British and Irish Literature Erotic, Obscene, and Pornographic Writing, 1660-1900
by
Hal Gladfelder
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0121

Introduction

Since there is no recorded use of the word “pornography” in English before 1842, there has been much debate as to whether it should be used to refer to writing about sexual subjects from earlier periods. But whatever term is used, it is unarguable that the long 18th century—roughly, the period from 1660 to 1830—saw the emergence and consolidation of a canon of sexually explicit texts in Western Europe, and that this canon of erotic literature formed the basis for the proliferation of pornography in the 19th and 20th centuries. The same period is often seen as the era when certain essential features of modernity were consolidated: notably, the redefinition and reorganization of sexual and gender categories, a new emphasis on interiority and the individual subject, and new understandings of the division between public and private experience. Just as literary critics have linked the development of the novel to these broader cultural changes, so might one think of erotic narratives of sexual education and danger as a vehicle that allowed authors and readers to imaginatively engage with new ways of feeling or thinking about sex and power, masculinity and femininity, privacy and public life. Both the canonical literature and the eroto-pornographic literature of the long 18th century concentrate on private experience and on sexuality as the secret, defining truth of the private self; indeed these two types or strains of literature are so intertwined that it is impossible to disentangle them. With the emergence of Romanticism and the Gothic in the later 18th century, sexual danger and desire are brought into even greater literary prominence; and while persistent stereotypes might lead us to suppose that the coming of the Victorian age (1830s–1901) signaled a retreat to propriety and repression, in fact it was (also) a period of pornographic exuberance and unprecedented interest, across a range of discourses, in the diversity of sexual feelings and practices. This bibliography tries to convey a sense of the range of scholarly work from the mid-1960s to the mid-2010s which has focused on erotic, obscene, and pornographic writing from 1660 to 1900. It centers on literature in England, but English and French literatures were so mutually informing throughout this period that some work on French erotic writing needed to be included. And, as the bibliography’s title suggests, no particular effort has been made to draw boundaries between the erotic (the expression of desire), the obscene (the violation of taboos), and the pornographic (a narrative of sexual action), for all three elements come into play in almost all of the texts that make an appearance here.

General Overviews

Although studies in the history of erotic literature and art go at least as far back as to Richard Payne Knight and The Worship of Priapus (1786), as a field of scholarship it coincides with the surge in public debates about obscenity in 20th-century Britain and the United States, especially from the 1960s, when decisive legal battles were fought over Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1749) and Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Hyde 1964 was written in the context of the 1964 UK Fanny Hill trial, by a scholar who testified in support of that novel’s publication; it offers an accessible and lively introduction to the long history of erotic and pornographic literature. Foxon 1965 is a scrupulous study of the publication and reception of six key European erotic texts in Restoration and 18th-century England, culminating in the publication of Cleland’s classic novel, the first important pornographic text of English origin. Atkins 1982 is a genial introduction to the diversity of bawdy and pornographic writing from the mid-17th century, while Wagner 1990 offers a comprehensive survey of the whole field of bawdy, obscene, erotic, and pornographic literature in 18th-century England and North America, highlighting the English importation and translation of erotic writing from France. Hunt 1993 is an essential collection that brings together women’s and gender studies, history of sexuality, and the study of pornography, stressing pornography’s “modernity” as it moved from Italy to France to England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Kendrick 1996 is a lively and polemical history of the emergence of pornography as a category of thought in the 19th century, when obscene literature began to emerge from the “secret museums” of gentlemen’s private collections and into the public domain, while Laqueur 2003 focuses on the private realm of solitary readers, who were thought to be vulnerable to physical and moral corruption through their consumption of lascivious texts. Private consumption, however, was only made possible on a wide scale by public availability, and both Laqueur and Kendrick explore the public-private dialectic which structures much of the scholarly analysis of pornography.

  • Atkins, John. Sex in Literature. Vol. 4, High Noon: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. London: John Calder, 1982.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Accessible, digressive survey of libertine and pornographic writing ranging from Restoration anti-marriage satires to taboo-breaking literature of the 19th and even 20th centuries. Although it is not a rigorous academic study, Atkins’s impressively wide reading and matter-of-fact approach mean that this covers a greater variety of topics and types of erotic or obscene literature than similar surveys, even if it is atypically reserved on the subject of same-sex desire.

    Find this resource:

  • Foxon, David. Libertine Literature in England, 1660–1745. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1965.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A foundational and still essential scholarly work, charting the publication and reception of a half-dozen key European pornographic texts in Restoration and early-18th-century England. Foxon’s approach is essentially bibliographical, examining the books’ production, advertising, distribution, reception and legal prosecution, but his observations on the texts and their cultural significance, while brief, are astute. An appendix on the publication history of Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure is a lively piece of literary detective work and the starting point for all subsequent Cleland scholarship.

    Find this resource:

  • Hunt, Lynn, ed. The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800. New York: Zone, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A pathbreaking collection that brought together women’s and gender studies, the history of sexuality, and the study of pornography. Hunt’s introduction sets out the scope of the book, which traces the origins of pornography to 16th-century Italy and 17th-century France, and argues that its later development was linked to the emergence of Western modernity itself. Reflecting new ideas about the body, gender difference, and political authority, pornography was also tied to the emergence of the novel; but after the 1790s it shed its critical social stance “and became instead a commercial, ‘hard-core’ business” (p. 42).

    Find this resource:

  • Hyde, H. Montgomery. A History of Pornography. London: Heinemann, 1964.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Published in the wake of the 1964 British obscenity trial against Fanny Hill, this is among the first historical studies of erotic and pornographic writing, ranging from the story of Judith and Tamar in Genesis, and Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, to Victorian flagellation and fetish literature. Not a rigorously scholarly or academic study, it is a lively, sometimes ironic introduction to the field and to some of the debates over the definition of pornography. Includes a detailed account of the testimony in the Fanny Hill trial, in which Hyde was a witness for the defense.

    Find this resource:

  • Kendrick, Walter. The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Equal parts polemic and history, Kendrick’s study charts the emergence of “pornography” as a category of thought—“an argument, not a thing” (p. 31)—in the mid-19th century. As Kendrick uses it, “pornography” is the locus of struggle for control over representation, a political “battleground” (p. 157) upon which the definition and regulation of “dangerous representations” (p. 239) are contested. An essential work on censorship and the politics of prohibition, which aims to provoke debate rather than settle the issues it raises.

    Find this resource:

  • Laqueur, Thomas W. Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation. New York: Zone, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A compendious history of shifting ways of thinking and writing about masturbation from classical antiquity to the turn of the 21st century, focusing on the two centuries following the publication of the virulently anti-masturbation treatise Onania (1718). Laqueur’s study is most relevant to this bibliography for its discussion of pornography in chapter 5, in which he examines anxieties about the “pleasures and dangers of literature” (p. 355), especially for solitary female readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Wagner, Peter. Eros Revived: Erotica of the Enlightenment in England and America. London: Paladin, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Richly illustrated and wide-ranging overview of the many types of erotic, obscene, bawdy, and pornographic writing available in England and North America in the 18th century, drawing attention to France as the most important producer of erotica in the period. Argues that “erotica played a vital part in the creation of a sexual mentalité” (p. 309) that also pervades canonical literature. Wagner’s learned notes and comprehensive bibliography alone would make this an indispensable resource for further research.

    Find this resource:

Bibliographies

The first scholars of erotic, obscene, and pornographic writing were its bibliographers—who were often also its librarians. As such material was prohibited, it was rare; and because it was produced clandestinely, under false names and with false imprints, it posed a challenge for bibliographers to solve. The Victorian collector of erotica, Henry Spencer Ashbee, was also author of a three-volume bibliography of erotic literature, and his collection became the core of the British Library’s Private Case: see Fryer 1966, Kearney 1981, and Moore 2012, as well as Kendrick 1996, cited under General Overviews. Fryer 1966 was written as part of a campaign to allow general readers access to the Private Case collection, and was the first widely available guide (albeit partial) to its contents. Kearney 1981 is a more scholarly catalogue of the Private Case, while Pia 1998 offers a similarly comprehensive catalogue of the “Enfer,” the off-limits collection of obscene or erotic materials at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Moore 2012 examines the cultural politics of the creation and maintenance of such exclusive collections; this theme is also explored in Kendrick 1996, cited under General Overviews. Mendes 1993 is a bibliography of clandestine English erotic fiction published between 1800 and 1930, while Darnton 1995 is a detailed checklist of late-18th-century clandestine writing in France, which draws from police records as well as more typical bibliographic sources, such as booksellers’ catalogues.

  • Darnton, Robert. The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769–1789. New York: Norton, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Companion volume to Darnton’s Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, offering a detailed guide to the corpus of illegal literature—pornographic, obscene, political, and philosophical—circulating in France. Darnton’s checklist of 720 titles reveals sales patterns as well as patterns of police confiscation, and offers a valuable picture of the kinds of works that readers sought out in the face of censorial prohibition.

    Find this resource:

  • Fryer, Peter. Private Case: Public Scandal. London: Secker and Warburg, 1966.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Polemical and often amusing account of the British Library’s Private Case, in which the library’s extensive collection of erotic, obscene, and pornographic works was long secreted, the titles kept out of the library’s general catalogue. After this book’s publication, access to such material was gradually extended to readers, although some restrictions are still in force. Includes summaries of a sampling of works, divided into such categories as “Erotic Classics and Autobiographies,” “Homosexual and Sado-masochistic Literature,” etc.

    Find this resource:

  • Kearney, P. J. The Private Case: An Annotated Bibliography of the Private Case Erotica Collection in the British (Museum) Library. London: Jay Landesmann, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first publicly available catalogue of the British Library’s Private Case: its formerly off-limits collection of erotic, obscene, and pornographic works. Primarily useful today as a guide to the sorts of materials previous generations of librarians (and those to whom they answered) considered dangerous to the general public, this is a meticulous project of scholarly recuperation.

    Find this resource:

  • Mendes, Peter. Clandestine Erotic Fiction in English, 1800–1930: A Bibliographical Study. Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive and meticulously detailed bibliography of erotic fiction in English published clandestinely (i.e., under false names, dates, or places of publication) between 1800 and 1930. Offers full information on the printers, publishers, and booksellers involved in this illicit trade, and gives a vivid sense of the range of works available.

    Find this resource:

  • Moore, Alison. “Arcane Erotica and National ‘Patrimony’: Britain’s Private Case and the Collection de l’Enfer of the Bibliothèque National de France.” Cultural Studies Review 18.1 (2012): 196–216.

    DOI: 10.5130/csr.v18i1.1821Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illuminating study of the cultural politics at work in the creation and maintenance of vast but (to general readers) forbidden collections of erotic and obscene works at the British and French national libraries. Moore observes that policies of permission and exclusion acted both to prohibit access and to create a “cultural mystique” around the collections as “repositories of secret, hidden, and privileged erotic knowledge” (p. 197).

    Find this resource:

  • Pia, Pascal. Les Livres de l’Enfer: Bibliographie critique des ouvrages érotiques dans leurs differentes éditions du XVIe siècle à nos jours. Paris: Fayard, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Second, augmented, edition of the most comprehensive and rigorous bibliography of the French National Library’s collection of forbidden erotic works, first published in 1978.

    Find this resource:

Anthologies of Primary Texts

These anthologies bring together erotic or sex-centered texts of many different kinds, from the newspaper reports, broadsides, and cheap pamphlets assembled in Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England and McCormick 1997 to the artful literary works collected in Castle 2005 and Feher 1997. Rictor Norton has compiled the invaluable online documentary resource Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England, while McCormick 1997 is a selection of writings, from medical treatises to bawdy poems, on various forms of prohibited or transgressive sexuality from the 17th and 18th centuries. Pettit and Spedding 2002–2004 is an indispensable ten-volume collection of erotica of all genres, giving a comprehensive picture of the range of 18th-century sexual predilections and aversions. It is very usefully complemented by Eighteenth-Century Erotic Texts Online, which makes many important works available in facsimile versions online. Mudge 2004 is a useful and affordable selection of some of the better-known libertine/pornographic works of the early 18th century, sketching the outlines of an emerging pornographic canon. A non-pornographic canon of libertine fiction is outlined in Feher 1997, which brings together nine sophisticated, subtle French erotic narratives, beautifully translated and elegantly presented. At the other end of the social spectrum, Rosenthal 2008 offers five English prostitute narratives, some moralizing and others bawdy, all of them giving access to 18th-century low life. Castle 2005 is a rich anthology of European literature from the 16th century onward concerned with what she calls “the lesbian idea”—that women might love and desire other women, and that such love might be a worthy subject of literary expression. The texts she has chosen are a long way from the grubby worlds of pornography and obscenity but are equally concerned with eros.

  • Castle, Terry, ed. The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Of epic scale, this anthology explores what Castle calls “the lesbian idea”: “that women might love and desire one another as men loved and desired them” (p. 6). This “idea” is put to the test here in texts, mainly brief, ranging from Shakespeare to Elizabeth Bishop. All selections are preceded by incisive, witty introductions, and the volume’s general introduction is a valuable reflection on the relations between sexuality and literary history.

    Find this resource:

  • Feher, Michel, ed. The Libertine Reader: Eroticism and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France. New York: Zone, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brings together nine key texts of French libertine literature, each preceded by an erudite, incisive critical introduction. (Critics include Feher, Chantal Thomas, Catherine Cusset, Joan DeJean, Jean Sgard, and Marcel Hénaff.) Some texts are readily available elsewhere (e.g., Dangerous Liaisons), but such important works as Diderot’s Indiscreet Jewels and Crébillon’s The Sofa are not easy to find in reliable English-language versions, and their presentation here is excellent. Lesser-known texts, such as Vivant Denon’s No Tomorrow and Sade’s Florville and Courval, are newly translated by Lydia Davis.

    Find this resource:

  • McCormick, Ian, ed. Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Writing. London: Routledge, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful introductory selection of a variety of late-17th- and 18th-century texts on forms of illicit sexuality and transgressive bodies. The four parts focus on: anatomies (eunuchs and hermaphrodites); sodomy trials; satirical and moralistic representations of mollies and fops; sapphic texts and cross-dressing women. The extracts are mostly brief, but unfailingly lively.

    Find this resource:

  • Mudge, Bradford K., ed. When Flesh Becomes Word: An Anthology of Early Eighteenth-Century Libertine Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illustrated anthology of nine pornographic works published between 1680 (The School of Venus) and 1746 (Fielding’s The Female Husband). Alongside School, includes English versions of Vénus dans le cloître and Satyra sotadica—the three most influential 17th-century French erotic texts—together with bawdy verse and medical and pseudo-geographical erotica. Annotation is sparse, and reviewers have noted transcription errors; where possible students should refer to Pettit and Spedding 2002–2004. Nevertheless, a useful introductory anthology.

    Find this resource:

  • Norton, Rictor, ed. Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rich online archive, arranged chronologically, of primary documents, with notes, commentaries, and essays by Norton. The materials run from 1624 to 1799, and include newspaper reports, legal texts, broadsides and poems, medical commentaries, and other kinds of documents, transcribed with original spelling and format. An invaluable resource.

    Find this resource:

  • Pettit, Alexander, and Patrick Spedding, eds. Eighteenth-Century British Erotica I and II. 10 vols. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2002–2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An indispensable collection for research libraries, these two five-volume sets contain facsimiles of around 100 works, representing all categories of bawdy, erotic, scabrous, and pornographic writing, from guides to Covent Garden prostitutes to pamphlets on farting. Among the better-known texts are Wilkes’s Essay on Women, Cleland’s expurgated Memoirs of Fanny Hill, and seven of the nine works in Mudge, When Flesh Becomes Word. Editors of individual volumes have provided learned and useful introductions, notes, and commentaries.

    Find this resource:

  • Rosenthal, Laura J., ed. Nightwalkers: Prostitute Narratives from the Eighteenth Century. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of five prostitute narratives representing a range of voices and moral attitudes, from libertine to moralist-reformist. The two longest are closest to the eroto-pornographic vein: the anecdotal and avowedly authentic Memoirs of Sally Salisbury, by Charles Walker (1723), and the anonymous Juvenile Adventures of Miss Kitty Fisher (1759). Rosenthal provides good introductions and notes, and a useful bibliography of other prostitute narratives from the long 18th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Spedding, Patrick, ed. Eighteenth-Century Erotic Texts Online.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Online blog page with links to photographic facsimiles of 17th- and 18th-century texts, from The School of Venus (1680) to Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies (1765–1793) and seven volumes of Trials for Adultery (1779–1780), among many others. An extremely useful resource, posted in 2009 and updated most recently in February 2015, from one of the leading scholars in the field.

    Find this resource:

Editions of Primary Texts

Although much erotic, obscene, and pornographic writing is ephemeral, anonymous, and crude, some of it has a claim to be taken seriously as literature, either because of its stylistic quality, its wit, or (as with Sade) the challenges it poses to conventional thinking. In other cases, as with Casanova, erotic works can capture the spirit and texture of their eras with a greater degree of frankness than more circumspect or respectable writings; or, as with Saul 2012, they can reveal a side of their cultural milieu—here the sexual underworld of homosexual prostitution in Victorian London—which would otherwise be only available in private diaries, scandalous newspapers, or trial reports. The emergence of new academic fields, such as history of sexuality or GLBTQ studies, can also lead to the rediscovery of prohibited texts, and to their publication in reliable editions with suitably scholarly introductions and notes, as in the books listed here. Rochester 1999 and Rochester 2013 make the work of the great—and often obscene—Restoration poet available to, respectively, scholars and general readers, while Cleland 1985 brought the 18th-century classic out of the smut shops and into the university classroom. Casanova 1966–1971 and Sade 1965 were pioneering translations from a time of censorial loosening, making important 18th-century French texts available to English-reading audiences in unabridged, explicit translations presented with scholarly care. Sade 2005 is a stylish and lively translation of Sade’s most important non-pornographic but still sensational fictions, and his important essay on novels. Neither Wilde 1986 nor Saul 2012 is a work of outstanding literary quality—and they were probably not actually written by Wilde or Saul, as the introductions to these editions explain—but both are full of lurid incident and surprisingly raunchy sex scenes, and both give access to a prohibited dimension of Victorian cultural life.

  • Casanova, Giacomo. History of My Life. Translated by Willard R. Trask. 6 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966–1971.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stylish English translation of Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie, written between 1789 and his death in 1798. Casanova’s Histoire was first published in French between 1826 and 1838; a more reliable version based on the original manuscript was published in 1960–1962 and was used for this translation. The most complete and accurate French edition, with thorough critical and textual apparatus, appeared only in 2013, edited by Jean-Christophe Igalens and Érik Leborgne (Paris: Laffont, 2013).

    Find this resource:

  • Cleland, John. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Edited by Peter Sabor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Appearing the same year as Peter Wagner’s Penguin Classics edition, this offers ampler notes, and the text (based, like Wagner’s, on the novel’s first edition as identified by David Foxon) has not been modernized, making it the closest available version to the work as Cleland published it. Sabor’s introduction emphasizes Cleland’s critical writings on contemporary fiction and his novel’s relation to Haywood, Richardson, and Fielding.

    Find this resource:

  • Rochester, John Wilmot, Earl of. The Works of John Wilmot Earl of Rochester. Edited by Harold Love. Oxford: Clarendon, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The definitive scholarly edition of Rochester’s works, clearly organized, scrupulously presented, and very fully annotated; this includes disputed works, including the obscene burlesque Sodom.

    Find this resource:

  • Rochester, John Wilmot, Earl of. Selected Poems. Edited by Paul Davis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful modern edition of works that can reliably be attributed to Rochester. This modern-spelling text is based on the scholarly edition of the complete works by Harold Love. It does not include Sodom, but does include all the major poetry. Informative introduction and notes; the best text for general readers and students.

    Find this resource:

  • Sade, Marquis de. Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Edited and translated by Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse. New York: Grove, 1965.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Substantial selection of Sade’s key writings: the pornographic novel Justine, the obscene dialogue Philosophy in the Bedroom, and the tragic novella Eugenie de Franval, along with letters, a detailed chronology, and critical essays by Jean Paulhan and Maurice Blanchot. The translations have the flavor of Victorian melodrama, which suits Sade. Readers with French should consult the three-volume Pleiade edition (Paris: Gallimard, 1990–1998), edited by Michel Delon with Jean Deprun.

    Find this resource:

  • Sade, Marquis de. The Crimes of Love: Heroic and Tragic Tales, Preceded by an Essay on Novels. Edited and translated by David Coward. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lucid and scholarly translation of Sade’s most important non-pornographic fictions, sensational Gothic-inflected tales in which passion and unconstrained appetite lead inexorably to tragedy and horror. These tales of incest and psychological violence are preceded by Sade’s “Essay on Novels,” one of the most sophisticated 18th-century reflections on fiction and the emerging genre of the psychological novel.

    Find this resource:

  • Saul, Jack. The Sins of the Cities of the Plain. Edited by Wolfram Setz. Richmond, VA: Valancourt, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Carefully prepared edition of a Victorian pornographic novel focusing mainly on male same-sex encounters but also incorporating incest, pedophilia, transvestism, and other forms of sexual transgression; interestingly, its scenes of “normal” heterosexual sex are among its most perverse moments. Raucous and fast-paced, it claims to be the work of Jack Saul, a real male prostitute who was a witness at the trial that came out of the Cleveland Street scandal of 1889. It is probably not by Saul, but it does refer to a number of real-life events.

    Find this resource:

  • Wilde, Oscar. Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal. Edited by John McRae. London: Gay Men’s, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lurid, episodic, intermittently pornographic novel focusing on male same-sex desire, first published in 1893 and set in an artistic milieu redolent of fin-de-siècle aestheticism. Mixing swoony romance, tragic fatalism, and Sadeian sexual tableaus, the novel is most likely the work of several hands, and the attribution to Wilde is largely speculative. The introduction discusses the evidence for and against attribution, and the edition as a whole has been carefully prepared.

    Find this resource:

Theoretical and Historical Contexts

Academic interest in the study of erotic and pornographic writing has largely coincided with the emergence of history of sexuality as a field of inquiry. Pornographic texts sometimes serve as primary sources for such historical work; at the same time, work in the history of sexuality can provide a context for making sense of the erotic writings of earlier periods. Foucault 1998, for example, cites the Victorian pornographic epic My Secret Life in support of his claim that, far from seeking to suppress sexual discourse, Victorian culture saw an irrepressible proliferation of such discourse—a compulsion to catalogue and classify the diverse forms of sexual practices and urges. Foucault’s introductory volume to his unfinished History of Sexuality, originally published in 1976, effectively invented a field of study, even if other theorists and historians have disputed his evidence and arguments. Laqueur 1990 has been similarly debated, and similarly inescapable: the author’s thesis that the 18th century marked a shift from a one-sex to a two-sex model of male and female difference has been useful to many readers seeking to understand Early Modern representations of gender and the body, even if his focus on elite medical texts and his model of historical change—a radical “epistemic break” from one way of thinking about sex to another—has been challenged by such historians as Harvey 2004, cited under 18th-Century Literature. Dabhoiwala 2012 argues that between 1600 and 1800 there was a revolutionary transformation in attitudes toward sex in England, leading to greater (albeit unequally distributed) sexual freedom, while Hitchcock 2012 suggests that if this period saw an increase in sexual activity overall, it also saw increased regulation of female sexuality and sexual “deviance.” Deviance is the focus of two important early collections, Maccubbin 1987 and Rousseau and Porter 1987, which deal respectively with “unauthorized sexuality” and “sexual underworlds” of the Enlightenment: from libertinism and pornography to gender crossing and sex crimes. Traub 2002 examines the wealth of representations of female same-sex desire from the 16th to the early 18th century, insisting that we reflect on differences in ways of thinking about sexuality and gender between the Early Modern era and our own. McKeon 2005 explores the relations between pornography, the novel, and the genre of “secret histories” in relation to a broad shift in ways of thinking about public versus private, which also profoundly affected ideas of sexuality and gender.

  • Dabhoiwala, Faramerz. The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution. London: Allen Lane, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing together a vast range of images, texts, and historical examples, Dabhoiwala argues that the years 1600 to 1800 saw a revolutionary transformation in attitudes toward sex, leading to a growth in sexual freedom—albeit often unequal and contested—based on secular principles of privacy, equality, and liberty. Deliberately taking a broad view, the book is nevertheless rich and profuse in detail, and should provoke further study and debate.

    Find this resource:

  • Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1, The Will to Knowledge. Translated by Robert Hurley. London: Penguin, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First published in English in 1978 (in French in 1976), this is among the most influential and heatedly debated theoretical works of recent decades. Foucault argues that from the 17th century to the end of the 20th, Western Europe saw a “discursive explosion” of discussions of sexuality, in the form of a new scientia sexualis that aimed to discover the “truth” of sex (as opposed to a classical and non-Western ars erotica). Pornographic texts such as the 19th-century My Secret Life are symptomatic of this modern incitement to confess, catalogue, and categorize sex.

    Find this resource:

  • Hitchcock, Tim. “The Reformulation of Sexual Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century England.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 37.4 (2012): 823–832.

    DOI: 10.1086/664467Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief but useful gateway article on connections among demography, family and affect history, women’s and gender history, and the history of pornography. In all these discourses, there is evidence of greater sexual activity by the end of the 18th century than at the beginning, but also evidence of increased regulation of female sexuality and of transgressive or “deviant” sex. Hitchcock suggests that changes in the “physical culture of sex” (p. 823) go hand in hand with the development of new sorts of pornographic writing.

    Find this resource:

  • Laqueur, Thomas W. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hugely influential and much-debated work of medical-cultural history which provides an important, albeit contested, theoretical framework for thinking about representations of sex and gender in the 17th through early 20th centuries. Laqueur argues that the late 18th century marked a shift from a one-sex model of sexual difference—in which the female body was seen as structurally the same as, although less perfect than, the male body—to a two-sex model, in which male and female were regarded as qualitatively different: opposite sexes.

    Find this resource:

  • Maccubbin, Robert Purks, ed. ’Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Diverse interdisciplinary collection that marked the arrival of history of sexuality as a methodologically and linguistically polyglot field of inquiry. Includes essays on libertinism, the circulation of obscene texts in Italy and France, prostitution, censorship, pornography, and the history of homosexuality.

    Find this resource:

  • McKeon, Michael. The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Massive, magisterial study of the categorical separation of public from private in the 17th and 18th centuries, and of “domesticity” as a product of that separation. Chapter 6, “Sex and Book Sex,” examines the role of print and solitary reading in the privatization of sex, which led to the emergence of pornography. In later chapters there are insightful readings of Behn, Richardson, and Cleland which reflect on the relations between pornography, the novel, and the genre of secret histories, all turning on the public/private divide.

    Find this resource:

  • Rousseau, G. S., and Roy Porter, eds. Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment. Manchester, UK: University of Manchester Press, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interdisciplinary collection that contributed to establishing history of sexuality as a diverse and open-ended field of inquiry. The ten essays range across paramedical erotica, the homoerotic classicism of Richard Payne Knight, sexual masquerade, prosecution for rape, man midwives, passing women, and shamanism and exotic sexuality, providing a variety of contexts for engaging with erotic and pornographic writing.

    Find this resource:

  • Traub, Valerie. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although most of this theoretically rich book focuses on writings before 1660, Traub’s encyclopedic study of the proliferation of representations of female same-sex desire does reach into the later 17th and early 18th centuries, and offers an essential analysis of the difficulties and possibilities that confront us when thinking about gender and sexuality in the Early Modern.

    Find this resource:

Polemics and Debates, Theoretical and Political

As the Lady Chatterley and Fanny Hill trials of the 1960s effectively precipitated the demise of prohibitions against the publication and sale of pornographic writing, the concurrent boom in visual pornography—films and photo magazines—coinciding with the resurgence of feminism, led to a huge increase in public debates over questions of censorship and the psychological, social, and political effects of pornography. The debate was on one level a contest between “traditional morality” and a libertarian ethos of free expression, but the fault lines became less straightforward with the onset of the “porn wars” of the 1970s and 80s, between anti-pornography and anti-censorship feminists. The competing positions are starkly set out in Dworkin 1989 and Rubin 2011 (based on remarks written in 1986), while Williams 1999 (the second edition of a text first published in 1989) proposes to move past the impasse between the two positions by exploring the tensions and contradictions within pornography. Interestingly, both Dworkin and Williams look back to 18th-century literary pornography as offering a useful point of reference for thinking about late-20th-century visual forms. Griffin 1981 stakes out an anti-pornography position similar to Dworkin’s, challenging the claim that pornography is affiliated with sexual liberation, and arguing instead that it is a vehicle for the enforcement of male power. Carter 1979 offers a spirited riposte to anti-pornography arguments, but does so by way of a witty, ironic reading of the most vilified of all pornographers, the Marquis de Sade. Sidestepping the focus of other contemporary feminists on pornographic film, Carter’s polemic is in some ways closer to the high-culture musings of Sontag 1969 and Steiner 1967, both of which are concerned—despite their diametrically opposed positions—with the power of literary language to convey the intensities of sexual feeling.

  • Carter, Angela. The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography. New York: Pantheon, 1979.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Spirited, polemical intervention in the “porn wars” of the late 1970s, which combines subtle, witty readings of Sade’s major texts with speculative reflections on the possibility of a “moral pornography” which could act as “a critique of the current relations between the sexes” (p. 19). Sade, as a “terrorist of the imagination” (p. 21) is appropriated by Carter as a harbinger of feminism, who “put pornography in the service of women” (p. 37).

    Find this resource:

  • Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York: Plume, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Vigorous and forcefully argued, Dworkin’s most influential book argues that pornography, by definition, is dehumanizing to women and complicit in violence against them. Although the book is primarily concerned with pornography in photography and film, it contains a chapter on Sade, arguing that as “the world’s foremost pornographer” he “both embodies and defines male sexual values” (p. 70)—a perspective that could usefully be set against Angela Carter’s argument in The Sadeian Woman.

    Find this resource:

  • Griffin, Susan. Pornography and Silence: Culture’s Revenge against Nature. London: Women’s Press, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Challenges the claim that pornography is “part of a larger movement toward sexual liberation” (p. 1) or political liberty. Rather, it is symptomatic of a fear of, and wish to silence, nature and the erotic. Not a purely academic or historicist study, Griffin’s text ranges over material from Apuleius to 1970s pulp S&M porn, with a recurring focus on Sade as an exponent of a (characteristically male) anti-erotic will to power.

    Find this resource:

  • Rubin, Gayle. “Misguided, Dangerous, and Wrong: An Analysis of Antipornography Politics.” In Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader. By Gayle Rubin, 254–275. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this essay, first published in 1993 (but based on remarks drafted in 1986), Rubin contests the arguments of such anti-pornography activists as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, in particular the premise that pornography—which in the context of the 1970s and 1980s meant photography and films—is inherently violent or degrading to women. Rubin’s argument is clear and incisive, and the notes offer a useful guide to publications on both sides of the “porn wars” of the period.

    Find this resource:

  • Sontag, Susan. “The Pornographic Imagination.” In Styles of Radical Will. By Susan Sontag, 35–73. London: Secker and Warburg, 1969.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although it focuses on 20th-century French texts of avant-garde tendency, Sontag’s essay is significant more broadly for its claim that pornography is “one of the branches of literature . . . aiming at disorientation” (p. 47). Her attention to extreme fictions in the vein of Sade leads to the assertion that “what pornography is really about, ultimately, isn’t sex but death” (p. 60)—the limits or consequences of transgression.

    Find this resource:

  • Steiner, George. “Night Words.” In Language and Silence: Essays 1958–1966. By George Steiner, 89–99. London: Faber and Faber, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A short but provocative essay denouncing pornography as a product of mass culture that impoverishes the erotic imagination through the repetitiveness and banality of its imagery and language. Pornography, for Steiner, is a form of dehumanization, and as such might even be akin to the dehumanizing violence of the totalitarian state, in that both “set up power relations which must necessarily violate privacy” (p. 89 n.).

    Find this resource:

  • Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and theFrenzy of the Visible.” 2d expanded ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Pioneering and still provocative study of hard-core film pornography as a distinct genre with its own history, formal strategies, and ways of representing sexuality and gender relations. Williams moves beyond the anti-porn/anti-censorship impasse of the 1970s and 80s in order to expose the tensions and contradictions that define the form. Although mainly focused on 20th-century examples, the first chapter links contemporary debates to such 18th-century texts as Diderot’s Bijoux indiscrets which purported to reveal the “truth” of sex. First published 1989.

    Find this resource:

Censorship and Obscenity Law

The obscene and the pornographic are categories defined as much by the means taken to regulate them as by any particular content or form: both are terms of legal proscription, naming what the law condemns. It may be needless to say that the legal definitions of both terms, and the arguments used to justify the legal suppression of works deemed to fit those definitions, have always been up for grabs. Robertson 1979 and Manchester 1991 trace the history of obscene libel—the crime for which authors and booksellers could be tried from the 17th to the 20th century—and examine the arguments used to justify prosecution. Pettit 2001 looks in detail at the prosecution of Edmund Curll in 1725–1728 to consider why prosecutors chose to focus on one obscene work rather than another. Roberts 1985, and an essay by Katherine Mullin in Bradshaw and Potter 2013, both examine the debates around the passage of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857, which set the terms for the regulation of obscenity well into the 20th century. Thomas 1969, although somewhat outdated, offers an accessible overview of the history of literary censorship in England, while Rembar 1968 focuses on three pivotal obscenity cases in the 1960s United States—one of them involving John Cleland’s 1749 Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure—which effectively led to the dismantling of obscenity law as it had stood for over a century. May 2010 is a checklist of recent scholarship on a wide range of topics related to censorship and press freedom, worth consulting online even if the arrangement of titles makes it awkward to use as a research tool.

  • Bradshaw, David, and Rachel Potter, eds. Prudes on the Prowl: Fiction and Obscenity in England, 1850 to the Present Day. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of essays on fiction, censorship, and legal definitions of obscenity in England from 1850 to 2010. Two essays by Katherine Mullin are especially pertinent: one on debates around the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 and the Hicklin trial of 1868; and a second on the trials of Henry Vizetelly for publishing four “obscene” novels by Zola—trials which had a powerful impact on such English authors as George Moore and Thomas Hardy.

    Find this resource:

  • Manchester, Colin. “A History of the Crime of Obscene Libel.” Journal of Legal History 12.1 (1991): 36–57.

    DOI: 10.1080/01440369108531027Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Between the abolition of the Star Chamber in 1641 and the passage of the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 (a successor to the act of 1857), works regarded as obscene were subject to prosecution in Britain under the law of obscene libel. This article traces the emergence of obscene libel as a legal category in the 18th century (notably in the 1725–1728 trials of the bookseller Edmund Curll) and the later evolution of the doctrine that obscene publications threaten to “deprave and corrupt” public morals.

    Find this resource:

  • May, James E. Recent Studies of Censorship, Press Freedom, Libel, Obscenity, Etc. in the Long Eighteenth Century, Published c. 1987–2009. New York: Bibliographical Society of America, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Extensive list of recent scholarship on topics pertaining to censorship in western Europe and the Americas between 1660 and 1820. Alphabetical arrangement means works on similar topics are not found together, but the listing is quite comprehensive.

    Find this resource:

  • Pettit, Alexander. “Rex v. Curll: Pornography and Punishment in Court and on the Page.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 34.1 (2001): 63–78.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the successful prosecution of Edmund Curll for publishing Venus in the Cloister arose from the text’s failure to adhere to a model of pornography in which sexual transgression—especially same-sex love—is punished within the text. To avoid legal action, writers and publishers themselves had to police transgression by taking a punitive stance. Pettit’s argument is suggestive, although his reading of this case is contested by Baines and Rogers in their biography of Curll (Baines and Rogers 2007, cited under Publishers and Booksellers).

    Find this resource:

  • Rembar, Charles. The End of Obscenity: The Trials of Lady Chatterly, Tropic of Cancer, and Fanny Hill. New York: Random House, 1968.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sharp, often amusing account of three pivotal obscenity cases in 1960s United States, in which the author himself played a key part as a lawyer defending the right of the publishers to produce and sell the three novels in question. Rembar’s history is most interesting for its excerpts from the testimony of expert witnesses called by the defense to argue for the literary merits of the texts on trial.

    Find this resource:

  • Roberts, M. J. D. “Morals, Art, and the Law: The Passing of the Obscene Publications Act, 1857.” Victorian Studies 28 (1985): 609–629.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the background and sociopolitical contexts affecting passage of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 in Britain, focusing on arguments used by supporters and opponents concerning the proper limits to state intervention in matters pertaining to moral regulation and personal liberty.

    Find this resource:

  • Robertson, Geoffrey. Obscenity: An Account of Censorship Laws and Their Enforcement in England and Wales. London: Weidenfeld, 1979.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chapter, 2, “Obscenity Law in the Making,” traces the history of laws against obscene libel from the 16th to the early 20th century, including significant legal cases from the 18th and 19th centuries. Chapter 3, “The Definition of Obscenity,” focuses on legal efforts to define the term in 20th-century obscenity cases.

    Find this resource:

  • Thomas, Donald Serrell. A Long Time Burning: The History of Literary Censorship in England. New York: Praeger, 1969.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although dated, this remains a solid overview of the history of literary censorship in England, tracing the shift from censorship for predominantly political and religious reasons into the 18th century, to a growing concern with sexual morality in the 19th and 20th centuries. Useful appendix with extensive citations from censored texts.

    Find this resource:

Publishers and Booksellers

Pornography, in something like a recognizably modern form, became a business in 18th- and 19th-century England (especially London) and France, benefiting from the invention of new forms of print technology and new systems of advertising and distribution. Baines and Rogers 2007 reconstructs the career of the most celebrated and notorious of 18th-century English booksellers, Edmund Curll, in meticulous detail, demonstrating that the trade in pornography did not belong to a distinct underworld but overlapped with the commerce in other kinds of literature. McCalman 1984 and McCalman 1988 suggest that a century later, the trade in smut was perceived to belong to a disreputable subculture, but even then it overlapped with the business in radical publications on politics and religion. Similar conclusions might be drawn from the work of Robert Darnton on “the forbidden bestsellers of pre-revolutionary France,” where advanced philosophical works appeared on the same booksellers’ lists as anti-church screeds and obscene fiction: see Darnton 1996, cited under 18th-Century Literature: Enlightenment and Revolution in France. By the end of the 19th century, as Mackie 2004 and Potter 2009 suggest, booksellers catered to quite specific coterie tastes in erotic writing, and Oscar Wilde’s publisher Leonard Smithers could produce both luxury editions of Aesthetic literature and editions of hard-core homoerotic porn, whose readerships most likely overlapped. Colligan 2014 also examines the intersection of pornographic and high-brow literary publishing, focusing on Paris as the center of an expatriate English trade in prohibited literature.

  • Baines, Paul, and Pat Rogers. Edmund Curll, Bookseller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199278985.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The definitive scholarly biography of the notorious and unscrupulous publisher and bookseller Edmund Curll, whose huge and varied output between 1706 and 1747 included numerous erotic, obscene, and scandalous publications, such as Venus in the Cloister (for which he was prosecuted in 1725–1728). Heroically researched and meticulous in its scholarship, this study gives many insights into the 18th-century book trade.

    Find this resource:

  • Colligan, Colette. A Publisher’s Paradise: Expatriate Literary Culture in Paris, 1890–1960. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this study of expatriate English-language publishing and book distribution networks based in Paris, Colligan offers a revealing case study of the fin-de-siècle publisher Charles Carrington, who specialized in flagellation literature and “Oriental” sex manuals, and who helped to establish Paris as a key site where clandestine-pornographic and literary-modernist book trades overlapped.

    Find this resource:

  • Mackie, Gregory. “Publishing Notoriety: Piracy, Pornography, and Oscar Wilde.” University of Toronto Quarterly 73.4 (2004): 980–990.

    DOI: 10.3138/utq.73.4.980Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the activities of two established pornographic booksellers, Leonard Smithers in London and “Charles Carrington” (a pseudonym) in Paris, who published pirated editions of works by or attributed to Wilde between 1900 and 1910. The perceived sexual illicitness of Wilde’s writing led to its association with the worlds of literary piracy and pornography.

    Find this resource:

  • McCalman, Iain. “Unrespectable Radicalism: Infidels and Pornography in Early Nineteenth-Century London.” Past and Present 104 (1984): 74–110.

    DOI: 10.1093/past/104.1.74Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Standalone article that makes available the material on the radical “philosophe” and pornographer George Cannon which was later worked into McCalman’s Radical Underworld.

    Find this resource:

  • McCalman, Iain. Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries, and Pornographers in London, 1795–1840. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rich, detailed study of the early-19th-century London underworld of political radicalism, free-thinking, and smut. Most interesting in relation to this bibliography for the chapters on the bookseller George Cannon, whose career reveals connections in the period between radicalism and pornography.

    Find this resource:

  • Potter, Rachel. “Obscene Modernism and the Trade in Salacious Books.” Modernism/modernity 16.1 (2009): 87–104.

    DOI: 10.1353/mod.0.0065Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although the focus of this article is on modernist authors’ efforts to distinguish between their own obscene brand of iconoclastic realism and pornography, Potter locates this in the context of the late-19th-century pornographic book trade, exploring the booksellers’ strategies for distributing and selling their wares while evading the police—strategies which such authors as D. H. Lawrence had to make use of to circulate their own banned books.

    Find this resource:

Libertinism and Prostitution

As a lived practice, libertinism was largely confined to the aristocracy and upper classes, but in the form of novels, erotic dialogues, and philosophical texts it had a much broader cultural impact, and was very much linked to modes of thought associated with the Enlightenment. Combining free thinking on religious and philosophical issues with what Trumbach 1993 calls the “idealization of sexual pleasure,” libertinism was at the cutting edge of 18th-century thought, but was regarded with horror by its critics, who were appalled by its cavalier, sexually exploitative treatment of women. Indeed, the female prostitute or “whore” was often the vehicle for the expression of libertine ideas in pornographic-philosophical texts (written by men), as seen in Norberg 1993. Whores and whoring are also at the center of Turner 2002, which explores how discourses of prostitution were deployed satirically to discredit political and social rival camps in Restoration England. Libertine women of a higher social status are the focus of Turner 2003, which examines the evolution of narratives of sexual education in a libertine canon originating in 16th-century Italy and passing to France and England the century after. Turner’s erudite studies, in emphasizing the international, multilingual character of libertinism, are complemented by Cryle and O’Connell 2004, whose contributors explore diverse forms of libertine thought and practice in both high and low culture, and as experienced by women as well as men. Trumbach 1993 examines the relationship between libertinism and pornography in England, while Potter 2003 analyzes the influence of libertine thought on such English female novelists as Behn, Manley, and Haywood, who in turn influenced the fictional treatment of libertinism in the later work of Defoe and Richardson. Moving away from libertine fantasies of prostitution, Rosenthal 2006 studies the changing representations of prostitution not only in fiction but also in moral tracts and “whore biographies,” which collectively chart the emergence of the prostitute as exploited laborer and economic victim. Cusset 1998 brings together a range of critical voices to assess whether libertinism is relevant to contemporary readers, drawing attention to two contrasting sides of libertine thought: the spontaneous and the controlling.

  • Cryle, Peter, and Lisa O’Connell, eds. Libertine Enlightenment: Sex, Liberty and License in the Eighteenth Century. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Diverse collection which moves away from “Francocentric” accounts to convey the international reach of libertine culture. The editors propose a distinction between libertinism (a self-reflexively philosophical orientation) and libertinage (practical or political forms of sexually dissident behavior), and the essays explore versions of libertine practice available to both women and men, in “high” and “low” culture alike. Case studies include Casanova, Con Phillips, Sterne, Harriette Wilson, John Wilkes, and Voltaire.

    Find this resource:

  • Cusset, Catherine, ed. Special Issue: Libertinage and Modernity. Yale French Studies 94 (1998).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of essays and interviews assessing, from a range of perspectives, the extent to which 18th-century libertinage may speak to contemporary readers. The collection is structured around an opposition between two ideas of libertinage whose tensions are also explored within many of the essays: libertinage as a form of sensual “surprise,” the pleasures of the moment; and libertinage as a practice of discipline and control, over the self and over others. Includes essays on Sade, Crébillon, Casanova, and Laclos.

    Find this resource:

  • Norberg, Kathryn. “The Libertine Whore: Prostitution in French Pornography from Margot to Juliette.” In The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800. Edited by Lynn Hunt, 225–252. New York: Zone, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Norberg examines representations of prostitutes in French pornographic texts between the 1750s and early 1790s, focusing on the “libertine whore,” which she posits as the antithesis of the “virtuous courtesans” that came to dominate 19th-century writing. The libertine whore rejected domesticity and feminine modesty, and embodied a materialist worldview that regarded male and female as fundamentally the same. By the 1790s, however, a “new doctrine of sexual difference” and a sentimental ideal of femininity made the autonomous “philosophical prostitute” (p. 252) a thing of the past.

    Find this resource:

  • Potter, Tiffany. “Genre and Cultural Disruption: Libertinism and the Early English Novel.” ESC 29.1 (2003): 165–191.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores links between the novel and 17th- and 18th-century libertinism, especially the ways in which female authors—Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood—engaged with libertine thematics as they experimented with new narrative forms. Whether or not they endorsed the libertine ethos, these and such later authors as Defoe, Fielding, and Richardson gave voice to that ethos through their powerful, disruptive, charismatic libertine characters.

    Find this resource:

  • Rosenthal, Laura J. Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive, nuanced study of the ways in which changing conceptions of prostitution were articulated in 18th-century writings. Rosenthal argues that over this period the prostitute changed from a figure of insatiable desire to an alienated laborer or sex worker, a thesis developed through detailed readings of such canonical texts as Roxana, Pamela, and Clarissa alongside an array of “whore biographies,” reformist tracts, and travel narratives.

    Find this resource:

  • Trumbach, Randolph. “Erotic Fantasy and Male Libertinism in Enlightenment England.” In The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800. Edited by Lynn Hunt, 253–282. New York: Zone, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses Cleland’s Woman of Pleasure to examine the 18th-century “religion of libertinism” (p. 254) and the new genre of pornography that announced it. Both of these, in turn, were products of a modern gender system that emphasized sexual difference and created the categories heterosexual and homosexual. The libertine “idealization of sexual pleasure” (p. 266) helped reinforce this new system of sexual and gender difference, with its distinct male and female roles.

    Find this resource:

  • Turner, James Grantham. Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London: Sexuality, Politics, and Literary Culture, 1630–1685. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wide-ranging, theoretically sophisticated and ambitious treatment of the uses of sexual discourse, especially the obscene, disruptive discourse of prostitution and “whoring,” to comment satirically (and scornfully) on political and social rival camps in the mid- to late 17th century. This “porno-political” literature (p. xi) drew on both the Aretine tradition of instructive whore dialogues and a native English tradition of bawdry to create a distinctive Restoration sexual idiom, as in the writings of Wycherley and Rochester.

    Find this resource:

  • Turner, James Grantham. Schooling Sex: Libertine Literature and Erotic Education in Italy, France, and England, 1534–1685. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Trenchant, erudite study focusing on the idea of sexual education, especially among women, as represented in a libertine “hard-core” canon in the Early Modern period. Turner traces the formation of this libertine canon from Aretino through L’Escole des filles and Chorier’s Satyra sotadica to the Restoration-era writing of Wycherley, Rochester, and Behn, exploring through subtle close readings how libertine sexual discourse assumed new meanings through its translation into new languages and cultural milieus.

    Find this resource:

Colonialism, Exoticism, and Pornography

European “encounters” with the rest of the world—the Americas, Africa, East and South Asia, and the South Pacific—took place in the context of colonial expansion and expropriation, and so were never disinterested or benign. But from Montaigne in the 16th century to Diderot in the 18th and Richard Burton (explorer and translator of the Arabian Nights) in the 19th, European authors and readers were fascinated by what they felt as the lure of the exotic, and their fascination often took the form of erotic desire, or, conversely, disgust. Differences between the sexual mores of European and non-European cultures could lead to reflections on natural and unnatural sexualities and on the variability of gender roles, whether from a rigidly Eurocentric or a more culturally relativist perspective. Porter 1990 considers the case of Tahiti, arguing that the sexual openness or promiscuity which European observers described led to an association between the exotic and the erotic in the European imagination, while Cheek 2003 argues that the encounter with Tahiti led to new understandings of the relations among sexual, national, and racial identities. Nussbaum 1995 emphasizes a set of oppositions that were posited in much 18th-century literature, between an idealized English domestic femininity and various forms of exotic or “savage”—but also eroticized—femininity in the further reaches of empire. Wood 2002 explores the connections between responses to Atlantic slavery and the development of sexually violent pornography from 1780 to 1850, while Colligan 2006 examines the impact of a global traffic in exotic images and sexual discourses in the late 19th century on changing notions of the obscene, and the influence these had on the erotic book trade. Like Colligan, Phillips 1999 and Kennedy 2000 draw attention to Richard Burton as a key figure in provoking debates over pornography and the representation of sexual “otherness,” particularly in his translation of, and sexually explicit commentary on, the Arabian Nights.

  • Cheek, Pamela. Sexual Antipodes: Enlightenment Globalization and the Placing of Sex. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the impact of British and French encounters with Tahiti in the 1760s and 1770s on the two nations’ different conceptions of the relation between sexuality and national (and racial) identities. In the book’s third chapter, Cheek assesses the contrasting premises and strategies of English and French pornographies, each articulating a distinct understanding of the relations between public life and the private realm. The “overly visible and carnal sex ordering life in Tahiti” led to new models of sexual identity situated within a modern “racialized global framework” (p. 10).

    Find this resource:

  • Colligan, Colette. The Traffic in Obscenity from Byron to Beardsley: Sexuality and Exoticism in Nineteenth-Century Print Culture. New York: Macmillan, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230595859Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Departs from earlier studies of the erotic book trade by examining how ideas of the obscene in 19th-century Britain were shaped by a “global cultural traffic of . . . exotic fantasies and sexual discourses” (p. 5). The argument is developed through four case studies: on the underground book trade in obscene harem fiction; on the “esoteric pornography” of Richard Burton’s Arabian translations; on flagellation literature and transatlantic “slavery obscenity”; and on the traffic in Japanese erotic prints and prostitution narratives.

    Find this resource:

  • Kennedy, Dane. “‘Captain Burton’s Oriental Muck-Heap’: The Book of the Thousand Nights and the Uses of Orientalism.” Journal of British Studies 39.3 (2000): 317–339.

    DOI: 10.1086/386222Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In his epic translation of the Arabian Nights—and especially in his annotations and deliberately provocative “Terminal Essay”—Burton, Kennedy argues, used Orientalist scholarship as a vehicle to intervene in contemporary debates on sexual morality and to challenge what he saw as a pervasive climate of prudery in Victorian Britain in favor of a more enlightened approach to diverse forms of sexuality.

    Find this resource:

  • Nussbaum, Felicity. Torrid Zones: Maternity, Sexuality, and Empire in Eighteenth-Century English Narratives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Nussbaum’s densely argued and contextually rich study explores connections between the domestic and the imperial arenas, especially the fraught relationship between idealized English women and the exotic or “savage” women of empire. Individual chapters center on provocative readings of texts by Defoe, Johnson, Richardson, Cleland, Lennox, Sarah Scott, and others, in relation to issues of reproduction, polygamy, infanticide, prostitution, and homoerotic desire.

    Find this resource:

  • Phillips, Richard. “Writing Travel and Mapping Sexuality: Richard Burton’s Sotadic Zone.” In Writes of Passage: Reading Travel Writing. Edited by James Duncan and Derek Gregory, 70–91. London: Routledge, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the 19th-century adventurer Richard Burton’s description, in the “Terminal Essay” to his translation of the Arabian Nights, of a “Sotadic Zone”: a geographical “belt” encircling the globe from the Mediterranean through central Asia to the Americas, in which male same-sex desire is endemic. Phillips argues that this ostensibly scientific hypothesis functioned, rather, as a metaphorical landscape that allowed Burton to explore sexual fluidity and challenge Victorian homophobia.

    Find this resource:

  • Porter, Roy. “The Exotic as Erotic: Captain Cook at Tahiti.” In Exoticism in the Enlightenment. Edited by G. S. Rousseau and Roy Porter, 117–144. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    French and British accounts of the encounter with Tahiti emphasized the sexual openness (or promiscuity) of its inhabitants, some (such as Bougainville and Diderot) interpreting this in light of the myth of an erotic golden age, others (such as Captain Cook’s naturalist Johann Forster) seeing it as proof of human depravity. In either case, the encounter conjoined ideas of the exotic and the erotic in the European imagination.

    Find this resource:

  • Wood, Marcus. Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A major study examining the “cultural inheritance” of slavery in 18th- and 19th-century England. Of special relevance to this bibliography is the book’s second chapter, on plantation pornography and the eroticization of violence enacted on the slave’s body. Wood argues that the pornographic treatment of racialized violence resonated not only in overtly erotic texts but in much abolitionist, Romantic, and sentimental literature, whose histories are inextricable from that of the pornographic imagination.

    Find this resource:

17th-Century Literature

The English discovered pornography in something like its modern form in the late 17th century: specifically, in February 1668, when Samuel Pepys recorded buying a copy of the French pornographic dialogue L’École des filles in a London bookshop, and masturbating to it later that evening. But the English also had their own traditions of bawdy and obscene writing going back to Chaucer and before, as well as traditions of writing about love and erotic desire in both poetry and prose; and the erotic/pornographic literature of the 17th century draws on all these lineages. Thompson 1979 offers a lively introduction to the ruder side of 17th-century writing about sex, examining a range of medical, religious, satirical, and political works and denouncing the nastiness of Restoration smut. Moulton 2000 argues that it is misleading to read Early Modern erotic writing as pornography in the modern sense, as 16th- and 17th-century authors did not cordon off sexuality, but used it to comment on topics from masculinity to national identity. Toulalan 2007 focuses on how the body is represented in 17th-century pornography (against Moulton, she argues for the validity of the term for this period), and how pleasure was thought to be linked to procreation; her book also offers an excellent overview of critical debates over “pornography” and related terms. Hammond 2002 explores the representation of male same-sex relationships in Early Modern literature; the final two chapters offer close readings of Marvell and of Rochester’s aggressive homoerotic libertinism. Chernaik 1995 also addresses libertinism in Rochester as part of a wider consideration of the theme of sexual freedom, paying particular attention to women’s claims to the same freedom as men. Ballaster 1992 contributes to studies on the early novel by examining the amatory fiction—explicitly erotic but non-pornographic treatments of the seduction motif—of Behn, Manley, and Hatwood. Andreadis 2001 traces the emergence of an erotic discourse of intimacy between women that avoids explicitly sexual terms in favor of strategies of “erotic ellipsis,” similar to the oblique figuration of male same-sex desire described in Hammond 2002.

  • Andreadis, Harriette. Sappho in Early Modern England: Female Same-Sex Literary Erotics, 1550–1714. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the emergence of an erotic discourse of intimacy between women from the mid-17th to the early 18th century in English. Avoiding the more explicitly sexual terms of male-authored accounts of “tribades” and other sexual outlaws, women writers such as Katherine Philips, Anne Killigrew, and Jane Barker developed strategies of “erotic ellipsis” and “an erotics of unnaming” that allowed them to express same-sex desire without labeling themselves as sexually transgressive.

    Find this resource:

  • Ballaster, Ros. Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important contribution to studies of the early novel, Ballaster’s work focuses on the explicitly erotic late-17th/early-18th-century “amatory fiction” of Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood, as a genre distinct from both male pornography and the moral-didactic love fiction of other women writers. Seduction in these works is both an object of readerly fantasy and a vehicle for exploring the author’s appropriation of “masculine” authority.

    Find this resource:

  • Chernaik, Warren. Sexual Freedom in Restoration Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511518850Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of the tensions and conflicts generated by the ideology of libertinism in late-17th-century literature, especially in the writings of Behn and Rochester. Starting with Hobbes’s model of social interaction as a struggle for dominance, Chernaik charts Restoration authors’ ambivalent treatment of the implications, both social and psychological, of the desire for sexual freedom, especially when this is asserted by women.

    Find this resource:

  • Hammond, Paul. Figuring Sex between Men from Shakespeare to Rochester. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186922.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a series of case studies exploring how sexual relationships between men were represented in 17th-century literature. The final two chapters, on the sexual ambiguity of Marvell’s poetry and the aggressive homoerotic libertinism of Rochester’s, are most relevant to this bibliography; but the study as a whole is notable for its nuanced close readings of a “discontinuous” (p. 258) and often oblique homoerotic literary tradition, resisting the imposition of modern sexological categories.

    Find this resource:

  • Moulton, Ian Frederick. Before Pornography: Erotic Writing in Early Modern England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As his title suggests, Moulton argues that it’s misleading to read Early Modern erotic writing through the lens of pornography, as it encompasses a wide array of genres and aims, and does not cordon off sexuality into a separate private domain. The book’s first part focuses on 16th- and early-17th-century English manuscript culture, and the themes of masculinity and national identity in erotic poetry; the second part examines Aretino and Italian erotic writing as crucial models for such English authors as Nashe and Jonson.

    Find this resource:

  • Thompson, Roger. Unfit for Modern Ears: A Study of Pornographic, Obscene and Bawdy Works Written or Published in England in the Second Half of the Seventeenth Century. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1979.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-04394-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lively and judgmental study of a very wide range of erotic and obscene writing from the period. Thompson divides texts into nine categories—instructional, anti-puritanical, matrimonial, medical, and so on—devoting a chapter to each. Particularly scathing on Restoration-era writing for its “obsession with the indecent and the scabrous, with brutality and obscenity” (p. 11). A peppery, fiercely polemical introduction to the field.

    Find this resource:

  • Toulalan, Sarah. Imagining Sex: Pornography and Bodies in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Toulalan shows that, in the 17th century, pornography was not a distinct genre, but a diverse array of writing that aimed both to arouse sexual feelings and to account for the workings of the sexed body. Arguing that sexual pleasure was linked to conception, she explores such topics as sexual humor, flagellation, voyeurism, and homosexuality in the 17th-century imagination. Features excellent discussions of pornography’s reading audiences, the interplay of private and public, and debates over the term “pornography” itself.

    Find this resource:

18th-Century Literature

All three of the studies considered here take a broad view of the role of erotic or pornographic literature in 18th-century English culture. Peakman 2003 offers an accessible introduction to the many varieties of erotic and bawdy writing on offer in the period, addressing questions of readership and the book trade and highlighting the conservative implications of much erotic literature as it engaged with scientific, medical, and religious debates. Harvey 2004 carefully distinguishes between the erotic and the pornographic, arguing that the metaphorical, veiled language of the erotic (as opposed to the explicit language of pornography) allowed it to act as a sign of civility, sociability, and wit within a homosocial elite male cultural sphere. Lubey 2012, by contrast, rejects any strict distinction between erotic and pornographic, arguing instead for a continuity of erotic discourse across genres as a mode of arousal linked to instruction and self-reflection.

  • Harvey, Karen. Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A cultural history of 18th-century English erotic literature, focusing on the contexts of its production and reception, and on the gender implications of its representations of male and female bodies and sexual acts. Engaging and clearly argued, the book includes useful discussions of the erotica/pornography distinction, of the male-dominant “erotic culture” of the period, and of competing conceptions of sexed bodies (especially female bodies) in the long 18th century, challenging the influential arguments of Thomas Laqueur.

    Find this resource:

  • Lubey, Kathleen. Excitable Imaginations: Eroticism and Reading in Britain, 1660–1760. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rather than considering erotic or pornographic writing as a distinct genre, Lubey argues for the centrality of erotic discourse in a range of 17th- and 18th-century texts, contending that the arousal of erotic sensation was a key strategy for “the production of self-conscious, autonomous, and rational individuals” (p. 8). Each of the book’s four chapters pairs philosophical and literary texts—Locke with Rochester and Behn, Addison with Haywood, Hume with Richardson, Hogarth with Cleland—to demonstrate the relationship in each between arousal and instruction.

    Find this resource:

  • Peakman, Julie. Mighty Lewd Books: The Development of Pornography in Eighteenth-Century England. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230512573Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wide-ranging, accessible study of the different genres of erotic, pornographic, and bawdy writing of the 18th century, with useful discussions of the erotic book trade and suggestive thoughts on the possible readership of such texts. Complements the work of Peter Wagner and Lynn Hunt by emphasizing the conservative ideological premises of much erotic literature, which Peakman reads in relation to medical, scientific, and religious debates of the time. The book concludes with a chapter on flagellation literature, which emerged as an especially popular subgenre of English erotica from the 1770s on. Republished in 2012.

    Find this resource:

Pornography and the Novel

The intimate, conflictual relationship between erotic-pornographic writing and the 18th-century form of the novel have attracted a good deal of critical attention—in part, as Keymer 2012 suggests, because sexuality was a central preoccupation of such novelists as Behn, Haywood, Richardson, Fielding, and Sterne, each of whom worked to develop a euphemistic “erotic idiom” through which they could explore sexual topics without recourse to obscenity. Two essays by James Turner consider rhetorical or thematic connections between pornography and the 18th-century novel: Turner 1995 focuses on circumstantial authenticity as a rhetorical strategy of both “whores’ rhetorics” and realist novels, while Turner 2005 argues that canonical novels and sexually explicit fiction share an interest in secrecy, spying, and the arousing effects of reading. Mudge 2000 argues that pornography was constituted as a genre in 18th-century England as the “debased other” of respectable literature, in part because of its association with women’s amatory fiction and “whore dialogues,” while Warner 1998 uses the example of Richardson’s Pamela to exemplify a new division, from the 1740s, between morally uplifting fiction and debased pornography.

  • Keymer, Thomas. “Obscenity and the Erotics of Fiction.” In The Cambridge History of the English Novel. Edited by Robert L. Caserio and Clement Hawes, 131–146. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521194952.010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the interconnections between pornographic discourse and mainstream fiction in the 18th century. Keymer notes that sexuality was a “central . . . thematic and rhetorical concern” (p. 131) of such novelists as Behn, Haywood, Richardson, Fielding, and Sterne, and explores some of the ways in which these authors, as well as more explicitly pornographic writers such as Cleland and Thomas Cannon, developed a euphemistic “erotic idiom” (p. 139) that broke with the obscene plain style of earlier sexual representations.

    Find this resource:

  • Mudge, Bradford K. The Whore’s Story: Women, Pornography, and the British Novel, 1684–1830. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that pornography was constituted as a genre in the late 18th century as the “debased other” (p. 29) of the modern category of literature. Mudge examines the roles of female authors, readers, and characters in the development of pornography, suggesting that the pornographic novel derived from women’s amatory fiction on the one hand and whore dialogues on the other. This literary-historical argument is introduced by a reflection on debates in the late 20th century between anti-pornography and anti-censorship theorists.

    Find this resource:

  • Turner, James Grantham. “The Whore’s Rhetorick: Narrative, Pornography, and the Origins of the Novel.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 24 (1995): 297–306.

    DOI: 10.1353/sec.2010.0302Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compact but suggestive essay on affinities between the rhetorical strategies of two 17th-century treatises on prostitution and the “formal realism” associated with the 18th-century novel. In Pallavicino’s La retorica delle puttane and its English adaptation The Whore’s Rhetorick, the title characters create circumstantially detailed first-person narratives to make their clients believe in the “truth” of their love for them—modeling the strategies that novelists would later use to create the effect of their characters’ authentic subjectivity.

    Find this resource:

  • Turner, James Grantham. “The Erotics of the Novel.” In A Companion to the Eighteenth-Century English Novel and Culture. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider and Catherine Ingrassia, 214–234. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405101578.2005.00012.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposes that canonical novels by such English and French authors as Richardson and Diderot are linked to contemporaneous sexually explicit fiction through shared discourses of secrecy, spying, and the arousing or seductive effects of reading. Also available through Blackwell Reference Online.

    Find this resource:

  • Warner, William B. Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684–1750. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In his discussion of what he calls “the Pamela media event,” Warner offers a brief but revealing analysis of Richardson’s work as an exemplary case of a new division between “the morally improving novel” and the “debased category” (p. 219) of pornography.

    Find this resource:

Sodomites, Sapphists, and Same-Sex Desire

The critical studies brought together here are as notable for their different thematic interests and theoretical orientations as for any common areas of inquiry, but all are concerned with reflecting on the cultural place or significance of representations of same-sex desire and practice in the long 18th century. Rousseau 1987 was among the first scholarly works to attempt a taxonomy of such representations, and it remains a useful starting point for research in the field because of its scope and its methodological openness to a diversity of critical approaches. McFarlane 1997 examines the complex figure of the sodomite in 17th- and 18th-century literature: both a satirical embodiment of social, political, and sexual anxieties and a figure which elicited a desiring homoerotic gaze. Moore 1997 looks at the representation of sapphic relationships between women to explore the links between “dangerous” sexualities and the formation of individual and national identities. Binhammer 2003 also looks at representations of female same-sex desire, but does so to argue that such desire was not associated with a distinct category of “the lesbian” in the 18th century, but rather represented extreme or excessive forms of normative heterosexuality. Gladfelder 2007 presents and comments on a long-lost text by Thomas Cannon which celebrates the diverse forms of male same-sex desire from ancient to modern eras even as it calls into question the stability of all sexual and gender identities. Emery 2008 finds a similar questioning or “queering” of sexual categories at work in the memoirs of the quintessentially heterosexual Casanova. Robinson 2006 argues, against the dominant grain of much recent critical work, for a continuity of sexual identities and desires across classical, Early Modern, and 18th-century literature, and for the value of attending to authorial intention as a means to discover the coded or “closeted” meanings of literary texts.

  • Binhammer, Katherine. “The ‘Singular Propensity’ of Sensibility’s Extremities: Female Same-Sex Desire and the Eroticization of Pain in Late Eighteenth-Century British Culture.” GLQ 9.4 (2003): 471–498.

    DOI: 10.1215/10642684-9-4-471Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues against the claim that “the lesbian” was a separate category of sexuality in the 18th century; instead, female same-sex desire was represented as an extreme or excessive form of “an emerging normative heterosexuality” (p. 473). Binhammer compares stories of female flagellators in pornographic magazines of the 1780s and 1790s to such novels of sensibility as Mary Wollstonecraft’s Mary to suggest that the imagining of “pain as a possible location of erotic pleasure” (p. 484) is linked to female same-sex desire as a departure from domestic sexual restraint.

    Find this resource:

  • Emery, Ted. “Queer Casanova: Subversive Sexuality and the (Dis)embodied Subject in History of My Life.” In Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Vol. 151. Edited by Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau, 74–85. Detroit: Gale, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Casanova’s accounts of same-sex encounters serve to undermine the notion that gender and desire are naturally grounded in the body, and thus call into question patriarchal norms of sexual difference. Useful for foregrounding Casanova’s interest in ambiguous bodies and the fluidity of desire. First appeared in Italian Culture 24–25 (2006–2007): 23–44.

    Find this resource:

  • Gladfelder, Hal. “In Search of Lost Texts: Thomas Cannon’s Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d.” Eighteenth-Century Life 31.1 (2007): 22–61.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Two-part article which presents the full extant text of Cannon’s treatise-cum-anthology in celebration of same-sex desire—legally suppressed and long lost, but preserved in the indictment of the work’s original printer. The indictment’s extended quotations from the text feature translations from classical erotica as well as modern narratives of cross-dressing and masquerade, and even in partial form it constitutes “the most extensive and varied treatment of male same-sex desire” (pp. 34–35) in 18th-century English literature.

    Find this resource:

  • McFarlane, Cameron. The Sodomite in Fiction and Satire, 1660–1750. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    McFarlane examines the emergence of “the sodomite” as a distinct social and literary type in a range of late-17th- and early-18th-century texts, including poetic satires, the obscene play Sodom, and novels by Smollett and Cleland. The sodomite acted as a figure onto which a range of social and political anxieties could be projected; but it could also elicit homoerotic fantasy—a “sodomitical gaze” (p. 24)—on the part of the reader, so that “prohibition and pornography merge” (p. 173) in the unstable text.

    Find this resource:

  • Moore, Lisa L. Dangerous Intimacies: Toward a Sapphic History of the British Novel. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Challenging, densely argued examination of the representation of “sapphic” relationships between women in four novels: Millennium Hall, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, Belinda, and Emma. Moore argues that sexual intimacy between women was the “danger” through and against which new notions of domestic female virtue and selfhood were articulated, and that the novel played a key role in contributing to modern understandings of individual and national identity.

    Find this resource:

  • Robinson, David M. Closeted Writing and Lesbian and Gay Literature: Classical, Early Modern, Eighteenth-Century. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this bracing, polemical study, Robinson makes two unfashionable arguments: that there are significant continuities between present and past understandings and experiences of same-sex love or lust; and that literary texts can be approached in light of authorial intention in order to discover “closeted” meanings: erotic sympathies or aversions that are coded so as to be invisible to outsiders but visible to those in the know. Features an especially good discussion of Cleland’s Fanny Hill as a closeted homophile fiction, in contrast to the uneasy mixture of “textual homophobia” and nonsexual love between men in Smollett.

    Find this resource:

  • Rousseau, G. S. “The Pursuit of Homosexuality in the Eighteenth Century: ‘Utterly Confused Category’ and/or Rich Repository.” In ’Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment. Edited by Robert Purks Maccubbin, 132–168. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important starting point for research on representations of same-sex desire and same-sexual practices in the period. Some of Rousseau’s claims need qualification, and much new material has been brought to light in the thirty years since his article was written, but this learned and wide-ranging essay opened up new areas of scholarly investigation, and it remains an essential point of reference.

    Find this resource:

Enlightenment and Revolution in France

France was not only the birthplace of the Enlightenment and the site, near the end of the 18th century, of an outbreak of revolutionary violence that threatened to bring down regimes across Europe—it was also the era’s most important and prolific producer of erotic and pornographic literature. These critical studies all explore, albeit in very different ways, the relations between Enlightenment philosophy, political radicalism, and pornography in the period. Darnton 1996 combines book history and close reading to learn what 18th-century readers were actually buying, and to assess how political pornography and anti-royalist slander may have influenced public opinion. Hunt 1993 is also concerned with the political impact of pornographic works which critiqued aspects of the ancien régime, and explores the decline of politically engaged porn in the decades after the outbreak of revolution in 1789. Jacob 1993 and Meeker 2006 are both interested in the influence of materialist science and philosophy on sexual representations: materialism called traditional forms of hierarchical authority into question, and placed new emphasis on female sexuality and autonomy. (Readers and students new to this topic should start with Jacob’s more accessible study.) Cusset 1999 turns to the ethical implications of libertine erotic fiction, which uses irony to undermine moral certainties and to affirm the values of ethical relativism and the acceptance of sexual desire. Goulemot 1994 also concentrates on reading and pleasure, suggesting that erotic writing exemplifies the power of literature to arouse the imagination and provoke a visceral response. Peter Cryle’s two studies emphasize the differences between 18th-century and later understandings of sexuality: Cryle 1994 argues that French erotic literature from the earlier period describes an “ars erotica,” a teachable practice or art of erotic pleasure, whereas in later eras sexuality was represented as a disruptive, uncontrollable force; while Cryle 2001 contrasts an 18th-century model of sexuality understood in terms of visual tableaus and arrangements of bodies to a later model that conceives of “the sexual act” as a linear narrative moving toward “an intense, climactic event.”

  • Cryle, Peter. Geometry in the Boudoir: Configurations of French Erotic Narrative. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Starting with Foucault’s distinction between a classical “ars erotica” and a modern “scientia sexualis,” argues that the former is integral to the canon of French erotic literature from the 16th to the 19th century. Central to this tradition were scenes of women instructing women in the codes of erotic behavior and systems of bodily practice. After Sade, whose work is the focus of four of the book’s ten chapters, 19th-century authors developed a different model of the erotic, based on notions of desire as a disruptive, eruptive, spontaneous force, although the classical “ars erotica” persists in such 20th-century texts as Pauline Réage’s Histoire d’O.

    Find this resource:

  • Cryle, Peter. The Telling of the Act: Sexuality as Narrative in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This sequel to the same author’s Geometry in the Bedroom resists the imposition of sexological models of “the sexual act” on earlier periods, arguing that between 1750 and 1900 there was a profound change in the ways in which pleasures and desires could be experienced and understood. Against a later focus on “sexual pleasure as an intense, climactic event” (p. 363), 18th-century writing conceived of pleasure in terms of tableaux and gradations—sets of figures rather than linear narratives moving inevitably to orgasm.

    Find this resource:

  • Cusset, Catherine. No Tomorrow: The Ethics of Pleasure in the French Enlightenment. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Nuanced study of a select group of French libertine erotic fictions, including Diderot’s La Religieuse (The Nun), Prevost’s Manon Lescaut, and Vivant Denon’s Point de lendemain (No Tomorrow), exploring their ironic, anti-idealist arguments for the ethical value of pleasure. Playing with the reader’s expectations, these fictions undermine moral certainty and affirm the values of relativism and acceptance of the body’s desires.

    Find this resource:

  • Darnton, Robert. The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. London: HarperCollins, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Combines book history and textual analysis to explore the proliferation of illegal literature, from advanced philosophical texts by Voltaire and Rousseau to pornography and scandal sheets, in the decades leading up to the French Revolution of 1789. Darnton uses booksellers’ records to reconstruct patterns of distribution and reader demand, and weighs the impact of political pornography and anti-royalist sexual slander in the formation of public opinion. An appendix features excerpts from three bestsellers, including the important pornographic novel Thérèse philosophe.

    Find this resource:

  • Goulemot, Jean Marie. Forbidden Texts: Erotic Literature and its Readers in Eighteenth-Century France. Translated by James Simpson. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Less a history or literary overview than a meditation on the ways in which erotic texts act on the imagination and body of the reader. Although the texts discussed are all French (Sade, Mirabeau, Rétif de la Bretonne), Goulemot’s reader-response approach should apply to erotic writing of any period: indeed such writing, for Goulemot, embodies “the essence of literature” (p. 75): its power to arouse the imagination and create a sense of the real.

    Find this resource:

  • Hunt, Lynn. “Pornography and the French Revolution.” In The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800. Edited by Lynn Hunt, 301–339. New York: Zone, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that politically motivated pornography—texts that used obscene, sexually explicit narrative to critique aspects of the ancien régime—rose in prominence in France from the 1770s on, and exploded in popularity after 1789, when the Revolution began. As readership expanded beyond libertine circles to include popular audiences, however, and with the works of such authors as Sade and Nerciat, it shed its specifically political content, and by 1800 had become a more overtly commercial enterprise.

    Find this resource:

  • Jacob, Margaret. “The Materialist World of Pornography.” In The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800. Edited by Lynn Hunt, 157–202. New York: Zone, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the connections between pornography, with its focus on purely physical relations between bodies, and philosophical materialism, which sought to explain all natural phenomena in purely material terms. Materialism provided an intellectual framework for the representation of bodies driven by desire and, by calling certain traditional forms of hierarchical authority into question, created a greater space for female autonomy, so that the philosophical female narrator became a stock character in 18th-century pornography.

    Find this resource:

  • Meeker, Natania. Voluptuous Philosophy: Literary Materialism in the French Enlightenment. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines libertine erotic fiction and philosophy in light of Lucretian and Epicurean materialism. For such libertine authors as La Mettrie, Diderot, and Sade, the voluptuous is a form of pleasure augmented by the imagination, by way of literary figures or tropes. Dense and often challenging, Meeker’s study explores the complex, troubled relationship between literature and bodies in the grip of erotic sensation.

    Find this resource:

Gothic and Romantic Literature

Given their frequently transgressive content, it is little surprise that Romantic and Gothic works around the turn of the 19th century should engage with sexual perversity, but there is not a large amount of critical work on the relationship between literature and pornography in the period. One text which has provoked critical analysis pertaining to this topic is Matthew Lewis’s Gothic novel The Monk (1796), whose connections to the pornographic are explored in Gamer 1999, alongside contemporaneous novels by Charlotte Dacre and Charles Robert Maturin. Haggerty 2006 also examines The Monk as part of a wide-ranging, theoretically adventurous exploration of the Gothic genre in relation to the categories of sexual identity enshrined in late-19th-century sexual science, while Mudge 2006 proposes The Monk as an exemplary text in the emergence of a “pornographic imagination” in the late 18th and early 19th century. Lanser 2006 reads Coleridge’s quasi-Gothic “Christabel” in relation to poems by William and Dorothy Wordsworth to explore the multiple ways in which erotic connections between women could be imagined and figured in the Romantic period. Sha 2009 offers a theoretically subtle and complex analysis of the role of the perverse, as informed by work in the sciences, in the writing of such Romantic authors as Blake, Shelley, and Byron, for whom perversity is a form of critique of contemporary sexual norms and constraints.

  • Gamer, Michael. “Genres for the Prosecution: Pornography and the Gothic.” PMLA 114.5 (1999): 1043–1054.

    DOI: 10.2307/463463Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Combines legal and genre approaches to the history of pornography and its relation to other literary forms by exploring late-18th-century responses to Gothic fictions by Matthew Lewis and Charlotte Dacre. Such novels were morally denounced and threatened with prosecution under obscene libel laws, suggesting that the pornographic and obscene are not so much generic labels as modes of reception or “sets of undesirable readerly effects” (p. 1046).

    Find this resource:

  • Haggerty, George E. Queer Gothic. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Noting that “transgressive sexuality, loss, incest, and prohibited desire” (p. 3) are the stuff of Gothic fiction, in which terror is almost always sexual terror, Haggerty offers subtle, psychoanalytically inflected readings of Gothic texts from Walpole’s Castle of Otranto and Lewis’s The Monk to Shelley’s Frankenstein and Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, arguing that the Gothic both anticipated the categories of 19th- and 20th-century heteronormative sexual science and offers a perspective from which to critique them.

    Find this resource:

  • Lanser, Susan S. “‘Put to the Blush’: Romantic Irregularities and Sapphic Tropes.” In Historicizing Romantic Sexuality. Edited by Richard C. Sha. Romantic Circles Praxis Series, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lanser’s essay explores the meanings of erotic affiliations between women in the Romantic imagination, building on the contrast between a secret realm of dangerous same-sex desire in Coleridge’s “Christabel” and a safe, sisterly containment of sapphic danger in William Wordsworth’s sonnet on the “Ladies of Llangollen.” Distinct from both, Dorothy Wordsworth’s “Irregular Verses” imagines the possibility of sapphic union by way of metrical and figural deviations from poetic norms.

    Find this resource:

  • Mudge, Bradford K. “How to Do the History of Pornography: Romantic Sexuality and Its Field of Vision.” In Historicizing Romantic Sexuality. Edited by Richard C. Sha. Romantic Circles Praxis Series, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rehearses key points of Mudge’s earlier book The Whore’s Story, arguing that literature and pornography emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as opposed but mutually dependent categories which jointly constructed modern notions of sexual norms and deviance. Mudge proposes Matthew Lewis’s gothic novel The Monk as a key text in the emergence of the “pornographic imagination” (p. 18).

    Find this resource:

  • Sha, Richard C. Perverse Romanticism: Aesthetics and Sexuality in Britain, 1750–1832. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sha argues that the perverse—a resistance to function or biologically determined purpose—played a key role in Romantic-era sexuality and aesthetics, both of them in active dialogue with contemporary science. Uncoupling sexual pleasure from reproductive purpose, such authors as Blake, Shelley, and Byron imagine the perverse as a destabilizing force which enables a critique of sexual and gender norms, and which aims at nothing less than sexual liberation.

    Find this resource:

19th-Century and Victorian Literature

The word “pornography” was first used in English in the 1840s, and the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 was the first legislation in Britain that aimed to control the dirty book trade; so it could be argued that it was only in the Victorian period that pornography came into its own, both as a genre and as a social problem to be addressed. Marcus 1966 is the starting point for any discussion of Victorian pornography, even if his characterization of pornography as a subculture or subliterature distinct from the Victorian mainstream has been challenged in more recent work. Marcus’s study is most significant for his coining of “pornotopia” as designating the fantasy space of the pornographic imagination, set apart from all social reality—a contested but useful idea. Sigel 2002 argues most pointedly against Marcus, maintaining that pornography was always bound up with other discourses, including those of politics and science, and that it spoke to a wide range of readerships. Cohen 1996 explores the connections between canonical novels and scandal literature, which share strategies of pointing to transgressive sexual content by emphasizing its unspeakability. Rosenman 2003 argues that much Victorian erotic literature resists the neat categories of normality and deviance, or homosexual and heterosexual, suggesting that individuals can work around or between such constraining terms. Colligan 2002 underlines the key role played by Richard Burton’s translations of erotic “Oriental” texts in inciting public debates about the term “pornography” itself. Frederickson 2011 is a useful overview of more recent scholarship, most of it concerned to explore the permeable boundaries between pornography and other discourses of the period.

  • Cohen, William A. Sex Scandal: The Private Parts of Victorian Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Scandal—“public drama about the sins of private life” (p. 16)—provided both context and subject matter for the Victorian novel, in Cohen’s argument. Like Victorian newspapers and scandal sheets, authors such as Dickens, Eliot, Trollope, and Wilde both structured their narratives around transgressive sexual content and emphasized that content’s unspeakability. Adapting Foucault’s approach in The History of Sexuality, Cohen argues for a close connection between canonical and “perverse” strands of literature.

    Find this resource:

  • Colligan, Colette. “‘Esoteric Pornography’: Sir Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights and the Origins of Pornography.” Victorian Review 28.2 (2002): 31–64.

    DOI: 10.1353/vcr.2002.0019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the first British public debates about “pornography” as a literary term and cultural battleground occurred in response to Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights. Burton’s short article on “Pornography” in the work’s “Terminal Essay” was also the first British attempt to theorize the category in accord with his condemnation of British prudery and sexual hypocrisy.

    Find this resource:

  • Frederickson, Kathleen. “Victorian Pornography and the Laws of Genre.” Literature Compass 8.5 (2011): 304–312.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2011.00800.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful overview of scholarship on Victorian-era pornography, focusing on work published since 2000 but situating this in relation to classic studies by Steven Marcus and Walter Kendrick. Frederickson notes that while the definitions of pornography and obscenity established during the Victorian period have proved tenacious, the category was always also porous and unstable; and recent scholarly work has explored the permeable boundaries between pornography and the discourses of politics, biology, race, and psychology.

    Find this resource:

  • Marcus, Steven. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Marcus addresses the “subculture” or “subliterature” of pornography in Victorian England, finding in it a distorted reflection of official middle-class Victorian views of sexuality—anxious, anguished, and self-contradictory. Between chapters on Henry Ashbee, the pornographic bibliographer and collector, and the “bizarre” Victorian literature of flagellation, Marcus dwells at length on the eleven-volume sexual memoir My Secret Life. This yields his most significant theoretical contribution, the notion of “pornotopia” as the fantasy space of the pornographic imagination—a space, however, of almost pathological insatiability.

    Find this resource:

  • Rosenman, Ellen Bayuk. Unauthorized Pleasures: Accounts of Victorian Erotic Experience. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examining a range of cases and texts, Rosenman argues that Victorian narratives of erotic experience resist such constraining categories as normality and deviance, or homosexual and heterosexual, and reveal the resourcefulness with which individuals could evade or loosen sexual and ideological constraints. Chapters most relevant to this bibliography focus on G. W. M. Reynolds’s bestselling Mysteries of London and the epic pornographic memoir My Secret Life.

    Find this resource:

  • Sigel, Lisa Z. Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815–1914. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Historical study of the production, distribution, and consumption of pornography during the 19th century. Contesting the view that pornography in the Victorian era belonged to a distinct subculture or underworld, Sigel traces its development from a discourse associated with political radicalism, to a specialist interest of professionals, connoisseurs, and men of science, and, from the 1880s, a mass market commodity available in postcard form. Useful in highlighting the diversity of kinds of pornography and their varied audiences.

    Find this resource:

Queer, Gay, Lesbian, Homosexual Literature

The later 19th century saw the emergence of sexology as a scientific discourse of sex, and with it a campaign to establish stable categories of sexual identity, such as homosexual and heterosexual, among others. For many commentators, the Oscar Wilde sodomy trials of 1895 were a defining moment in the construction of a distinct “homosexual” identity: such is the premise of Sinfield 1994, which argues that the trials helped to stabilize an identity category linking same-sex desire to effeminacy, dandyism, and decadence—a purely contingent construction that came to be regarded as natural. Cohen 1987 also sees Wilde as a key figure, but draws attention to ways in which his writing both endorses and resists dominant sexual ideologies of the period. Resistance or “dissidence” is the keynote of Dellamora 1999, a collection whose contributors explore a range of non-normative practices and desires represented in Victorian literature, many of them involving forms of androgyny. Craft 1994 is concerned with the interaction of homoerotic desire and homophobic suppression in late-19th- and early-20th-century canonical literature, while Delgado 2007 looks at the underground pornographic novel Sins of the Cities of the Plain as a text which explodes sexological categories and celebrates perversity of all sorts. Kopelson 1994 argues that modernist authors’ portrayals of homoerotic desire are grounded in 19th-century discourses of erotic love, while Vanita 1996 locates models for 19th- and 20th-century treatments of erotic love between women in the archetypal figures of Sappho and the Virgin Mary, pointing to continuities between ancient and modern.

  • Cohen, Ed. “Writing Gone Wilde: Homoerotic Desire in the Closet of Representation.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 102.5 (1987): 801–813.

    DOI: 10.2307/462309Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Grounding his analysis in the claim (derived from Foucault) that “the homosexual” emerged as a “species” in the late Victorian era, Cohen argues that Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, and the pornographic novel Teleny (often attributed to Wilde), “both reproduce and resist the dominant heterosexual ideologies and practices” of the period (p. 803).

    Find this resource:

  • Craft, Christopher. Another Kind of Love: Male Homosexual Desire in English Discourse, 1850–1920. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the complex dynamics of homoerotic desire and homophobic enforcement in such texts as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, and Lawrence’s Women in Love. Positioning itself as a work of anti-homophobic criticism, Craft’s book demonstrates how confounded and confounding 19th- and 20th-century categories of sexual identity, desire, and practice can be.

    Find this resource:

  • Delgado, Anne. “Scandals in Sodom: The Victorian City’s Queer Streets.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 40.1 (2007): 21–34.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Delgado reads John Saul’s pornographic novel-memoir Sins of the Cities of the Plain in relation to W. T. Stead’s exposé of urban prostitution and vice, “Maiden Tribute to Modern Babylon,” as offering a kind of map to the “queer spaces” of London’s sexual underworld. Sins, for Delgado, is a queered Bildungsroman, its protagonist a liminal character who refuses to fit into any sexological category.

    Find this resource:

  • Dellamora, Richard, ed. Victorian Sexual Dissidence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection exploring a range of forms of “sexual dissidence” in late Victorian literature, including same-sex desire (both female and male), androgyny, and effeminacy, especially as these intersected with the Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic, and Decadent movements. Essays most pertinent to this bibliography include studies of Wilde’s De Profundis (Oliver Buckton), the lesbianism of Vernon Lee’s writing (Kathy Psomiades), and gay male and lesbian authors’ fascination with the adolescent boy (Martha Vicinus).

    Find this resource:

  • Kopelson, Kevin. Love’s Litany: The Writing of Modern Homoerotics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although it focuses on 20th-century erotic texts (by Gide, Woolf, Stein, Yourcenar, and others), Kopelson’s book argues that these texts’ construction of lesbian and gay sexuality is grounded in 19th-century/romantic discourses of erotic love, especially four features of that discourse: the complementary merger of opposites; Liebestod or love-death; Wertherism, sad or suicidal love; crystallization, or belief in the lover’s perfection.

    Find this resource:

  • Sinfield, Alan. The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde, and the Queer Moment. London: Cassell, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the 1895 Oscar Wilde sodomy trials were a defining moment in the construction of 20th-century queer (i.e., gay male) identity, which cohered around a conjunction of effeminacy, dandyism, aestheticism, and class privilege. Although this larger claim is debatable, Sinfield offers a suggestive history of the shifting relationship between effeminacy and sexuality in English literature from Marlowe to Wilde, and reflects on the contingent formation of sexual stereotypes.

    Find this resource:

  • Vanita, Ruth. Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that same-sex love between women was not always silenced or marginalized but was integral to the English literary imagination from Keats and Coleridge through Austen and “Michael Field” to Forster and (especially) Woolf. Traces two principal models of same-sex love: the Marian, which eroticizes the mother-daughter relationship, and the Sapphic, which offers “passionate dialogue between women as a paradigm for lyric intensity and sublimity” (p. 2).

    Find this resource:

Individual Authors

Most erotic, obscene, and pornographic writing from the period 1660 to 1900 was published anonymously or pseudonymously, and the overwhelming majority of such publications were “generic” by design: rather than aiming to express a distinct authorial personality, they were formulaic and conventional, adhering to established patterns or types. In a few cases, however, a distinct authorial personality does emerge from the text, and a few figures have come to be regarded as authors in the sense of makers or shapers of eroto-pornographic literary history. Such a figure was Aretino in the first half of the 16th century: his Ragionamenti set the pattern for “whore dialogues,” or conversations in which an older woman instructs a younger in the secrets of sexual pleasure, providing a template for such later works as L’École des filles (The School of Venus), Vénus dans le cloître (Venus in the Cloister), and the first part of Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. In Britain, in the period covered here, four writers seem to stand out as shapers of the eroto-pornographic form (although other names could of course be added): John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, for his unsettling mix of fury and wit, gross obscenity and poetic refinement; John Cleland, for his influential adaptation of pornography to the novel; Rétif de la Bretonne, who invented the word “pornographer” (Fr. pornographe) and whose work at the intersection of the erotic and the obscene shaped the 19th-century proliferation of pornography as a readily identifiable genre; and the Marquis de Sade, who set the benchmark, still unrivaled, for pornography as a literature of outrage and excess.

John Cleland

Cleland’s first novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure—also known, after the name of its protagonist, as Fanny Hill (1748–1749)—is the most significant erotic or pornographic novel in English, in part precisely because Cleland was the first author to use the new literary form of the novel to write an explicit story of sexual initiation and pleasure. As Sabor 1987 and Gladfelder 2012 note, the unwelcome attention of prosecutors and censors meant that the novel, although widely printed and read, led a semi-underground existence for over 200 years, and the complete first-edition text was not widely legally available until 1985. From the 1960s, however, legal battles were fought in both the United States and Britain over publishers’ right to sell (and readers’ right to buy) the novel: see Hyde 1964, cited under General Overviews, and Rembar 1968, cited under Censorship and Obscenity Law. Because much of the evidence in these trials came from literary scholars attesting to the novel’s artistic merits, critical interest in the Memoirs dates from the same period. Braudy 1970 was one of the first critical studies to make serious aesthetic and intellectual claims for the novel, and Braudy’s interest in the connection between sexuality, science, and philosophy set the tone for much later critical work. Overwhelmingly, however, as Sabor 2000 demonstrates, it was the text’s focus on issues of female subjectivity, gender relations, and same-sex desire (among other transgressions) that led to an explosion of critical interest in the 1980s and 1990s. Sabor 2000 is the best starting place for readers new to the work, as it offers a balanced and comprehensive guide to criticism produced over three decades. Mengay 1992 was among the earliest and best critical essays to address the novel’s homoerotic subtexts, while Anderson 1995 and Jagose 2007 focused on questions of female pleasure and the representation of orgasm to examine the connection between narrative form and sexual ideology. For other important work in this vein, see Nussbaum 1995, cited under Colonialism, Exoticism, and Pornography, and McFarlane 1997, Moore 1997, and Robinson 2006, all cited under 18th-Century Literature: Sodomites, Sapphists, and Same-Sex Desire. Fowler and Jackson 2003 is the first critical collection dedicated to the Memoirs and illustrates the range of topics and approaches the novel has elicited. Gladfelder 2012 is the first full-length critical-biographical study of Cleland’s authorial career, and links extended readings of the Woman of Pleasure and its masculine counterpart Memoirs of a Coxcomb (1751) to discussions of his later fiction and his writings on sexuality, politics, the body, and language.

  • Anderson, Antje Schaum. “Gendered Pleasure, Gendered Plot: Defloration as Climax in Clarissa and Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.” Journal of Narrative Technique 25.2 (1995): 108–138.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Little-known but original and suggestive essay on the tensions between “male and female erotic dynamics of plot” (p. 112) in Cleland’s and Richardson’s novels. Against a male linear plot of arousal, climax, and decline, these feminocentric texts offer plots based on absence (of sexual climax or pleasure, as in Clarissa), or excess (an endlessly repetitive sequence of deflorative or climactic moments, as in the Memoirs). Useful for thinking about the nonlinear, repetitive form of much erotic or pornographic writing.

    Find this resource:

  • Braudy, Leo. “Fanny Hill and Materialism.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 4.1 (1970): 21–40.

    DOI: 10.2307/2737611Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A pioneering and influential article that reads Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in light of Enlightenment natural philosophy—specifically, the outlawed writings of the renegade philosophe and physician Julien Offray de La Mettrie, author of L’Homme machine, or Man a Machine (1747). In connecting Cleland’s erotic novel to advanced philosophical ideas of the period, Braudy pointed to an intellectual sophistication and complexity in the text that had eluded many earlier critics.

    Find this resource:

  • Fowler, Patsy S., and Alan Jackson, eds. Launching Fanny Hill: Essays on the Novel and Its Influences. New York: AMS, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Diverse collection offering a range of perspectives on Cleland’s Woman of Pleasure, including essays on its contexts, translations, adaptations, and use in the classroom. Among the standout contributions are essays by John Beynon on sapphic erotics and economics, and Lena Olsson on the novel’s portrayal, by turns idealized and realistic, of prostitution.

    Find this resource:

  • Gladfelder, Hal. Fanny Hill in Bombay: The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Connecting Cleland’s writing to its literary and social milieu, and to his embattled experience of authorship, this biographical study addresses the full range of his work. Two chapters focus on the Woman of Pleasure: one analyzes it in light of 18th-century discourses of same-sex desire, while the second foregrounds Cleland’s play with novelistic form and his undermining of stable or fixed sexual identities.

    Find this resource:

  • Jagose, Annamarie. “‘Critical Extasy’: Orgasm and Sensibility in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 32.2 (2007): 459–482.

    DOI: 10.1086/508215Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Jagose presents Cleland’s novel “as a text that labors to explain and naturalize erotic interest between the sexes” (p. 461)—to articulate the emerging category, and ideology, of heterosexuality. Closely attending to the novel’s descriptions of orgasm as key to its negotiation of competing contemporary understandings of male and female bodies and the nature of sexual pleasure, Jagose also offers witty, sometimes wicked, responses to earlier critical readings.

    Find this resource:

  • Mengay, Donald H. “The Sodomitical Muse: Fanny Hill and the Rhetoric of Crossdressing.” In Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment England. Edited by Claude J. Summers, 185–198. New York: Haworth, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Through close attention to recurrent figural motifs and rhetorical patterns in Cleland’s text, Mengay argues that a homoerotic subtext runs through the ostensible heterosexual narrative of Fanny Hill, so that the long-suppressed “sodomitical” episode, in which Fanny spies on two young men having sex, becomes central to the novel’s undercutting of “the code of bourgeois heterosexuality” (p. 196) it only seems to endorse.

    Find this resource:

  • Sabor, Peter. “The Censor Censured: Expurgating Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.” In ’Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment. Edited by Robert Purks Maccubbin, 192–201. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed examination of Cleland’s expurgated version of his first novel, retitled Memoirs of Fanny Hill (1750). Sabor’s comparison of the two versions points out unexpected effects of Cleland’s self-censorship, as when the omission of explicit details allows the reader to imagine a more obscene meaning than in the original text. For the most part, however, expurgation led to stylistic impoverishment: in noting this, Sabor draws attention to the richness of the original.

    Find this resource:

  • Sabor, Peter. “From Sexual Liberation to Gender Trouble: Reading Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure from the 1960s to the 1990s.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 33.4 (2000): 561–578.

    DOI: 10.1353/ecs.2000.0047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A balanced and comprehensive overview of earlier critical discussions of Cleland’s novel, focusing on the ways in which feminist criticism, gender studies, and queer theory changed how the novel was interpreted and judged. An essential critical resource for all students of the Memoirs.

    Find this resource:

Rétif de la Bretonne

Although his work is not well known outside of France, Rétif belongs in any bibliography of pornography, because it was he who coined the word pornographe (pornographer) in his 1769 work of that name, as discussed in Steintrager 2006. Rétif derived the term from the ancient Greek words pornē (prostitute) and graphē (writing or visual mark), and used it to mean one who writes about prostitution, as he does in Le Pornographe, a treatise calling for the public regulation of brothels. However, Steintrager 2006 suggests that Rétif’s fusion of public health treatise and sentimental novel also set the terms for the later development of pornography as a literary genre that combines a focus on sex with an interest in feeling or sensation, even if later pornographers such as Sade took the form in a different direction. Coward 1987 emphasizes a certain obsessive quality to Rétif’s erotic writing, especially his fetishism and fixation on incest, which Coward links to the totalitarian quality of Sade’s work. Wyngaard 2013 offers a more three-dimensional view, and the most comprehensive treatment of Rétif’s work in English. She also sees Rétif as a key figure in the creation of pornography, but pays more attention to his non-pornographic erotic fiction, such as the novels Le Paysan perverti (The country lad corrupted, 1775) and La Paysanne pervertie (The country lass corrupted, 1784), which spoke to an audience of both male and female readers, and were concerned with intimacy and female pleasure as well as male desire.

  • Coward, David. “The Sublimations of a Fetishist: Restif de la Bretonne (1734–1806).” In ’Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment. Edited by Robert Purks Maccubbin, 98–108. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Succinct and highly critical review of Rétif’s career as pornographic author, focusing on the obsessive, even monomaniacal character of his writing. Rétif exemplifies the movement from the moderate philosophical optimism of the early philosophes to an “erotic dictatorship” or “sexual totalitarianism” (p. 98) akin to Sade’s.

    Find this resource:

  • Steintrager, James A. “What Happened to the Porn in Pornography? Rétif, Regulating Prostitution, and the History of Dirty Books.” Symposium 60.3 (2006): 189–204.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A detailed study of Rétif’s treatise arguing for state regulation of prostitution, Le Pornographe (1769), in light of contemporary concerns about population and public health. Steintrager focuses on an apparently anomalous feature of Rétif’s text—its framing of the treatise within a sentimental epistolary narrative—in order to examine how later authors such as Sade departed from Rétif’s attempt to fuse the social and the sentimental, thereby creating a fantastic, antisocial “pornotopia” which became a defining feature of the modern genre of pornography.

    Find this resource:

  • Wyngaard, Amy S. Bad Books: Rétif de la Bretonne, Sexuality, and Pornography. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In the first major study of Rétif in English, Wyngaard argues that his work played a crucial role in creating the modern category of pornography by exploring the boundaries between the erotic and the obscene. Pressing against censorial regulation, and engaging with an audience of both male and female readers, his focus on intimacy, incest, female pleasure, and fetishistic desire set the terms of much later pornographic writing and sexual science.

    Find this resource:

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Sexuality, especially in its more pathological forms, is a preoccupation of Rochester’s poetry, as it was of so much Restoration-era literature; and Rochester pushed harder than any poet before him (or perhaps since) against the limits of the boundary separating poetic language from gross obscenity. Although obscene poetry is only a small part of his literary corpus, his work in that vein is so witty, vivid, and disturbing that it has attracted much critical attention. Braudy 1994 and Fabricant 1974 both focus on sexual failure in Rochester’s work, which comes to stand in for a more general sense of futility and the loss of aristocratic male privilege. A sense of disempowerment is also suggested in Wintle 1982, which examines Rochester’s anxieties over female sexual independence, while the chapters on Rochester’s erotic poetry in Thormählen 1993 explore his conflicted attitudes toward sexuality and desire in themselves. Love 1993 takes up the question of whether Rochester wrote the crudely obscene farce Sodom, often attributed to him, concluding that he was not the play’s author, but offering some astute observations on the treatment of same-sex desire and the relationship between sexuality and power both in Sodom and elsewhere in Rochester’s writing.

  • Braudy, Leo. “Remembering Masculinity: Premature Ejaculation Poetry of the Seventeenth Century.” Michigan Quarterly Review 33.1 (1994): 177–201.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Rochester’s “The Imperfect Enjoyment” in comparison to Etherege’s poem of the same name, finding in Rochester an apprehension of changing norms of masculinity and/as “performance” in the later 17th century, when an older model of aristocratic male sexual privilege began to give way to an anxious “sense of being potentially unmanned rather than empowered by sexuality.”

    Find this resource:

  • Fabricant, Carole. “Rochester’s World of Imperfect Enjoyment.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 73.3 (1974): 338–350.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fabricant’s central claim in this influential essay is that “Rochester’s poetry is characterized, not by the exaltation of sexuality as commonly assumed, but by an unequivocal demonstration of the latter’s transience and futility” (p. 343). His poetry articulates a vision of sex as a form of automatism or drudgery, and of the human body as a perpetually-breaking-down machine.

    Find this resource:

  • Love, Harold. “But Did Rochester Really Write Sodom?” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 87.3 (1993): 319–336.

    DOI: 10.1086/pbsa.87.3.24304390Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using a combination of bibliographic, stylistic, and thematic evidence, Love argues against the disputed but frequent attribution of the obscene burlesque farce Sodom to Rochester. In doing so, he offers suggestive comments on court satire, the relationship between sexuality and power, and the play’s representation of same-sex desire, which Love reads as contrary to its portrayal elsewhere in Rochester’s writing.

    Find this resource:

  • Thormählen, Marianne. Rochester: The Poems in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study emphasizing Rochester’s engagement with history, politics, and contemporary philosophical debates. The book’s first two parts (of four) focus on Rochester’s erotic and sexually themed poems, offering nuanced and formally observant readings that point up Rochester’s conflicted attitudes toward sexuality and desire.

    Find this resource:

  • Wintle, Sarah. “Libertinism and Sexual Politics.” In Spirit of Wit: Reconsiderations of Rochester. Edited by Jeremy Treglown, 133–165. Oxford: Blackwell, 1982.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Rochester’s relationship to the ideas of Hobbes and Montaigne on female sexual autonomy and equality, and his willingness to consider the implications of female sexual libertinism. At the same time, his poetry is suffused with anxiety and dread with respect to sexually independent women, expressed by way of ridicule and debasement.

    Find this resource:

Marquis de Sade

Sade is, by a long margin, the most controversial and widely execrated author of obscene or pornographic literature of all time. There is no denying the horrors with which his writings are replete, and no denying that his work aims to shock and outrage the reader. But since his work was rediscovered (and much of it published for the first time) in the early 20th century, it has attracted voluminous critical attention: because of its extremity, his writing is an essential point of reference for all debates about pornography as a genre. Anti-pornography activists have characterized his writing as symptomatic of male sexual values, specifically violent misogyny: see Dworkin 1989 and Griffin 1981, cited under Polemics and Debates, Theoretical and Political. The critics in Allison, et al. 1995, however, while they may also identify his work as misogynist, are more interested in examining the philosophical, political, and psychoanalytic implications of the Sadeian text. Carter 1979 argues for a feminist reclaiming of Sade as a “moral pornographer,” while Warman 2002 and Shea 2006 explore the philosophical precursors from whom Sade drew in formulating his radical critique of humanist and Enlightenment philosophy. Phillips 1999 and Phillips 2012 also present Sade’s work as politically and morally subversive, but focus on his use of literary devices, such as comic exaggeration and the grotesque, to unsettle the reader.

  • Allison, David B., Mark S. Roberts, and Allen S. Weiss, eds. Sade and the Narrative of Transgression. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful collection that includes translations of classic, if now rather dated, essays by Georges Bataille, Pierre Klossowski, and Jean-François Lyotard together with more incisive, textually focused essays by Jane Gallop (on Sade and the maternal), Nancy K. Miller (Sade and gender), and Philippe Roger (on Sade and politics).

    Find this resource:

  • Carter, Angela. The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography. New York: Pantheon, 1979.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although most often cited for its contribution to feminist debates over pornography in the 1970s and 1980s (and beyond), Carter’s book is also a sharp and politically engaged interpretation of Sade’s major writings, with provocative feminocentric readings of Justine, Juliette, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and The 120 Days of Sodom.

    Find this resource:

  • Phillips, John. “‘Laugh? I Nearly Died!’: Humor in Sade’s Fiction.” The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 40.1 (1999): 46–67.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contends that the horrors described in Sade’s texts are mitigated or even played for laughs because of their absurdity and excess. Phillips uses Henri Bergson’s theory of laughter to argue that the automatism and one-dimensionality of Sade’s characters distances us from them, so that the narrative of violence becomes an 18th-century cartoon. Sade’s use of incongruity, repetition, and exaggeration mark him “as an essentially comic writer” (p. 47), whose obscenity should be seen as bawdy rather than erotic or truly disturbing.

    Find this resource:

  • Phillips, John. “Obscenity Off the Scene: Sade’s La Philosophie dans le boudoir.” Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 53.2 (2012): 163–174.

    DOI: 10.1353/ecy.2012.0012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Noting that Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom was written in prison during the Terror, and that Sade had a view of the guillotine from his cell, Phillips argues that the text conforms to Bakhtin’s concept of “grotesque realism”: through carnivalesque inversion and savage black comedy, Sade’s text subverts social hierarchies, and uses obscenity to attack both religious and revolutionary puritanism, which led to “the real obscenity of the Terror” (p. 171).

    Find this resource:

  • Shea, Louisa. “Sade and the Cynic Tradition.” Modern Language Quarterly 67.3 (2006): 313–331.

    DOI: 10.1215/00267929-2006-002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Engaging, accessible essay that positions Sade in relation to the ancient philosophical Cynicism of Diogenes and his followers—a philosophical practice that used indecency, mockery, and humor to critique social pieties. Sade’s libertine characters practice a form of negation that constitutes “a radical questioning of what it means to be human” (p. 326), and the violation of sexual taboos is a means to unseat ideas of natural law.

    Find this resource:

  • Warman, Caroline. Sade: From Materialism to Pornography. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 2002.01. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed study of Sade’s indebtedness to—and, equally, departures from—the “sensationist materialism” (p. 21) of such Enlightenment-era philosophes as Diderot, D’Holbach, and La Mettrie, focusing in particular on the role of imagination in the generation of desire. Sade’s libertines take materialist philosophy to its logical extremes by acting it out on material (living human) bodies.

    Find this resource:

back to top

Article

Up

Down