Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

Reinventing the wheel: a brief survey of erotic literature
February 27, 2009 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Erotic expression in printed form is an art that has been around since the days of Christ but surprisingly has never seemed to go away. This post aims to take a cursory survey of some of the more important works of erotic literature that have been published over the last few hundred years, and to examine the current state of erotic writing.

In 1749 John Cleland wrote a book that would find itself legislatively ruled obscene in the US until 1966. The book was called Fanny Hill, and it detailed the salacious life of a prostitute. In retrospect it is quite tame by obscenity standards.

In 1785 Marquis de Sade wrote a book while imprisoned that would be controversial and face bans in many countries to this day. It was a very explicit book about the sexual abuse and torture of a group of children by the hand of a group of depraved libertines. This book was The 120 Days of Sodom. It has lost none of its charm over the years and is still the single most disturbing book that I have ever personally read. But you don't have to take my word for it...

1928 saw another controversial erotic novel, written by D H Lawrence. His book, titled Lady Chatterly's Lover, explored the notion that a relationship between man and woman must be more than just a mental bond-- it required a physical bond as well (and an excuse to sleep with the farmhand). Like Fanny Hill, it was deemed obscene in the US and legislatively banned until the 1960s.

Surprisingly, despite all the advances in technology that allowed for much more visually stimulating content, erotic literature continued to be written and printed through the 1960s and 1970s. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, thanks to the possibility of computer networking it became viable for amateur authors to create and trade written erotica over machines that squawked very loudly and made discreet masturbation impossible.

In 2009, erotic literature still gets written and distributed by both amateur and professional authors on a daily basis. Some sites cater specifically to the GLBT community, other sites cater to specific fetishes.

Despite claims that the literacy rate in the US is declining, erotic literature (which appears to be primarily written in English) shows no signs of waning interest.
posted by Ziggy Zaga (33 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll go ahead and pre-empt it already-- a few of the links warrant a "Previously" but they fit in the overall context, so I left them in there.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 3:53 PM on February 27, 2009


What, no mention of Lolita?
posted by Vindaloo at 3:55 PM on February 27, 2009


I read Lolita and didn't find it so much erotic as it was strictly controversial due to the subject matter. For some it might be. Different strokes, I guess.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 3:57 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually I have to agree with you, my comment was made more in light of the Lolita novel giving way to the Lolita fetish which is a theme found throughout erotic literature.
posted by Vindaloo at 3:58 PM on February 27, 2009


has been around since the days of Christ

Every form of literature has been around since the beginning of writing itself. And none of it has gone away.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 3:58 PM on February 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think Gutenberg would quibble about the printed bit.
posted by Artw at 4:03 PM on February 27, 2009


Over the past year or two I've greatly enjoyed reading a few pages of My Secret Life from time to time. It fits somewhere inbetween de Sade and Lawrence in your timeline and is by turns fascinating, cringe-inducing, and very, very hot.
posted by Nelson at 4:05 PM on February 27, 2009


Don't forget sexstoriespost.com !

Funny though, in the early days of civilian internet, I was commuting a hellish distance, and staying with a friend on weeknights. He was pretty tech savvy, and had the latest Pentium CPU and ISDN! He would let me use his computer, that was about the time Diablo came out. One night, not really knowing what I was doing, I started browsing the internet, and stumbled into what was either a Usenet newsgroup or a library of text files. All porn stories, and a lot of gay sex. I was pretty embarrassed, especially the thought that he might know what I had seen.

Years later it occurred to me that I had probably followed either his browsing history or bookmarks. There were no real search engines in those days, and as I recall, all I was doing was just kinda clicking hyperlinks. Hehe.
posted by Xoebe at 4:08 PM on February 27, 2009


Every form of literature has been around since the beginning of writing itself.

Even if you accept, say, Apuleius as a novelist (and many do not), novels are stll a recent innovation relative to the beginning of writing itself.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:11 PM on February 27, 2009


Oh for Pete's sake, I can't even make a link. Sorry.
posted by Xoebe at 4:13 PM on February 27, 2009


Beat poet Diane Di Prima's Memoirs of a Beatnik
posted by Joe Beese at 4:14 PM on February 27, 2009


1928 saw another controversial erotic pointless and morose novel, written by D H Lawrence.

Seriously, for a novel with enough fucking to last you through Lent and more cunt than you can shake a stick at, D H Lawrence singularly manages to miss categorisation as 'erotic' by a league and several furlongs.
posted by Sova at 4:19 PM on February 27, 2009


Every form of literature has been around since the beginning of writing itself. And none of it has gone away.

That makes sense. After all, Revelations is best understood as an avant-garde, Burroughs-esque cutup.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:23 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I totally expected the professional link to go to Ellora's Cave as EC is all erotica all the time and Harlequinn is some erotica some of the time and EC is an internet publisher.
posted by nooneyouknow at 4:34 PM on February 27, 2009


This probably goes without saying, but we really should tag ASSTR and Literotica as NSFW. ASSTR is pretty hardcore.
posted by empath at 4:37 PM on February 27, 2009


Ten points for the Reading Rainbow reference!
posted by epj at 4:43 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


This book was The 120 Days of Sodom. It has lost none of its charm over the years and is still the single most disturbing book that I have ever personally read.

Hmmm. I would say that 120 Days of Sodom is the most repulsive book I've read, but definitely not the most disturbing. The whole setup is so over the top and cartoonish that it's hard to take seriously. It's a list of paraphilias disguised as a book. Now a book like Fiasco, that's disturbing.
posted by benzenedream at 4:48 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Erotic expression in printed form is an art that has been around since the days of Christ

Oh, it's been around well before then. There were erotic poems written by ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks, the comedies of ancient Rome...and ain't NOBODY gonna tell me that the Song of Solomon really was a religious work, and wasn't an erotic poem that somehow got thrown into the Bible and made everyone ever after go, "uh....it's an allegory. Really."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:49 PM on February 27, 2009


Every form of literature has been around since the beginning of writing itself. And none of it has gone away.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 6:58 PM on February 27 [+] [!]

Oh, it's been around well before then. There were erotic poems written by ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks, the comedies of ancient Rome...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 PM on February 27

I guess I didn't do a good enough job of explaining what that should have meant. "Since" was a poor choice of word, for starters.

Every week I'm seeing articles about how magazines and newspapers are outdated before they're even published and how blogs and websites are going to put both forms of media out of commission. I see the demand for television to change from pre-programming to internet streaming on-demand services. Will newspapers and magazines go completely extinct in this digital age? I doubt it. Will pre-programmed commercial television as we know it die off? Doubtful. But going forward, when we want news or entertainment, we're not necessarily going to look to newspapers or magazines.

It's the same point I was trying to make here; with sculpture, paintings, comics, photographs, magazines, recorded video, and now instant streaming video, one would think that the role of using literature for sexual stimulation would have either died or become significantly diminished. In the early days of the internet you could download a well-written text file really quick or spend half an hour and countless retries waiting for a reeeeeeally crappy GIF of Denise Richards to download. These limitations don't exist anymore, so it's surprising to me at least that the medium is still popular for this purpose.

I totally expected the professional link to go to Ellora's Cave as EC is all erotica all the time and Harlequinn is some erotica some of the time and EC is an internet publisher.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:34 PM on February 27


I'm not too familiar with either company as I don't purchase any of their products. The only reason I threw the Harlequin link on there was because when I used to work retail, we dealt with them as a vendor and were always ordering books like "The Sultan's Brother's Runaway Pregnant Mistress Bride Harem" so I assumed that that type of thing was their bread and butter.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 5:01 PM on February 27, 2009


A side note. Our would-be protectors of decency, it seems, dig porn more than most
Or so this just published study would indicate.
posted by Postroad at 5:03 PM on February 27, 2009


Well one of the reasons why internet erotica is still so popular is that it provides access to a whole host of material that either cannot be replicated in pictorial or video format, or simply shouldn't be. Whether it's a simple stroke story that's wall-to-wall sex or a richly detailed erotic novel it seems like erotic literature allows us to explore fantasies in a safe, relatively judgment free manner. In addition just about anyone can write an erotic short story, not nearly as many people can draw erotica, or are wiling to photograph or film erotica.
posted by vuron at 5:32 PM on February 27, 2009


Dear Penthouse,

I never thought a front page post like this could happen to me. I'm a single guy, 6'4" tall, well built and let's just say you can't ignore my girth...
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:22 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


After all, Revelations is best understood as an avant-garde, Burroughs-esque cutup.

I'm not familiar with this "Revelations" book you speak of, though there was a film by that name a few years back...
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 8:04 PM on February 27, 2009


Even as a kinky, slutty, dirty man, 120 Days of Sodom is tedious and, more than disturbing, kind of boring. I mean, yeah, if you're into shit, it's pretty hot in places. But, for the most part, it's a simple catalog of perversion. It's not even a particularly complete catalog at that, concentrating almost exclusively on all things anal. The sadistic portions aren't even sufficiently sexualized to titillate unless you, personally, have already sexualized simple torture. Poking people's eyes out? Yep, got that, but it's not that hot. Poking people's eyes out and then fucking the empty, slimy socket? de Sade wasn't that imaginative.

And de Sade didn't even finish the damn thing... the first couple of weeks are written, but the balance is just an outline.

Also, as benzenedream points out, the whole thing is entirely too cartoony to disturb. There's no characterization. None of expected terrified reaction of the children is ever explored. The kids seem to take their lumps without so much as a tear shed, serving the libertines with slavish smiles. I don't actually even understand how a sadist could get off on it... the descriptions of the acts are precise enough, but without any of the emotional response that elicits erections.

I bought it at the age of 14 with intentions of wanking furiously to it. Instead, I just read it and tore it apart in a book report for school (I had awesome English teachers in high school).

His other books are far better, imo, although sometimes just as tedious. I like Justine and Juliette far, far better.
posted by Netzapper at 8:26 PM on February 27, 2009


I have to throw in a reference to Chip Delany's Hogg as one of those books that makes you queasy but you still need to touch yourself while you read it.
posted by gregography at 1:27 AM on February 28, 2009


I fainted the first time I read Raping Little Suzy.
posted by blasdelf at 2:36 AM on February 28, 2009


Even if you accept, say, Apuleius as a novelist (and many do not), novels are stll a recent innovation relative to the beginning of writing itself.

The Tale of Genji is about 1000 years old.
posted by permafrost at 3:11 AM on February 28, 2009


The Tale of Genji is about 1000 years old

A thousand years is not that long ago, and certainly nowhere near the beginning of writing. But a worthy cite, for all that.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:35 AM on February 28, 2009


There's always The Carnal Prayer Mat and The Plum in the Golden Vase (both China, 1600s), or the trailblazing The Lord of Perfect Satisfaction (even earlier, and supposedly from a woman's point of view--haven't read it), but they were only translated relatively recently, so you'll have to pay to read them legitimately, or hit a library.
posted by wintersweet at 11:09 AM on February 28, 2009


Charlotte Roche's Wetlands is coming out in April 2009. Not sure if this qualifies as erotica but people have fainted during readings.
posted by lahersedor at 12:04 AM on March 1, 2009


Why forget "Kama Sutra"? Supposed to be written in seventh Century B.C?
posted by thinkDifferent at 3:25 PM on March 1, 2009


erotic literature (which appears to be primarily written in English) shows no signs of waning interest.

Thank god for that.
posted by misha at 5:30 PM on March 1, 2009


I'm seconding what Zetzapper said about 120 Days of Sodom being tedious. For that kind of grotesque erotica I find George Bataille's Story of the Eye and the rest of his erotic fiction still make me wince or recoil with disgust, while simultaneously getting me all hot n bothered. There's also a certain delicacy to Bataille's work, such as the pussy planted in the bowl of milk at the beginning of Story of the Eye, which offsets some of the more brutal moments of violence, and that's what I enjoy so much about his style and what makes it so hot-- the contrast.
posted by unicazurn at 6:44 PM on March 1, 2009


« Older Weee! Book scramble! (Single link Daily Mail artic...   |   Lone Star Beer. Immortalized i... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments