Thursday, June 10, 2010

...On Romance of Lust by Anonymous

Romance of Lust or Early Experiences by Anonymous is a Victorian erotic tale published in 1873-1876 in four volumes. It is believed that either William Simpson Potter or Edward Sellon wrote it and it's considered an erotic literary classic. The following is the description for the book:
The novel is told in first person, and the protagonist of the novel is Charlie Roberts. The novel begins with “There were three of us — Mary, Eliza, and myself.” Charlie catalogs his sexual experiences with his governesses, various male and female friends, and acquaintances. The book deals with a variety of sexual activities and taboo subjects.
Interesting finds:
  • Use of language and vocabulary
Language and the way it was used made these volumes an unsettling read. The writing flowed and even while describing some of the most erotic or shocking moments in the story the formality of expression used by the writer was often at odds with the subject matter, specially throughout the first two volumes. As the novel progressed and its true focus became clear, the use of erotic terminology deteriorated and became raunchier, however the formality and flow of language remained a constant.
    Words most often used: lascivious, libidinous, lubricity, salacious, gamahuche, voluptuousness and debauchery. References to Venus and other Roman and Greek gods and goddesses are used in conjunction with sexual acts and body parts. French, Italian and Latin are used freely, although many of the common names used by Anonymous are still used today. 
    • Beauty
    As may be supposed, not a bone was to be traced in her upper neck, but all was dazzling in colour and flesh, which is such a beauty in woman. When a woman shows her gaunt collar bones, it is a proof of bad breeding, and a common nature.
    • Social commentary
    1. Hypocrisy of women and how well they are able to mask their true selves by presenting a false front to society and often to men in general.
    2. Society's hypocrisy in general, specially that of the gentry and the aristocracy, i.e., how they are viewed by others vs. how they really are.
    3. Husband's selfishness and disregard for their wives sexual needs. Example:
    It is these insensate cold-blooded husbands who raise, without satisfying, their wife's erotic passions, and drive them perforce to seek salacious comfort in other arms. 
    Controversial finds:
    • Taboo subject matter - the above book summary mentions taboo subjects, what it does not mention is that the main taboo subjects addressed in this book are incest and the seduction and deflowering of minors, both males and females. What it doesn't explain when it says "There were three of us, Mary, Eliza and myself" is that Mary and Eliza are Charlie's sisters; or that Charlie is fifteen at the beginning of the book, and his sisters are fourteen and thirteen respectively. Charlie himself is seduced by an adult and later on he takes on and relishes the role of seducer.
    1. On the subject of incest through Charlie Roberts, Anonymous writes:
    In after-life, I have always found the nearer we are related, the more this idea of incest stimulates our passions, so that if even we be in the wane of life, fresh vigour is imparted by reason of the very fact of our evasion of conventional laws.
    Final thoughts:

    After reading Romance of Lust or Early Experiences, I will never read a Victorian historical romance where there is a dissolute and corrupt character without thinking of Charlie Roberts. He was portrayed as both and as one who not only relishes but also thrives in corrupting those around him. Charlie has to be the most distasteful character I've ever encountered in a book.

    I was able to read the first volume completely and then proceeded to skim through the rest of the volumes, where I basically looked for the information I was interested in finding. The subject matter throughout the rest of the volumes escalated to a point where I could not quite make myself read through the erotic encounters, although I followed Charlie's story through to its unfortunate end.

    This is an erotic fantasy, not to my taste and definitely out of my comfort zone, yet in reading it I still found some things that interested me, those few glimpses into Victorian society were definitely a draw for me. The use of language and vocabulary, their idea of what constituted beauty and the social commentary about the times that were included in these volumes made an otherwise uncomfortable and unsettling read, interesting. I would like to conclude by saying that if the writer's purpose was to shock his audience at the time these volumes were published, I'm quite sure he succeeded.

    7 comments:

    1. Hils,

      I very much liked and appreciated your approach to this review. I recently read and reviewed a book of short stories and essays, some of which took me out of my comfort zone, so I know first hand how difficult a review of this nature is to write.

      Having said this, I did find interesting your impressions on the use of language:

      Language and the way it was used made these volumes an unsettling read. The writing flowed and even while describing some of the most erotic or shocking moments in the story the formality of expression used by the writer was often at odds with the subject matter, specially throughout the first two volumes. As the novel progressed and its true focus became clear, the use of erotic terminology deteriorated and became raunchier, however the formality and flow of language remained a constant.

      I'm not a linguist or a historian of the English language but could it be that the manner in which language is used reflects the overall formality of that period? Just a thought.

      It sounds like these volumes were written as a means of providing the reader license to fantasize about all sorts sexual urges and proclivities (whether deemed deviant or not) in response to an extremely repressive period in English social history.

      Good job on this one.

      Indi...

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    2. Thanks Indi, this book was tough to read and tough to review.

      the manner in which language is used reflects the overall formality of that period?

      Yes, it does. This is exactly what I was looking for when I chose this book. However, interestingly enough for a modern reader like me the formality and subject matter made it an even more unsettling read.

      It always amazes me how repressive societies can spawn such highly provocative pieces - the subject of pedophelia being the most disturbing to me when it comes to taboo subjects. But, the other interesting and somewhat disturbing point I found while reading these volumes was the lack of real emotional connection between all the players. At some points it read almost like a "guide" or a "how to" book.

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    3. Wow - amazing review Hils. I would imagine this was passed around secretly and whispered about during that era.

      In a repressed society, you can't help but wonder what goes on in private and how those repressed feelings are released. I can't imagine what happened in these stories was the norm but still, interesting.

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    4. Leslie, I would imagine so... I shouldn't think these volumes would have been widely read. These would have been one of those secret reads kept behind glass doors and locked away.

      I'm sure these events were not the norm... I've read some erotic poetry from that time, but this is my first venture into their erotica... and yes an bit of an eye popping read. O_o

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    5. Hils - amazing review. Definitely a book outside of my comfort zone I think.

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    6. Orannia, this was an interesting read on some levels, but definitely not for everyone.

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    7. Very interesting review. As to the age of the participants, bear in mind that the age of consent in Britain had only been set at 13 in 1875 (just before the publication of this book). Prior to this the age of consent was 12 (and for women only there was no age of consent for males). It did not become 16 until 1885 and in this Britain was ahead of many countries. The age of consent in France remained at 13 until 1945. Age of consent is still only 14 in many European countries, including Portugal, Austria and even Germany.

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