John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748)

Memoirs of a woman of pleasure

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure: Pages from the suppressed first American edition were used to make marbled endpapers in other books, including this Schenandoa Cotton Co. account book, ca. 1818.

John Cleland's 18th-century erotic novel Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, more commonly known as Fanny Hill, has had a long history of controversy, beginning with its first printing in 1748 and continuing into the twentieth century. Soon after the book came out, Cleland and his publisher were arrested in 1749 and charged with "corrupting the King's subjects." In 1821, the book became the first subject of an obscenity trial in the United States. Although the book was officially banned for obscenity in England and the United States through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, pirated editions continued to be sold underground. In 1966, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case finally overturned the ban on publishing the book in America.

Why were pages from Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure used to bind other unrelated books printed in New England in the early 1800s? Examples of such books can be found in several library collections, including two books in the Clements Library: An essay on the life of George Washington (1807) and Manuscript account book listing transactions with the Schenandoa Cotton Co. (ca. 1818). Historians uncovered the answer to this mystery by tracing the pages to a particular printing shop in Boston, which had started to print the first American edition of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in the early 1800s. After the first 24 pages of the book had been printed, the clandestine edition was apparently caught and stopped. Later, the printed pages were marbled and sold to bind a variety of other books. Since paper was often in short supply at the time, it was not unusual for leftover sheets to be reused in this manner.

Clements Library copies of An Essay on the Life of George Washington and Manuscript account book listing transactions with the Schenandoa Cotton Co. [marbled endpapers made from Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure]