Fanny Hill's Experience of Spanking

Introduction by Caspian

Sado-Masochism is as old as human nature but John Cleland [1] gives us an account of it as it was regarded and provided for in England two hundred and fifty years ago. This is decades before the Marquis de Sade [2] and more than a century before Sacher-Masoch [3], the writers whose names were appropriated by Krafft-Ebing [4] when he pathologised the phenomenon.

Cleland was a novelist and Fanny Hill is a work of fiction. But it is based on fact and is a reliable guide to attitudes and some practice at least in Britain then. While it reveals confusion and ignorance about SM - what's changed? - it is much nearer contemporary informed beliefs than those of the Krafft-Ebing era, 1880-2001 [5], the time when SM was called a 'perversion' and considered by medical specialists to be a mental illness or deficiency.

Fanny was a 'Woman of Pleasure' - a prostitute - and not herself bent. But she was game enough to provide for a client, Mr. Barville, who was. He was a twenty-three year old switch who paid for and got what he wanted from Fanny. His bent is called 'a cruel taste', an 'ardent desire' a 'humour' and a 'strange fancy'. Terminology was a challenge then but with us calling it a 'kink', or a 'bent', things haven't progressed very far. Significantly Cleland's language reveals that, like us, he didn't think SM was pathological.

It seems he did think that usually it was something to stimulate a jaded appetite and Fanny is surprised to find 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, there were people then too who knew perfectly well it wasn't. Of course the divine Marquis was bent.

Cleland records that SM in his time was the subject of widespread ridicule but also that wise people like Mrs. Cole thought any 'wing' which wafted someone to the universal port of pleasure 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. But it is fairly obvious common sense.

There seems to have been some suggestion of a scenario with Fanny dressed 'like a victim led to sacrifice' and some acting out, when Fanny 'according to my cue, play'd at forcing him to lie down'. She went through with it - successfully for him, felt resentful towards him after, which is only natural, particularly in a vanilla. She decided she didn't want to repeat the experiment but obviously, from Barville's angle, it had worked. Fanny had proved to Mrs. Cole she was a bold adventurous spirit, her reason for undertaking the assignment.

  • [1] John Cleland, 1709-89.

  • [2] Donatien Alphonse Francois, Comte de Sade, 1740-1814. The 'Divine Marquis'.

  • [3] Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, 1835-95.

  • [4] Richard von Krafft-Ebing, 1840-1902. The German physician and psychologist who established the relationship between syphilis and general paralysis and 'pioneered the systematic study of aberrant sexual behaviour'. (Pearsall, (ed), 1998, p.1020.)

  • [5] Krafft-Ebing published his Psychopathia Sexualis naming and pathologising sado-masochism in 1880. In 2001 the American Psychiatrists' association removed sado-masochism from its list of 'paraphilias' the updated term for 'perversion'. 

From John Cleland's novel 'Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure', first published 1749, re-published as a Mayflower-Dell paperback, London, 1963, 2nd revised edition, 1964, pp. 181-190.

Fanny's rich lover has suddenly died. Having lost her status as a kept mistress she returns to the house of Mrs. Cole, a madam...

"Mrs. Cole, still continuing her friendship, offered me her assistance and advice towards another choice, but I was now in ease and affluence enough to look about me at leisure, and as to any constitutional calls of pleasure, their pressure or sensibility, was greatly lessen'd by a consciousness of the ease with which they were to be satisfy'd at Mrs. Cole's house, where Louisa and Emily still continu'd in the old way, and my great favourite Harriet used often to come and see me, and entertain me, with her head and heart full of the happiness she enjoy'd with her dear baronet, whom she loved with tenderness and constancy, even though he was her keeper, and what is yet more, had made her independent, by a handsome provision for her and hers. I was then in this vacancy from any regular employ of my person, in my way of business, when one day, Mrs. Cole, in the course of the constant confidence we lived in, acquainted me that there was one Mr. Barville, who used her house, just come to town, whom she was not a little perplex'd about providing a suitable companion for, which was indeed a point of difficulty, as he was under the tyranny of a cruel taste, that or an ardent desire, not only of being unmercifully whipp'd himself, but of whipping others, in such sort, that tho' he paid extravagantly those who had the courage and complaisance to submit to his humour, there were few, delicate as he was in his choice of subjects, who would exchange turns with him so terrible at the expense of their skin. But what yet increased the oddity of this strange fancy was the gentleman being young, whereas it generally attacks, it seems, such as are, through age, obliged to have recourse to this experiment, for quickening the circulation of their sluggish juices, and determining a connflux of the spirits of pleasure towards those flagging, shrivelly parts, that rise to life only by virtue of those titillating ardours created by the discipline of their opposites, with which they have so surprising a consent.

This Mrs. Cole could not well acquaint me with, in any expectation of my offering my service: for, sufficiently easy as I was in my circumstances, it must have been the temptation of an immense interest indeed that could have induced me to embrace such a job, neither had I ever express'd, nor indeed felt, the least impulse or curiosity to know more of a taste, that promis'd so much more pain than pleasure to those that stood in no need of such violent goads: what then should move me to subscribe myself voluntarily to a party of pain, fore-knowing it such? Why, to tell the plain truth, it was a sudden caprice, a gust of fancy for trying a new experiment, mix'd with the vanity of approving my personal courage to Mrs. Cole, that determined me, at all risks, to propose myself to her and relieve her from any further lookout. Accordingly, I at once pleas'd and surpris'd her, with a frank and unreserved render of my person to her and her friend's absolute disposal on this occasion.

My good temporal mother was, however, so kind as to use all the arguments she could imagine to dissuade me: but, as I found they only turn'd on a motive of tenderness to me, I persisted in my resolution, and thereby acquitted my offer of any suspicion of its not having been sincerely made, or out of compliment only. Acquiescing then thankfully in it, Mrs. Cole assur'd me that, hating the pain I should be put to, she had no scruples to engage me to this party, which she assur'd me I should be liberally paid for, and which the secrecy of the transaction preserved safe from the ridicule that otherwise vulgarly attended it, that for her part, she considered pleasure, of one sort or other, as the universal port of destination, and every wing that blew thither a good one, providing it blew nobody any harm, that she rather compassionated, than blam'd those unhappy persons, who are under a subjection they cannot shake off, to those arbitrary tastes that rule their appetites of pleasures with an unaccountable control, tastes too, as infinitely diversify'd, as superior to, and independent of all reasoning as the different relishes or palates of mankind in their viands, some delicate stomachs nauseating plain meats, and finding no savour but in high-seasoned, luxurious dishes, whilst others again pique themselves upon detesting them.

I stood now in no need of this preamble of encouragement, or justification: my word was given, and I was determin'd to fulfil my engagements. 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, by Mrs. Cole, brought in, and presented to him, in a loose deshabille fitted, by her direction, to the exercise I was to go through, all in the finest linen and a thorough 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 such sufferings and rigours, as were the subject of his assignation. She answer'd him properly, and now, reading in his eyes that she could not too soon leave us together, she went out, after recommending to him to use moderation with so tender a novice.

But whilst she was employing his attention, mine had been taken up with examining the figure and person of this unhappy young gentleman, who was thus unaccountably condemn'd to have his pleasure lashed into him, as boys have their learning.

He was exceedingly fair and smooth complexion'd, and appeared to me no more than twenty at most, tho' he was three years older than what my conjectures gave him, but then he ow'd this favourable mistake to a habit of fatness, which spread through a short, squat stature, and a round, plump, fresh coloured face gave him greatly the look of a Bacchus, had not an air of austerity, not to say sternness, very unsuitable even to his shape of face, dash'd that character of joy, necessary to complete the resemblance. His dress was extremely neat, but plain, and far inferior to the ample fortune he was in full possession of, this too was a taste in him, and not avarice.

As soon as Mrs. Cole was gone, he seated me near him, when now his face turned upon me, into an expression of the most pleasing sweetness and good humour, the more remarkable for its sudden shift from the other extreme, which, I found afterwards, when I knew more of his character, was owing to a habitual state of conflict with and dislike of himself for being enslaved to so peculiar a taste, by the fatality of a constitutional ascendant, that render'd him incapable of receiving any pleasure till he submitted to these extraordinary means of procuring it at the hands of pain, whilst the constancy of this repining consciousness stamp'd at length that cast of sourness and severity on his features: which was, in fact, very foreign to the natural sweetness of his temper.

After a competent preparation by apologies, and encouragement to go through my part with spirit and constancy, he stood up near the fire, whilst I went to fetch the instruments of discipline out of a closet hard by: these were several rods, made each of two or three strong twigs of birch tied together, which he took, handled, and view'd with as much pleasure as I did with a kind of shuddering presage.

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, and at his motion and desire, I unbutton'd his breeches, and rolling up his shirt rather above his waist, tuck'd it in securely there.

Stooping then to untie his garters, he gave them me for the use of tying him down to the legs of the bench, a circumstance no further necessary than, as I suppose, it made part of the humour of the thing, since he prescribed it to himself, amongst the rest of the ceremonial.

I led him then to the bench, and according to my cue, play'd at forcing him to lie down: which, after some little show of reluctance, for form's sake, he submitted to, he was straightway extended flat upon his belly, on the bench, with a pillow under his face, and as he thus tamely lay, in all the fairest, broadest display of that part of the backview, presented a bold mark, that swell'd as it were, to meet the scourge.

Seizing now one of the rods, I stood over him, and according to his direction, gave him, in one breath, ten lashes with much good-will and the utmost nerve and vigour of arm that I could put to them, but he himself seem'd no more concern'd or to mind them, than a lobster would a flea-bite. In the meantime, I viewed intently the effects of them, which to me at least appear'd surprisingly cruel.

I was however so mov'd at the piteous sight, that I from my heart repented the undertaking, and would willingly have given over, thinking he had full enough, but, he encouraging and beseeching me earnestly to proceed, I gave him ten more lashes, and then, resting, survey'd the increase of bloody appearances. And at length, steel'd 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 desir'd me to desist, which I instantly did, and proceeding to untie him, I could not but be 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.

Here he thanked me for the extreme pleasure I had procured him, and seeing, perhaps, some marks in my countenance of terror and apprehension of retaliation on my own skin, for what I had been the instrument of his suffering in his, he assured me he was ready to give up to me any engagement I might deem myself under to stand him, as he had done me, but if that proceeded in my consent to it, he would consider the difference of my sex, its greater delicacy and incapacity to undergo pain. Rehearten'd at which, and piqu'd in honour, as I thought, not to flinch so near the trial, especially as I well knew Mrs. Cole was an eyewitness to the whole of our transactions, I was now less afraid of my skin than of his not furnishing me with an opportunity of signalizing my resolution.

Consonant to this disposition was my answer, but my courage was still more in my head than in my heart, and as cowards rush into the danger they fear, in order to be the sooner rid of the pain of that sensation, I was entirely pleas'd with his hastening matters into execution.

He had then little to do but to unloose the strings of my petticoats, and lift them, together with my shift, navel-high, where he just tuck'd them up loosely girt, and might be slipt up higher at pleasure. Then viewing me round with great seeming delight, he laid me at length on my face upon the bench, and when I expected he would tie me, as I had done him, and held out my hands, not without fear and a little trembling, he told me he would by no means terrify me unnecessarily with such a confinement, for that though he meant to put my constancy to some trial, the standing it was to be completely voluntary on my side, and therefore I might be at full liberty to get up whenever I found the pain too much for me. You cannot imagine how much I thought myself bound, by being thus allow'd to remain loose, and how much spirit this confidence in me gave me, so that I was even from my heart careless how much my flesh might suffer in honour of it.

All my back parts, naked half-way up, were now fully at his mercy: and first, he stood at a convenient distance, and now, taking hold of the rod, rather wanton'd with me, in gentle inflictions on those tender trembling masses of my flesh behind, than in any way hurt them, till by degrees, 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. When he had thus amus'd 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 twigg'd me so smartly as to fetch blood in more than one lash: for now showing them no quarter, the traitor cut me so that I wanted but little of fainting away, when he gave over. And yet I did not utter one groan, or make any angry expostulation, but in heart I resolv'd never to expose myself again to the like severities.

You may guess what a curious pickle those soft flesh cushions of mine were, all sore, raw, and terribly clawed off, but so far from feeling any pleasure in it, that the recent pain made me pout a little, and not with the greatest air of satisfaction receive the compliments and after-caresses of the author of my pain.

As soon as my clothes were huddled on in a little decency, a supper was brought in by the discreet Mrs. Cole herself, which might have piqued the sensuality of a cardinal, accompanied with a choice of the richest wines: all which she set before us, and went out again, without having, by a word or even by a smile, given us the least interruption or confusion, in those moments of secrecy, that we were not yet ripe to the admission of a third to.

I sat down then, still scarce in charity with my butcher, for such I could not help considering him, and was moreover not a little piqued at the gay satisfied air of his countenance, which I thought myself insulted by. But when the now necessary refreshment to me of a glass of wine, a little eating (all the time observing a profound silence) had somewhat cheer'd and restor'd me to spirits, and as the pain began to go away, my good humour return'd accordingly: which alteration not escaping him, he said and did everything that could confirm me in, and indeed exalt it.

I was not, however, at any time, re-enticed to renew with him, or resort again to the violent expedient of lashing nature into more haste than good speed: which, by the way, I conceive acts somewhat in the manner of a dose of Spanish flies, with more pain perhaps, but less danger, and might be necessary to him, but was nothing less to than to me, whose appetite wanted the bridle more than the spur.

Mrs. Cole, to whom this adventurous exploit had more and more endear'd me looked on me now as a girl after her own heart, afraid of nothing, and, on a good account hardly [sic or 'hardy'?] enough to fight all the weapons of pleasure through."


Cleland, John, Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, first published 1749, Mayflower-Dell, London 1963, 2nd revised edition, 1964. Pearsall, Judy, (ed), The New Oxford Dictionary of English, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998.