What can we learn from erotica written before the American Revolution? Plenty!

I don’t remember now when or where I first heard of Fanny Hill, but I read it several years ago and knew I had come across a real treasure. Unlike many other eighteenth-century novels, unnecessarily wordy and snore-inducing classics (I’m talking about you, Tom Jones!), Fanny Hill is some serious, high-quality smut. Yes, friends, even in 1748 sex was selling!

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure tells the story of a sweet girl who falls into prostitution, and then (spoiler alert!) rises out of it once again, all while performing some shocking sexual exploits with perfumed and powdered gentlemen. Though it’s been a while since I read it, a particularly vivid group sex scene still comes to mind, not to mention charming historical details such as the way an overzealous lover throws a girl’s skirts over her head, so she can’t see who’s fucking her. Hot stuff, even in our overstimulated century. And, of course, like every good erotic romance, there’s a love story and a happy ending. If any of this has you even remotely curious, buy Fanny Hill and read it. You won’t regret it! (There are a ton of different versions; I just linked to the first two Amazon proposes. It’s definitely a public domain work by now! The author, John Cleland, is probably chortling in his grave to see his old-fashioned erotica shocking people 200+ years later.)

Why did I bother writing this? Well, when reading Fanny Hill – written by a male author, by the way – it got me thinking about how really important erotica is. It tells a lot about society, people’s dreams and fantasies, and their place in history. Actually, I would be very interested to take a history class taught through erotic art and writing. (Those Ancient Romans had some pretty raunchy parties, too!) In any case, Fanny Hill is our roots. As erotica writers and readers, it would serve us well to give it a read, think about where we come from as a genre, and consider where we want to take it next.


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