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John Cleland

John Cleland John Cleland[2†]

John Cleland (1709—1789) was an English novelist, best known for his work "Fanny Hill; or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure"[1†][2†]. After serving as a consul at Smyrna and later as an agent of the British East India Company in Bombay, Cleland became a penniless wanderer who drifted from place to place[1†]. In such reduced circumstances, he wrote “Fanny Hill” (1748–49) for a fee of 20 guineas[1†]. This novel has enjoyed enormous popularity for more than two centuries as a classic of erotic literature[1†]. Despite its notoriety and repeated suppression, it has been kept in print surreptitiously[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

John Cleland was born in 1709[1†]. The details about his early life and education are not well-documented, and therefore, much of this information remains unknown. However, it is known that after his early years, Cleland served as a consul at Smyrna and later as an agent of the British East India Company in Bombay[1†]. These roles likely provided him with a wealth of experiences and insights that would later influence his writing.

Career Development and Achievements

John Cleland had a varied and interesting career. He initially served as a consul at Smyrna, a role that likely exposed him to a variety of cultures and experiences. Following this, he worked as an agent of the British East India Company in Bombay, a position that would have required a great deal of responsibility and expertise.[2†][1†]

However, Cleland’s career took a dramatic turn when he became a penniless wanderer. This period of his life saw him drifting from place to place, a stark contrast to his previous roles.[2†][1†]

Despite these challenges, Cleland managed to write “Fanny Hill” (1748–49) for a fee of 20 guineas. This novel, which has enjoyed enormous popularity for more than two centuries as a classic of erotic literature, marked a significant achievement in his career.[2†][1†]

Following the publication of “Fanny Hill”, Cleland was granted a yearly pension of £100 by Lord Granville. This marked another turning point in his career, as he then became a journalist, playwright, and amateur philologist.[2†][1†]

Throughout his career, Cleland demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt and reinvent himself. Despite the controversies and challenges he faced, he left a lasting impact through his work.[2†][1†]

First Publication of His Main Works

John Cleland’s most notable work is “Fanny Hill; or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure”. This novel was first published in two installments, in the years 1748 and 1749. The book was written for a fee of 20 guineas, a significant sum at the time.[2†][1†]

“Fanny Hill” is considered a classic of erotic literature and has enjoyed enormous popularity for more than two centuries. Despite its notoriety and the controversy it stirred at the time of its publication, it has remained a significant part of Cleland’s literary legacy.[2†][1†]

Here is a brief summary of the novel:

It’s important to note that while “Fanny Hill” is Cleland’s most well-known work, he also had a varied career as a journalist, playwright, and amateur philologist after the publication of the novel.

Analysis and Evaluation

John Cleland’s “Fanny Hill; or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” is considered a landmark in the history of English literature. Written while the author was in debtor’s prison in London, it is recognized as "the first original English prose pornography, and the first pornography to use the form of the novel"[3†]. The novel is one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history[3†].

“Fanny Hill” is a response to more conventional conduct novels, in which exposure to vice or sexuality is used as a means to entice readers while maintaining an overarching sense of morality[3†][4†]. The novel explores themes of The Critique of Societal Hypocrisy Regarding Sexuality, Women’s Economic Dependence on Men, and The Tension Between Desire and Morality[3†][4†].

Despite its notoriety, Cleland was not sentenced for its publication[3†]. Instead, he was granted a yearly pension of £100 by Lord Granville, who believed Cleland could put his talents to better use[3†]. Thereafter, Cleland became a journalist, playwright, and amateur philologist[3†].

Personal Life

John Cleland, born in 1709[5†], led a life as intriguing as his novels. After serving as a consul at Smyrna and later as an agent of the British East India Company in Bombay, Cleland became a penniless wanderer who drifted from place to place[5†][2†][1†]. He was apparently confined several times in English debtors’ prisons[5†][1†]. In such reduced circumstances, he wrote “Fanny Hill” (1748–49) for a fee of 20 guineas[5†][2†][1†].

Cleland was known to be a “sly, old malcontent” according to James Boswell[5†][2†]. He publicly denounced his mother before her death in 1763 for not supporting him[5†][2†]. Additionally, he exhibited a religious tendency toward Deism that branded him as a heretic[5†][2†]. Later, he would be visited by Boswell again and discovered living alone, shunned by all, with an “ancient and ugly woman” as his sole servant[5†][2†].

From 1782 until his death on 23 January 1789, Cleland lived in Petty France, Westminster, near his childhood home in St James’s Place[5†][2†]. He died unmarried and was buried in St Margaret’s churchyard in London[5†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

John Cleland’s legacy is largely defined by his notorious novel, “Fanny Hill; or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure”. Despite its initial suppression, the novel continued to sell well in pirated editions[2†]. The novel’s eroticism led to Cleland’s arrest[2†], but it has enjoyed enormous popularity for more than two centuries as a classic of erotic literature[1†].

Cleland’s life was marked by financial struggles and controversy. Despite his literary works, none provided him with a comfortable living, and he was typically bitter about this[2†]. He publicly denounced his mother before her death in 1763 for not supporting him[2†]. Additionally, he exhibited a religious tendency toward Deism that branded him as a heretic[2†].

From 1782 until his death on 23 January 1789, Cleland lived in Petty France, Westminster, near his childhood home in St James’s Place[2†]. He died unmarried and was buried in St Margaret’s churchyard in London[2†].

Cleland’s work, particularly “Fanny Hill”, continues to be studied and analyzed for its literary merit and its place in the history of eerotic literature[2†][1†]. Despite the controversy and challenges he faced during his lifetime, Cleland’s impact on literature, particularly in the genre of erotic novels, remains significant[1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - John Cleland: British author [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - John Cleland [website] - link
  3. Wikipedia (English) - Fanny Hill [website] - link
  4. SuperSummary - Fanny Hill Summary [website] - link
  5. CelebsAges - John Cleland [website] - link
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