently super-safe cars because she might get in a crash). They might also break up at one point, where she is all depressed and doesn’t eat, but it only lasts for a week, huzzah!, instead of a whole book. Then her boss sexually harasses her and Christian goes all crazy with the protecting, and she gets more fancy stuff, and meets the family (“you’re so good for him! we’ve never seen him like this! keep doing it! we love you!”) and then they get married. Like, two or three months in. Then there’s more revenge and murder attempts and Ana may or may not try to sacrifice herself for the Steele family because she loves them SO MUCH and by doing so she will keep them safe. Then they live happily ever after with their kidses (oh, which I almost forgot, Christian didn’t want and it caused this big upset but now he’s ok with it. And they live in the house that he bought for her.).

The difference between Fifty Shades and Twilight would be the lack of sparkly vamps in the former and the lack of actual sex scenes in the latter. The writing is pretty crappy in both- in Fifty Shades we have the same catchphrases over and over again- just like Twilight (while hearing about her inner goddess the first time was clever, by the end of the book, the next time her goddess got ready to have sex I was going to to slap her). I can’t even tell you how many times I read the same thing over and over again, and it wasn’t because I was not hitting the next button, but just because I think EL James just ran out of programming and started to repeat herself.

Basically, it’s a pretty crappy book that has attracted the attention of the world and is running circles around everything else. It spreads like wildfire, and while I’m not exactly sure why, I have some theories.

One, it’s fun to read what everyone else is reading. Then you know what’s going on, you can actually converse about it (and boy is there stuff to talk about in this book), and you feel connected. We like connected.

Two, romance is a huge seller in general, and I doubt that it’s that uncommon for romance best-sellers to…well, be best sellers.

Three, Fifty Shades is a media-grabber because 1, it was originally fan fiction, 2, it was originally published as an e-book, THEN went to paperback, which isn’t usually how these things are done, and 3, it’s erotica, not romance. Yes, I said it. I will also say it is NOT “mommy-porn,” which is a phrase that really bothers me and I’d like to hurt the person who invented it. Ana is just out of college, completely naive about the world, falls for a 28 year old guy- on what planet was this written for women who have children alone? It was written for fans of Twilight. Who may or may not be mothers, college students, doctors, teachers, bus drivers, secretaries, IT geeks, whatever. I could really give a crap who reads this, except that I wouldn’t recommend it for the book club. Could be awkward.

So beside the crappy writing and the sometimes questionable sexual choices (note: the BDSM stuff is really only the first book. The second two are much, much more what Christian so fondly calls “vanilla,” and only ventures into unknown territory once in a great while. I am seriously frustrated with reviewers who say women who read this are seriously into S&M and it’s a reflection of the kinky things women want, without mentioning the second and third books. It’s about a woman falling for a dangerous man and her attempt to change him while not changing him and how that never works, unless he wants to change himself. OR she changes for him), what’s my problem with this book? Nothing really. It isn’t my cup of tea, but whatevs. Neither is Ayn Rand.

What I do have a serious problem with, is the backlash against this book, especially coming from librarians. There’s been a LOT of chatter over the last week or two about LIBRARIANS (DEFENDERS OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND PROTECTORS OF THE FAITH) pulling these books from shelves and refusing to buy it for their patrons! I’m fairly frothing at the mouth. Censorship is bad. Judging your patrons based on their checkout habits is bad. Refusing to buy popular fiction because you don’t like it/agree with it/someone complains about it is bad. What about the ALA Code of Ethics and Bill of Rights!

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

(from the ALA)

It says it right there. Books should be provided for the interest of the user (Fifty Shades certainly has interest. 1933 holds on 434 physical copies, 2203 holds on 144 e-book versions at the NYPL alone). Books shouldn’t be excluded based on the views of the authors. E.L. James thought Edward would be a freak in the sack and that Bella would go for it, and she wrote it down and is making bank. Librarians who are pulling this book are embarrassing me. Stop doing that, and go do something else, like program a writing seminar for your patrons. If there are any more fan fiction bestsellers, I’d like them to be better written.