Fanny Hill auction: Banned book arouses 'strong interest'

Fanny Hill banned book auction Image copyright Hansons Auctioneers
Image caption Fanny Hill has attracted controversy since it was first published in 1748

A Victorian copy of an erotic novel once dubbed "the most famous banned book in the country" has sold for £360.

Book expert Jim Spencer happened upon the 19th Century edition of Fanny Hill as he rooted through a box of cigarette cards.

He said there was "strong interest" in the title, which was first published in 1748, leading up to the sale.

It was sold at Hansons Auctioneers in Etwall, Derbyshire, for nine times its original estimate of £40.

Memoirs of the Life of Fanny Hill, or, the Career of a Woman of Pleasure, follows the story of a young woman from Lancashire who moves to London and becomes a prostitute.

Its author John Cleland was summoned by the Privy Council following an outcry, and the book has frequently attracted controversy.

'Sturdy stallion'

Along with a copy of Fanny Hill dating to about 1880, Mr Spencer also found a newspaper cutting from the 1960s detailing how about 20,000 copies of the book had been seized by police.

He said that while once seen as "immoral and without literary merit", it is now recognised as "an important piece of political parody and sexual philosophy".

Image copyright Hansons Auctioneers
Image caption A copy of the book dating from the 19th Century was found by Jim Spencer while he was cataloguing a box of cigarette cards

"It stands as one of the great works of 18th Century fiction for its unique combination of parody, erotica and philosophy of sensuality," he said.

"Cleland boasted that he could write a sexually exciting story without using a single foul word.

"Instead he conjured up descriptions such as 'red-headed champion', 'the engine of love assaults', 'stiff staring truncheon' and 'sturdy stallion'."

Fanny Hill was bought by an unnamed UK bidder.

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