The First Dirty Book in English
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
Over at the Boston Globe, Ruth Graham recognizes Fanny Hill’s often overlooked place in the fight against literary censorship. The 1749 novel is commonly regarded as the first filthy text in English (it includes a rare pre-1900 sodomy scene and nods to “flesh brush” and “store bag of nature’s prime sweets”), and it never enjoyed a charmed existence — its first two centuries of publication were marked by censorship and even imprisonment for its author John Cleland.
But when a Cambridge, MA teenager bought a copy of Fanny Hill soon after its first domestic commercial printing in 1963, the purchase set off a censorious movement to ban the book for good, with opponents eventually facing off at the Supreme Court. (We won’t spoil the end of the story for you, but, I mean…)
–Jake Zucker is the Editorial Assistant for Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and wears sunglasses on the net.