John Cleland

British writer (1709-1789)

John Cleland (1709 – January 23 1789) was an English writer; he is best remembered as the author of the erotic novel Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, sometimes published under the title Fanny Hill.


  • I wrote it [Fanny Hill: or, the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure] to prove that one could write so freely about a woman of the town without resorting to the the coarseness the School of Venus [L'Ecole des Filles], which had quite plain words. My printer and publisher certainly were deceived by my avoiding those rank words in the work, which are all that they judge obscenity by.
    • As recounted to James Boswell (13 April 1779) in Boswell, Laird of Auchinleck.
  • I now wonder that my book could so long, escape the Vigilance of the Guardians of the Public Manners since nothing is truer than that more Clergymen bought it in proportion than any other distinction of men…. The Bishops can take no step to punishing the author that will not powerfully contribute to the notoriety of the book....
    a Book I disdain to defend, and wish, from my Soul, buried and forgot.

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure


Quotations are cited from Peter Wagner (ed.) Fanny Hill; or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985).

  • Truth! stark naked truth, is the word, and I will not so much as take the pains to bestow the strip of a gauze-wrapper on it.
    • p. 39
  • All my foundation in virtue was no other than a total ignorance of vice.
    • p. 40
  • I imagined, indeed, that you would have been cloyed and tired with the uniformity of adventures and expressions, inseparable from a subject of this sort, whose bottom or groundwork being, in the nature of things, eternally one and the same, whatever variety of forms and modes the situations are susceptible of, there is no escaping a repetition of near the same images, the same figures, the same expressions.
    • p. 129
  • I feeling pretty sensibly that it was not going by the right door and knocking desperately at the wrong one, I told him of it: "Pooh," says he "my dear, any port in a storm."
    • p. 178

Quotes about Cleland

  • Your Grace ordered a prosecution against the Printer and publisher of The Memoires of a Lady of Pleasure, the same Bookseller, on Griffiths (as I apprehend) has published within a few Days a book called Memoires of Fanny Hill, the Lewdest thing I ever saw....
    I beg of your Grace to give proper orders to stop the progress of this vile Book which is an open insult upon Religion and good manners, and a reproach to the Honour of the Government and the Law of the Country.
  • Cleland, curious figure. Thought how ’twould have struck you some years ago…
    • James Boswell's diary (14 October 1769).
  • that most licentious and inflaming book
    • James Boswell (31 March 1772).
  • Found him in an old house in the Savoy, just by the waterside. A coarse, ugly old man for his servant. His room, filled with books in confusion and dust was like Dupont’s and old Lady Eglinton’s, at least old ideas were suggested to me as if I were in a castle. He was drinking tea and eating biscuits. I joined him. He had a rough cap like Rousseau, and his eyes were black and piercing....
    He had resolutely persisted. There was something genteel in his manner amidst this oddity.
    • James Boswell (13 April 1779).
  • ... [he] went as consul to Smyrna, where, perhaps, he first imbibed those loose principles which, in a subsequent publication, too infamous to be particularised, tarnished his reputation as an author….
    In this situation [debtors’ prison], one of the booksellers who disgrace the profession, offered him a temporary relief for writing the work above alluded to, which brought a stigma on his name, which time has not obliterated, and which will be consigned to his memory whilst its poisonous contents are in circulation….
    In conversation he was very pleasant and anecdotal, understanding most of the living languages, and speaking them all very fluently. As a writer, he shewed himself best in novels, song-writing, and the lighter species of authorship; but when he touched politics, he touched it like a torpedo, he was cold, benumbing, and soporific.
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