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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. 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.
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John Cleland (baptised 24 September 1709 – 23 January 1789) was an English novelist best known as the author of Fanny Hill: or, the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. John Cleland was the oldest son of William Cleland (1673/4 – 1741) and Lucy Cleland (née DuPass). He was born in Kingston upon Thames in Surrey but grew up in London, where his father was first an officer in the British Army and then a civil servant. William Cleland was a friend to Alexander Pope, and Lucy Cleland was a friend or acquaintance of Pope, Viscount Bolingbroke, Chesterfield, and Horace Walpole. The family possessed wealth and moved among the finest literary and artistic circles of London. John Cleland entered Westminster School in 1721, but he left or was expelled in 1723. His departure was not for financial reasons, but whatever misbehaviour or allegation had led to his departure is unknown. Historian J. H. Plumb speculates that Cleland's puckish and quarrelsome nature was to blame, but, whatever caused Cleland to leave, he entered the British East India Company after leaving school. He began as a soldier and worked his way up into the civil service of the company and lived in Bombay from 1728 to 1740. He returned to London when recalled by his father, who was dying. Upon William's death, the estate went to Lucy for administration. She, in turn, did not choose to support John. Meanwhile, Cleland's two brothers had finished their education at Westminster and gone on to support themselves.
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