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three pairs of lovers with space



Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, better known as Fanny Hill from the name of its narrator, was published in two volumes in London in 1748-49. The first English erotic novel and the only serious accomplishment of its author, the mostly unsuccessful writer John Cleland (1709-89), its publication history was a drama in its own right due to its being banned until court cases in the 1960s.

The content was mostly heterosexual, but included one section of Greek love interest presented here and composed of two scenes which combined to relieve the narrator of her innocence. First, a girl told Fanny of her attempted seduction by a man who acted in the belief she was a boy (since she was disguised as one), then, only months later, Fanny’s disbelief was dispelled by witnessing a youth pedicating a younger one.

Though the youths concerned were not far apart in age, everything else said about them and their encounter is suggestive of Greek love rather than androphilia. The elder, though only “toward nineteen”, was “a tall comely young man” possessed of “an engine that certainly deserv’d to be put to a better use” and took an entirely active role, while the younger, who “could not be above seventeen”, was “a sweet pretty stripling”, a “Ganymede” whose shaft was “middle-siz’d, and scarce fledg’d”, and played an entirely passive, albeit evidently willing, role.

The latter scene may be considered a realistic depiction of a pederastic encounter, both in terms of what happened and the outsider/narrator’s hostile attitude towards it, in so far as strong resemblances have been noted by many historians to the descriptions of such encounters in the court proceeding in trials for sodomy of the period.[1]


Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Title page of the 1st edition

Here Fanny is retelling a story told to her by a girl called Emily in the house of a Mrs. Cole:

Louisa and she went one night to a ball; the first in the habit of a shepherdess, Emily in that of a shepherd: I saw them in their dresses before they went, and nothing in nature could represent a prettier boy than this last did; being so extremely fair and well limb’d. They had kept together for some time, when Louisa meeting an old acquaintance of hers, very cordially gives her companion the drop, and leaves her under the protection of her boy’s habit, which was not much, and of her discretion which was, it seems, yet less. Emily finding herself deserted, saunter’d thoughtlesly about a while, and as much for coolness and air as any thing else, pulled off her mask, at length, and went to the side-board, where, eyed and mark’d out by a gentleman in a very handsome domino, she was accosted by, and fell into chat with, him. The domino, after a little discourse, in which Emily doubtless distinguish’d her good nature and easiness more than her wit, began to make violent love to her, and drawing her insensibly to some benches at the lower end of the masquerade-room, got her to sit by him, where he squeez’d her hands, pinch’d her cheeks, prais’d and play’d with her fair hair, admir’d her complexion, and all in a style of courtship dash’d with a certain oddity, that not comprehending the mystery of, poor Emily attributed to his falling in with the humour of her disguise, and being naturally not the cruellest of her profession, began to incline to a parley on essentials: but here was the stress of the joke: He took her really for what she appear’d to be, a smock-fac’d boy, and she forgetting her dress, and of course ranging quite wide of his ideas, took all those addresses to be paid to herself as a woman, which she precisely ow’d to his not thinking her one: however this double error was push’d to such a height on both sides, that Emily who saw nothing in him but a gentle man of distinction by those points of dress, to which his disguise did not extend, warm’d too by the wine he had ply’d her with, and the caresses he had lavish’d upon her, suffer’d herself to be perswaded to go to a bagnio with him; and thus loosing sight of Mrs. Cole’s cautions, with a blind confidence put herself into his hands, to be carried wherever he pleas’d: or his part equally blinded by his wishes, whilst her egregious simplicity favour’d his deception more than the most exquisite art could have done, he suppos’d, no doubt, that he had lighted on some soft simpleton fit for his purpose, or some kept minion broke to his hand, who understood him perfectly well, and enter’d into his designs; but be that as it would, he led her to a coach, went into it with her, and brought her into a very handsome apartment, with a bed in it, but whether it was a bagnio or not, she could not tell, having spoke to nobody but himself. But when they were alone together, and her enamorato began to proceed to those extremities which instantly discover the sex, she remark’d that no description could paint up to the life, the mixture of pique, confusion, and disappointment, that appear’d in his countenance, which join’d to the mournful exclamation, “By heavens a woman!” This at once open’d her eyes which had hitherto been shut in downright stupidity. However, as if he had meant to retrieve that escape, he still continu’d to toy with and fondle her, but with so staring an alteration from extreme warmth into a chill and forc’d civility, that even Emily herself could not but take notice of it, and now began to wish she had paid more regard to Mrs. Cole’s premonitions against ever engaging with a stranger: and now an excess of timidity succeeded to an excess of confidence, and she thought herself so much at his mercy and discretion, that she stood passive throughout the whole progress of his prelude: for now, whether the impressions of so great a beauty had even made him forgive her, her sex, or whether her appearance or figure in that dress still humour’d his first illusion, he recover’d by degrees a good part of his first warmth, and keeping Emily with her breeches still unbuttoned, stript them down to her knees, and gently impelling her to lean down, with her face against the bed-side, placed her so, that the double-way between the double rising behind, presented the choice fair to him, and he was so fairly set on a mis-direction, as to give the girl no small alarms for fear of loosing a maiden-head she had not dreamt of; however her complaints, and a resistance gentle, but firm, check’d, and brought him to himself again; so that turning his steed’s head, he drove him at length in the right road, in which his imagination having probably made the most of those resemblances that flatter’d his taste, he got with much ado whip and spur to his journey’s end: after which he led her out himself, and walking with her two or three streets length, got her a chair, when making her a present not any thing inferior to what she could have expected, he left her, well recommended to the chairmen, who on her directions, brought her home.

Polly Philips and the Young Italian: an illus-tration for Fanny Hill by E.-H. Avril, 1907

This she related to Mrs. Cole and me the same morning, not without the visible remains of the fear and confusion she had been in, still stamp’d on her countenance, Mrs. Cole’s remark was, that her indiscretion proceeding from a constitutional facility, there were little hopes of any thing curing her of it, but repeated severe experience. Mine was that I could not conceive how it was possible for mankind to run into a taste, not only universally odious, but absurd, and impossible to gratify, since, according to the notions and experience I had of things, it was not in nature to force such immense disproportions. Mrs. Cole only smill’d at my ignorance, and said nothing towards my undeception, which was not affected but by occular demonstration, some months after, which a most singular accident furnish’d me, and I will here set down, that I may not return again to so disagreable a subject.

I had, on a visit intended to Harriet, who had taken lodgings at Hampton-Court, hired a chariot to go out thither, Mrs. Cole having promis’d to accompany me: but some indispensable business intervening to detain her, I was obliged to set out alone; and scarce had I got a third of my way, before the axle-tree broke down, and I was well off, to get out safe and unhurt, into a publick-house, of a tolerably handsome appearance, on the road. Here the people told me that the stage would come by in a couple of hours at farthest, upon which, determining to wait for it, sooner than loose the jaunt I had got so far forward on, I was carried into a very clean decent room up one pair of stairs, which I took possession of for the time I had to stay, in right of calling for sufficient to do the house justice.

Here, whilst I was amusing myself with looking out of the window, a single horse-chaise stopt at the door, out of which lightly leap’d two young gentlemen, for so they seem’d, who came in as it were only to bait and refresh a little, for they gave their horse to be held a readiness against they came out;: and presently I heard the door of the next room to me open, where they were let in and call’d about them briskly, and as soon as they were serv’d, I could just hear that they shut and fasten’d the door on the inside.

A spirit of curiosity far from sudden, since I do not know when I was without it, prompted me, without any particular suspicion, or other drift, or view, to see what they were, and examine their persons and behaviour. The partition of our rooms was one of those moveable ones that when taken down, serv’d occasionally to lay them into one, for the conveniency of a large company; and now my nicest search could not shew me the shadow of a peep-hole, a circumstance which probably had not escap’d the review of the parties on the other side, whom much it stood upon not to be deceiv’d in it; but at length I observ’d a paper-patch of the same colour as the wainscot, which I took to conceal some flaw, but then it was so high, that I was oblig’d to stand on a chair to reach it, which I did as softly as possible, and, with the point of a bodkin soon pierc’d it, and open’d myself espial-room sufficient: and now applying my eye close, I commanded the room perfectly, and could see my two young sparks romping, and pulling one another about, entirely, to my imagination, in frolic, and innocent play.

by Pierre Joubert

The eldest might be, on my nearest guess, towards nineteen, a tall comely young man, in a white fustian frock, with a green velvet cape, and cut bob-wig.

The youngest could not be above seventeen, fair, ruddy, compleatly well made, and to say the truth, a sweet pretty stripling: He was, I fancy too, a country lad, by his dress, which was a green plush frock, and breeches of the same, white waistcoat and stockings, a jockey cap, with his yellowish hair long, and loose in natural curls.

But after a look of circumspection which I saw the eldest cast every way round the room, probably in too much hurry and heat not to overlook the very small opening I was posted at, especially at the height it was, whilst my eye close to it, kept the light from shining through, and betraying it; he said something to his companion that presently chang’d the face of things.

For now the elder began to embrace, to press, to kiss the younger, to put his hands in his bosom, and give such manifest signs of an amorous intention, as made me conclude the other to be a girl in disguise, a mistake that nature kept me in countenance in, for she had certainly made one, when she gave him the male stamp.

In the rashness then of their age, and bent as they were to accomplish their project of preposterous pleasure, at the risque of the very worst of consequences, where a discovery was nothing less than improbable, they now proceeded to such lengths as soon satisfied me, what they were.

For presently the eldest unbutton’d the other’s breeches, and removing the linnen barrier, brought out to view a white shaft, middle-siz’d, and scarce fledg’d, when after handling, and playing with it a little, with other dalliance, all receiv’d by the boy without other opposition, than certain wayward coynesses, ten times more alluring than repulsive, he got him to turn round with his face from him, to a chair that stood hard by, when knowing, I suppose, his office, the Ganymede now obsequiously lean’d his head against the back of it, and projecting his body, made a fair mark, still cover’d with his shirt, as he thus stood in a side-view to meet but fronting his companion, who presently unmasking his battery, produc’d an engine that certainly deserv’d to be put to a better use, and very fit to confirm me in my disbelief of the possibility of things being push’d to odious extremities, which I had built on the disproportion of parts; but this disbelief I was now cur’d of, as by my consent all young men should likewise be, that their innocence may not be betray’d into such snares, for want of knowing the extent of their danger, for nothing is more certain than, that ignorance of a vice, is by no means a guard against it.

Slipping then aside the young lad’s shirt, and tucking it up under his cloaths behind, he shew’d to the open air, those globular, fleshy eminences that compose the mount-pleasants of Rome, and which now, with all the narrow vale that intersects them, stood display’d, and expos’d to his attack: nor could I, without a shudder, behold the dispositions he made for it. First then, moistening well with spittle his instrument, obviously to render it glib, he pointed, he introduc’d it, as I could plainly discern, not only from its direction, and my losing sight of it; but by the writhing, twisting, and soft murmur’d complaints of the young sufferer; but, at length, the first streights of entrance being pretty well got through, every thing seem’d to move, and go pretty currently on, as in a carpet-road, without much rub, or resistance: and now passing one hand round his minion’s hips, he got hold of his red-topt ivory toy, that stood perfectly stiff, and shewed, that if he was like his mother behind, he was like his father before; this he diverted himself with, whilst with the other, he wanton’d with his hair, and leaning forward over his back, drew his face, from which the boy shook the loose curls that fell over it, in the posture he stood him in, and brought him towards his, so as to receive a long-breath’d kiss, after which, renewing his driving, and thus continuing to harass his rear, the height of the fit came on with its usual symptoms, and dismiss’d the action.

Louisa and the Lodger's Son: an illustration for Fanny Hill by E.-H. Avril, 1907

All this, so criminal a scene, I had the patience to see to an end, purely that I might gather more facts, and certainty against them in my full design to do their deserts instant justice, and accordingly, when they had re-adjusted themselves, and were preparing to go out, burning as I was with rage, and indignation, I jump’d down from my chair, in order to raise the house upon them, with such an unlucky impetuosity, that some nail or ruggedness in the floor caught my foot, and flung me on my face with such violence, that I fell senseless on the ground, and must have lain there some time e’er any one came to my relief, so that they, alarm’d, I suppose, by the noise of my fall, had more than the necessary time to make a safe retreat, which they affected, as I learnt, with a precipitation no body could account for, till, when come to my self, and compos’d enough to speak, I acquainted those of the house with the transaction I had been evidence to.

When I came home again, and told Mrs. Cole this adventure, she very sensibly observ’d to me, that there was no doubt of due vengeance one time or other overtaking these miscreants, however they might escape for the present; and that, had I been the temporal instrument of it, I should have been. at least, put to a great deal more trouble and confusion than I imagine: that as to the thing itself, the less said of it was the better; but that though she might be suspected of partiality, from its being the common cause of woman-kind, out of whose mouths this practice tended to take something more than bread, yet she protested against any mixture of passion, with a declaration extorted from her by pure regard to truth, which was,

that whatever effect this infamous passion had in other ages, and other countries, it seem’d a peculiar blessing on our air and climate, that there was a plague-spot visibly imprinted on all that are tainted with it, in this nation at least; for that among numbers of that stamp whom she had known, or at least were universally under the scandalous suspicion of it, she could not name an exception hardly of one of them, whose character was not in all other respects the most worthless and despicable that could be; stript of all the manly virtues of their own sex, and fill’d up with only the very worst vices and follies of ours: that, in fine, they were scarce less execrable than ridiculous in their monstrous inconsistency, of loathing and contemning women, and at the same time apeing their manners, airs, lisp, skuttle, and, in general, all their little modes of affectation, which become them at least better, than they do these unsex’d, male-misses.”

But here, washing my hands of them, I replunge into the stream of my history, […]. [Volume II, pp. 167-182].


[1] See especially Fanny Hill in Bombay: The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland by Hal Gladfelder (Baltimore, 2002).




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