‘Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure’ Gets New Stage Adaptation as The Life and Times of Fanny Hill

t10_racy_womanHang on to your petticoats ladies, this new adaptation by April de Angelis charts Fanny Hill’s fall into prostitution and rise to notoriety.   Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (popularly known as Fanny Hill) is an erotic by English novelist John Cleland first published in London in 1748. Written while the author was in debtors prison in London, it is considered “the first original English prose, pornography, and the first pornography to use the form of the novel”. One of the most prosecuted and banned books in history, it has become a synonym for obscenity.

The novel was published in two installments, on November 21, 1748 and February 1749, respectively, by “G. Fenton”, actually Fenton Griffiths and his brother Ralph. Initially, there was no governmental reaction to the novel, and it was only in November 1749, a year after the first instalment was published, that Cleland and Ralph Griffiths were arrested and charged with “corrupting the King’s subjects.” In court, Cleland renounced the novel and it was officially withdrawn. The novel eventually found it’s way to the US in 1821,and in the first known obsenity case in the United States, a Massachusetts court outlawed Fanny Hill.

The book is written as a series of letters from Frances “Fanny” Hill to an unknown woman, with Fanny justifying her life-choices to this individual. At the beginning of her tale, Fanny Hill is a young girl with a rudimentary education living in a small village near Liverpool. Shortly after she turns 15, both her parents die. Esther Davis, a girl from Fanny’s village who has since moved to London, convinces Fanny to move to the city as well, but Esther abandons Fanny once they arrive. Fanny hopes to find work as a maid, and is hired by Mrs. Brown, a woman she believes to be a wealthy lady. Mrs. Brown is in fact a madam (pimp) and intends the innocent Fanny to work for her as a prostitute. Mrs. Brown’s associate, Phoebe Ayers, shares a bed with Fanny and introduces her to sexual pleasure while establishing that her hymen is intact. Mrs. Brown plans to sell Fanny’s virginity to an ugly old man, but Fanny is repulsed by the man and struggles with him. She is saved from rape by Mrs. Brown’s maid. After this ordeal, Fanny falls into a fever for several days. Mrs. Brown, realizing that Fanny’s virginity is still intact, decides to sell Fanny’s sexual favors to the exceedingly rich Lord B., who is due to arrive in a few weeks.

About the new adaptation

Based on John Cleland’s (in)famous novel, which was published in 1748 but banned from sale soon afterwards, this adaptation by April de Angelis (current National Theatre Writer in Residence) charts Fanny Hill’s fall into prostitution and rise to notoriety.

More socially and politically relevant now than ever before, The Life and Times of Fanny Hill is a darkly comic exploration of fulfilment and pleasure, offering a witty, irreverent perspective on the reality behind Fanny Hill’s story.

Directed by Michael Oakley (Chichester Festival Theatre) and with original music composed by Pete Flood from award winning folk ensemble Bellowhead, the production features a cast of six: Caroline Quentin (Jonathan Creek, Men Behaving Badly), Phoebe Thomas (Holby City), Gwyneth Keyworth (Misfits), Rosalind Steele, Nick Barber and Mawgan Gyles.

This new adaaptation will play at Bristol Old Vic from February 5th to March 7th.

For tickets and more information go to Bristol Old Vic

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