September 26, 2011 | PEN American
To celebrate Banned Books Week, taking place from September 24 to October 1, we invited PEN Members to recommend banned or challenged books that have influenced them as writers and readers. Below, Betty Fussell discusses Fanny Hill by John Cleland.
Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, better known as Fanny Hill, was banned in England as soon as printed (1748), about 30 years before American rebels in New England did not toss out their Puritan heritage when they tossed out their British king. I didn’t get around to reading Fanny until 1959. When Grove Press reprinted it, it was banned, and lawyer Charles Rembar defended it before the U.S. Court of Appeals. Rembar asked my then husband, Paul Fussell, known as an 18th-century scholar, to testify to Fanny’s “redeeming social or literary value.” Fanny was in the dock for obscenity, along with Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Tropic of Cancer. Everyone I knew had read these books—more than once, well-thumbed copies placed on the shelf next to Joyce’s Ulysses and The Story of O.
During the Cold War, when the form of Puritanism known as McCarthyism ruled the land, any banned book was a sacred text. To read one was a high moral, even a patriotic, duty. Fifty years ago, Professor Fussell successfully defended Fanny according to the prescribed redemptive grounds, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the defense in 1966. But what Paul, at the time, had longed to shout was, “Fanny is fun! Fanny is dirty! Fanny is funny! Read it for pleasure!” And so say I 50 years later, when American politics and puritanism continue to waltz to the squeezebox of zealotry and censorship.