Our last question for thought. Perhaps the lack of electronics and assorted distractions lend to more lascivious activity. Perhaps it was simply underreported (though the abundance of 18th century erotic art from elsewhere in the world suggests otherwise). Sure, porn might dominate our internet world today, but when people are spending their nights watching porn, what happens to the level of sex?
Is there a distinction? We’ll leave this one open for discussion.
I think when comparing sex in the 18th century novel and modern technology, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they are completely irrelevant to one another. Studying the 18th Century involves scanning texts for obscure sexual allusions and innuendos, whereas now all you have to do is quickly enter the word into a database and receive millions of results. The medium has shifted and expanded, from simple text to music, videos, iphone applications, etc. It seems almost impossible to compare the two.
When attempting to do so, we have to remember to question the consumer’s motives when seeking out these sources. Did an 18th Century individual read Fanny Hill in order to receive some sort of arousal (if the novel was the only available technology, this could be synonymous with modern porn), or did they approach it for entertainment, in which case much of our modern media applies.
Although various modern technologies are employed with the goal to actually receive some sort of sexual satisfaction (i.e. sex-finder applications, websites and blogs, and porn), most available, sexually explicit content is not produced for this reason. It is doubtful that, when listening to an explicit David Banner song or watching Avenue Q, the goal is to get off. We are all aware that sex sells, even if getting off is not the motive behind using it. This, too, could be true for 18th century sex found in literature.
In the end, it is impossible to know why or how sexual content within the novel was used. Perhaps it was for arousal, perhaps not. Either way, despite the difficulty in initially pinning it down, it is evident that it quickly infiltrated the new technology, just as it does now.
We love 18th century novels; we love erotic fiction. So does Bookkake, a small English publisher of “transgressive literature,” including Fanny Hill (yes, theirs is the edition with the crotch shot cover Stephen posted earlier.) Their range of publications go beyond the 18th century as well. Among their published texts are Apollinaire’s Memoirs of a Young Rakehell and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. If you’re not convinced by their clever name or their selection of titles, Bookkake also has a blog and Twitter account offering histories of pornography and censorship laws, archaically dirty poems, and interactive sex maps. Their posts are insightful and witty and they cover erotic literature from the 1700s to today.
We’ve covered S&M, prostitutes, and even caught glimpses of girl on girl action in Fanny Hill, but how did homosexuality situate itself in literature, erotica or otherwise, in the 18th century?
I encountered Love Letters Between a Certain Late Nobleman and the Famous Mr. Wilson published in 1723 and it reads as an epistolary novel. The preface both excuses and promotes the content of the novel. The publisher describes the relationship between the two title characters as “an affair of so odious and criminal a Nature,” and acknowledges that had the romance occurred between “two distinct sexes,” the reader may have read the poetic language contained in the letters differently. Because both characters in question are men, the romantic becomes the erotic. The correspondence between the late nobleman and Mr. Wilson is scandalous and illegal, and its publication profitable. If sex sells, scandalous and illegal sex sells even more.
One letter from the nobleman to Mr. Wilson ends,
"Greenwich-Park, be behind Flamstead’s House, and I shall see you, tomorrow nine at night, don’t fail to come*"
*I suggest reading this out loud.
I was happy to learn of another epistolary novel, published in 1970 and based on our lovely Fanny HIll, titled The Son of Fanny Hill.
The back of the novel reads:
Fanny Hill had a son. His birth was a well-kept secret. His early life was one of drudgery and boredom. But in your manhood, his search for paronage led him to the most twisted paths of pleasure and perversion 18th century England could offer. In this book, his own letters reveal the whole truth: the bold, candid, painful, and gay story of ROD HILL.
Rod details a sexual experience in one of his letters,
I soon felt that wonderful purse of his, so soft that it seemed to be made of the finest velvet, come swinging gently against my upturned buttocks while the large spheroids therein (for truth he sported no pea-sized ovals but those of such a size to be comparable to our English walnuts) did bounce enticingly against my bum.
The Son of Fanny Hill provides an example of one path 18th century erotic fiction took: 70s gay porn literature.
Love-Letters between a certain late nobleman and the famous Mr. Wilson: discovering the true history of the rise and surprising grandeur of that celebrated beau. London, . Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. New York University. 20 Apr. 2010
Technology is now used with the goal of sexual release in mind. Sex-finder advertises a wide array of products, from stories and blogs to sex toys and even a tool to find a sex-partner.
THE WIDOW OF WESTMORELAND’S DAUGHTER
THE LUSTY YOUNG SMITH