Have anyone read a book of British writer Michael Sadleir "Fanny by Gaslight"? Or seen a movie of the same name? I Googled all about the title, but never met a clear explanation what does it mean. There isn't any gaslight in the movie (I didn't read the book) and people offer different theories

  • The film poster on wikipedia shows the main character (Fanny) under a gaslight (a street lamp). I don't know how that is used in the movie or if there is any deeper meaning to it, but there is a gaslight.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 10:37

6 Answers 6


It's ambiguous. It could be a play on words. Whether or not there is gaslight in the movie, it could just mean Fanny at night–since nighttime is a time when gaslight is often used. Titles cannot always be taken literally; they often contain figures of speech or even bad grammar (Gone Girl) to attract attention. It could mean Fanny is a prostitute and works when the gaslight is on. There are many possibilities.

  • From what I remember of a TV version in the 1980s, Fanny was not herself a prostitute, but a young girl caught precariously between low life and respectability in Victorian London (when the streets were lit by gas). Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 8:58

The locution "{something or someone} by daylight|moonlight" means {something or someone} as illuminated by the light of the sun or the light of the moon. By gaslight would mean "as seen in the light cast by a gas-burning lamp". Before electricity, indoor lamps and street lamps used a gas flame.


Gas lighting was implemented in London during the reign of Queen Victoria, which ended in 1901.

Fanny was a popular girl's name in Victorian England.

"Fanny by Gaslight" was a catchy title encapsulating the theme that Fanny was a common working girl engaging in street work (under the gaslight) as a prostitute.

"Fanny by gaslight" sounds the likely title and cartoon emblazoned on an AVRO Lancaster aircraft, playing on the point that it flew night missions.

This indicates that the phrase was in common use by WWII.

To support that inference, my 22 year old father was an Commonwealth [RAAF] pilot on loan to the British RAF and his AVRO Lancaster had a logo of a young woman astride a bomb, with her knickers at her knees, entitled "We drop 'em by night!"

In summary, "Fanny by gaslight" is a prostitute who works/walks the streets at night.


The title is a play on words. According to the synopsis of the movie

Fanny (Phyllis Calvert) finishes at boarding school in 1880 and returns to London, where she witnesses Lord Manderstoke (James Mason) fight and kill her supposed father. She soon learns that her family has run a brothel next door to her home and (on her mother's death) that he was not her real father. She goes to meet her real father – a respected politician – and falls in love with Harry Somerford (Stewart Granger), his advisor. Manderstoke continues to thwart her happiness

"Fanny" is the name of the main character, coincidentally in BrE, a "fanny" is a woman's vagina and as has ben pointed out in one of the other answers A "fanny" by gaslight is a prostitute. Given that the family ran a brothel, it all ties in...


"By gaslight" is the key. If we realize the two connotations of "by gaslight" or "gaslighting", we have the answer. One meaning is, as already expounded by fellow contributors, that of a hooker walking the pavement. The other meaning, however, goes deeper, (see the wikipedia definition below) and I for one understand the title as a composite of both connotations. The protagonist Fanny, raised unbeknownst as the adoptive daughter of a brothel landlord, who is NO hooker, perish the thought, happens to be an innocent victim of two in Victorian times unforgivable indiscretions. Firstly, that of hailing from a dubious background, and secondly, as later transpires, of being the natural daughter of a Victorian cabinet minister. Upon the manslaughter of her adoptive father, the brothel owner, she is sent to live with her biological father, a cabinet minister, whereupon she is being vilified, manipulated and tossed about by two class conscious sanctimonious Brit upper class chicks who see Fanny's now apparent two identities as a potential threat to their respective first class compartments on the Victorian upper class gravy train. Here goes the definition of GASLIGHT: Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs. Instances can range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents occurred to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.


"Fanny by gaslight" was a WW2 phrase created by the British Royal Air Force. The meaning and uses of this was a term for aircraft landing with only candle lights on the landing strips/runway to guide their landings. I read that it originated from an Avro Lancaster squadron who only flew night sorties.

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    Please provide a reference if possible. This will help make your answer more credible.
    – Em.
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 21:15

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