In John Cleland’s novel Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure written in 1749, a young prostitute is asked to cater to a twenty three year-old switch, Mr Barville, who pays her for some very um…specialised services.
The book is based on fact and is a reliable guide to attitudes, and some practice at least, in Britain then. Fanny was not herself kinky, but she was game enough to provide for a client who was. Her motive was to prove to her madam Mrs. Cole that she was a bold adventurous spirit.
bridle or spur?
Cleland saw S&M as something to stimulate a jaded appetite, and Fanny is surprised to find a taste for it in someone so young as Barville. She also observes with vanilla pride that she, ‘whose appetite wanted the bridle more than the spur’, doesn’t stand in need of such things.
This belief that flagellation was a stimulant to tired libidos, was quite widely held in the 18th century, although it’s clear from writers like De Sade that there were people then too who knew perfectly well it wasn’t.
Cleland tells us that S&M in his time was the subject of widespread ridicule, but also that wise madams like Mrs. Cole thought anything clients enjoyed was worth obliging – ‘providing it blew nobody any harm’.
The description of the encounter makes it explicit that Barville’s thrashing of Fanny rests on her consent. Before it begins he tells her she can withdraw from her agreement if that’s how she now feels. He also makes it clear she can stop the play at any time. What we regard as good modern practice, particularly for a first encounter, was being used two hundred and fifty years ago.
In the description, there are hints of a scenario, with Fanny dressed ‘like a victim led to sacrifice’ and some acting out, when Fanny ‘according to my cue, played at forcing him to lie down’.
She goes through with it; but feels resentful towards him after, which is only natural, particularly in a vanilla. She decides that she doesn’t want to repeat the experiment, but Fanny had proved to Mrs. Cole she was a bold adventurous spirit, her reason for undertaking the assignment in the first place.
Here’s the extract, parts of which I’ve ‘translated’ into more modern English, to make it easier to read.
Mrs. Cole told me that there was one Mr. Barville, who used her house, just come to town, whom she was unable to provide a suitable companion for. This difficulty was caused by his ardent desire, not only to be unmercifully whipped himself, but of whipping others.
Although he paid well, he could find few customers who had the courage to submit to his tastes out of fear for their own skin.
To tell the plain truth, it was a sudden whim for trying a new experiment, mixed with the vanity of proving my personal courage to Mrs. Cole, that made up my mind, at all risks, to suggest myself, and save her from having to look any further. Accordingly, I both pleased and surprised her, by offering myself to her friend’s disposal.
She tried to dissuade me, but I refused to listen to her arguments, and I was determined to fulfil this engagement. Accordingly the night was set, and I had all the necessary previous instructions how to act and conduct myself. The dining-room was duly prepared and lighted up, and the young gentleman posted there in waiting, for my introduction to him.
I was then brought in by Mrs. Cole, and presented to him, in a loose deshabille which was, according to Mrs Cole, suitable for the exercise I was to go through. All in the finest linen, it was an entirely white uniform: gown, petticoat, stockings, and satin slippers, like a victim led to sacrifice; whilst my dark auburn hair, falling in drop-curls over my neck, created a pleasing distinction of colour from the rest of my dress.
As soon as Mr. Barville saw me, he got up, with a visible air of pleasure and surprise, and saluting me, asked Mrs. Cole if it was possible that so fine and delicate a creature would voluntarily submit to the sufferings and rigours, that he required. She answered him and then, reading in his eyes that she could not too soon leave us together, she went out, after warning him to use moderation with so tender a novice.
But whilst she was talking, I had been examining the figure and person of this unhappy young gentleman, who was unaccountably condemned to have his pleasure lashed into him, as boys have their learning.
He was exceedingly fair and smooth complexioned, and appeared to me no more than twenty at most, though in fact he was three years older than I thought. My mistake was caused by his baby-faced appearance. His dress was extremely neat, but not showy, especially for such a rich man.
He stood up near the fire, whilst I went to fetch the instruments of discipline out of a closet close by. These were several rods, made of two or three strong twigs of birch tied together, which he took, handled, and viewed with as much pleasure as I did with a kind of shuddering dread.
Next we took from the side of the room a long broad bench, made easy to lie at length on by a soft cushion in a calico-cover; and everything being now ready, he took his coat and waistcoat off. At his motion and desire, I buttoned his breeches, and rolling up his shirt above his waist, tucked it in securely there.
Stooping then to untie his garters, he gave them me to use for tying him down to the legs of the bench; which I’m sure wasn’t necessary, but, it all added to the elaborate ceremonial of preparing himself for punishment which he enjoyed.
I led him then to the bench, and according to my cue, pretended to force him to lie down: which, after a little show of reluctance, for form’s sake, he submitted to. He was extended flat upon his belly, with a pillow under his face; and as he lay there tamely, his rear-end seemed to swell up to meet the scourge.
Seizing one of the rods, I stood over him, and according to his direction, gave him, in one breath, ten lashes with the utmost nerve and vigour that I could muster. He seemed no more concerned by them than a lobster would a flea-bite. In the meantime, I viewed intently the effects, which to me at least appeared surprisingly cruel.
I was however so moved at the piteous sight, that I felt sorry for him, and would willingly have stopped, thinking he had full enough. But, he encouraged and beseeched me to carry on. I gave him ten more lashes, and then, resting, surveyed the increase of bloody marks. At length, steeled to the sight by his stoutness in suffering, I continued the discipline, by intervals.
I had fairly worn out three bundles, when, after an increase of struggles and motion, and a deep sigh or two, I saw him lie still and motionless; and now he wanted me to stop, which I instantly did. I proceeded to untie him, and I was amazed at his passive fortitude.
My gentleman had now put on his clothes and recomposed himself, when, giving me a kiss, and placing me by him, he sat himself down as gingerly as possible, with one side off the cushion, which was too sore for him to bear resting any part of his weight on.
He thanked me for giving him such pleasure. On seeing that I looked rather apprehensive about being on the receiving end of similar treatment, he assured me that I could back out if I wished; and that if I allowed it, he would not be too severe. I felt less afraid thanks to his assurances, and wanted to prove myself capable of enduring such a trial.
Knowing that Mrs Cole was watching, and not wanting to let her down, I had become more concerned at not getting the opportunity to prove myself to her, than I was afraid for my delicate skin.
I said that I would comply with his wishes, but my courage was still more in my head than my heart. I just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.
He undid the strings of my petticoat, and together with my shift, lifted them to my navel, where he loosely tucked them up.
He viewed me from behind with great delight, and then laid me length ways along the bench. I held out my trembling hands for him to tie me, as I had done him, but he told me he didn’t want to scare me unnecessarily with such a confinement. Although he wanted to put me to the test, he wanted it to be entirely consensual, and he stressed that I was at full liberty to get up if I found the pain too much for me.
You cannot imagine how much being untied boosted my confidence and resolve, and I was determined to honour his gesture by not getting up, no matter how much it hurt.
All my back parts, naked half-way up, were now fully at his mercy. He stood at a convenient distance, and took hold of the rod. At first he toyed with me by tapping lightly on my tender trembling buttocks. It didn’t hurt at first, but by degrees, he began to tingle them with smarter lashes, so as to provoke a red colour into them. I knew, as well by the burning glow I felt there, as by his telling me, that they now looked like the native roses of my other cheeks.
When he had thus amused himself with admiring, and toying with them, he went on to strike harder, and more hard; so that I needed all my patience not to cry out, or complain at least.
At last, he twigged me so smartly that more than one blow drew blood. Now showing no mercy, the traitor cut me so that I was close to fainting when he finally stopped. And yet I did not utter one groan, or make any angry expostulation; but in my heart I resolved never to expose myself again to such severities.
You may guess what a curious pickle those soft fleshy cushions of mine were, all sore, raw, and terribly clawed off. They felt so painful that I pouted petulantly, and did not receive his compliments and after-caresses with good grace.
As soon as my clothes were huddled in a little decency, a supper was brought in by the discreet Mrs. Cole herself.
I sat down, still unhappy with my butcher, as I now could not help considering him, and I was annoyed at the smug satisfied look on his face, which I felt insulted by. But when the refreshment of a glass of wine, a little eating (all the time observing a profound silence) had somewhat cheered and restored me to spirits, and as the pain began to go away, my good humour returned accordingly. He noticed this and tried to encourage it further.
I was never tempted to meet him again, or resort to the violent expedient of lashing. He might have needed it, but my appetite wanted the bridle more than the spur.
Mrs. Cole, to whom this adventurous exploit had more and more endeared me, looked on me now as a girl after her own heart, afraid of nothing, and strong enough to take on any kind of job.
Fanny Hill was banned – and remained illegal for more than 200 years. Not that it disappeared from sight.
Far from it. For centuries it circulated in underground editions, a titillating open secret among the posh, literate classes. Even as late as 1961, a judge halted its publication in England.
Not until 1970 was Fanny free from restraint, and even since then it has had the taint (or attraction) of infamy.
But now a lavish BBC television adaptation of the novel hits the screens later this month. It is the work of screenwriter Andrew Davies – master of ripping bodices and breeches, who famously sexed up Jane Austen with his TV adaptation of Pride And Prejudice.
According to press reports, the “programme sticks closely to John Cleland’s tale of a country girl who finds sexual fulfilment through a life of debauchery and promiscuity.” And there is a “significant quota of heaving buttocks”.
There have been other film adaptations, but I’ve never seen the flagellation scene done well, or with anything like the erotic power of the description in the book. If included, an Andrew Davies-directed version could be well worth watching.
Fanny is played by 22-year-old unknown Rebecca Night, whose buttock-echoing cleavage has already caught the eye. (see pictures). And if the film does stick closely to the book then these lines especially could produce some memorable television:
He began to tingle them with smarter lashes, so as to provoke a red colour into them, which I knew, as well as by the flagrant glow I felt there, as by his telling me, they now emulated the native roses of my other cheeks.
Is this the origin of that favourite expression of spanking writers down the years: “rosy glow”?