Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Miss Glory Pearl: Sexy Stories - Fiction that Turns Me On

In my first post for 2013, I am truly delighted that my friend and colleague Miss Glory Pearl has, as promised, written a guest post for my series Sexy Stories: fiction that turns me on.

Sit back and enjoy the eloquent words of Miss Glory Pearl. 

Like many teenagers, my introduction to sex in novels came courtesy of Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper. The latter I liked especially as most of her books also included horses, my great passion at the time, along with a generous sprinkling of explicit sex scenes. A trip to my local WH Smith during my Saturday job lunch hour revealed a discreet bottom shelf filled with Black Lace novels but their proximity to the Mills & Boon was rather off-putting - that and the stodgy prose that even my sixteen-year-old self could not stomach.

It was a number of years before I could truly say I discovered erotic fiction, that is fiction whose predominant purpose is to arouse, and it came in a surprising place. Whilst studying for my Master’s degree in Eighteenth-Century English Literature, I began a module on the ‘cult of sensibility’ as it has become known. This was a period in the late Eighteenth Century when feeling became very fashionable; displaying one’s sensitivity and crying, sighing and emoting at the drop of a hat allowed one to demonstrate one’s superiority over one’s fellow man in times when upward mobility and prosperity made it ever more difficult to tell who really was noble. The reading list included works by Sterne, Fielding and a chap called John Cleland. His novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, proved to be the most memorable on the list. Commonly known by the name of its heroine, Fanny Hill, Cleland’s tale is a true bildungsroman, following young Fanny’s progress from leaving her country home following the death of her parents to her eventual ‘coming of age’ and marriage.

Fanny travels to London to find work and like many pretty young girls straight off the stage coach, she is picked up by a bawd and offered a roof and employment. The bawd’s kindliness is, of course, false, as she is luring Fanny into a life of prostitution, intending to profit greatly from the sale of the young girl’s virginity.

Cleland’s tale is a common one for the time, drawing on Defoe’s Roxanne and Moll Flanders and on Hogarth’s very famous narrative engravings series, The Harlot’s Progress. Where it differs, however, is that Fanny, on the whole, enjoys everything she gets up to, which is described in explicit detail. She falls in love with a young nobleman, Charles, who rescues her from the brothel before her virginity is taken. They elope and make love and he then disappears, leaving poor Fanny with no choice but to make her living the only way a girl can.

Her range of sexual encounters is truly staggering, from rich man’s mistress to high-class hooker, to street girl, Fanny does it all and comes hard throughout. Not only is it a cracking novel with a plucky heroine, it’s also extremely rude. What most struck me when I first read it was the the way the sex itself was described. Pleasure really matters, and mutual pleasure more so. In all Fanny’s sexual encounters, the exchange of pleasure is key - holding back one’s own pleasure to bring your partner with you in turn heightens your pleasure and so you both benefit. The range of sexual practices described is dizzying as Fanny’s work brings her into contact with masochists, libertines and generously endowed servant boys. At the end of it all, she is re-united with her Charles, tells him of her adventures, he forgives her and they marry, an ending that is about as far from the lonely, pox-ridden premature death most prostitutes were reported to suffer as is possible.

This pre-Victorian sexual morality, where female pleasure is acknowledged, valued and seen as necessary to a ‘successful’ sexual encounter was a joy to read and deepened my love for this period in history. That Fanny overcomes every challenge life throws at her and has a lot of fun on the way is also refreshing. The novel is written in the first person and Cleland makes Fanny’s voice convincing and creates a very likeable character. Despite her amiability however, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure is one of the most notorious novels ever written, being banned and the subject of prosecution more times than any other work of prose fiction. It is also widely considered to be the first erotic novel written and is most definitely my favourite. If you haven’t read it, do so; it will warm your heart as much as your loins.

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  1. Another book I should have read and haven't. Off to buy it now! Thanks, you two!

  2. Hi Linda - thanks for stopping by - admit I haven't read the book but saw a film version of Fanny Hill and I am now rather curious. I have read both Justine and Juliette by the Marquis de Sade, and the morality is certainly interesting, although I never found either erotic.