Erotic Books: Banned!
Obscenely Good Books That Were Once Illegal
Ever since the invention of the printing press—five hundred years ago—erotic literature has been written, published, distributed, denounced, and then banned for its stimulating content. These “illegal” novels were also thoroughly enjoyed by those who could get their sweaty hands on a smuggled copy. Deemed obscene by a ruling government for various “vulgar” reasons—from descriptions of sexual depravity to unacceptable couplings involving race, gender, age, or social standing—these dirty books were only more sought out and devoured by the lawbreakers reading them.
PROVOKR presents five of the most forbidden books from the last four centuries. Some of these arousing narratives are still on banned lists somewhere in the world, but most seem tame today compared to when they were published. However, each has an undeniably sexy quality that makes them hard, ahem, to put down. The expression “cuddle up with a good book” has never been more apropos. Enjoy!
The mastermind behind The Story of O was French author Anne Desclos, under her pseudonym, “Pauline Réage.” The erotic novel, which was first published in 1954, is a series of sexy love letters to her much older lover and publisher, Jean Paulhan, describing sexual encounters with both men and women, focusing on the allure of dominance and submission.
The Story of O follows the adventures of “O,” a Parisian female fashion photographer whose lover is a member of a secret society of sexually dominant men. O is taught to be accessible at all times to anything deviant that the men in the elite club demand, including oral stimulation, vaginal sex, and anal intercourse. Typically, the book describes O being stripped down, chained, and whipped. Eventually O falls in love with “Sir Stephens,” a powerful master, and becomes his sex slave, a job she learns to love.
While the novel was a must-read for many, the French authorities ended up charging the publisher Jean Pauvert with obscenity in 1955, banning it for several years. It wasn’t until 1994, when Desclos was in her 80s, that she admitted to being the author.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence, tells the story of Lady Chatterley, a wealthy aristocrat trapped in a sexless and loveless marriage. She begins an affair with her estate’s gamekeeper, Olivier Mellor, a sexy, working-class handyman, who knows his way around a haystack. Written and published privately in Italy in 1928, the book is packed with explicit sex scenes between the young lovers and the abundant usage of four-letter words like “fuck” and “cunt,” deemed “unprintable” at the time.
When the fully unabridged text was published in the UK in 1960, a groundbreaking obscenity trial began in the courts to determine whether the novel was mere smut or true literature. The “not-guilty” verdict paved the way for other sexually explicit novels to be published in England. It was such a momentous decision, the trial was dramatized by BBC Wales as The Chatterley Affair in 2006.
Fun fact: the word pornography is derived from Greek meaning, “a written description of prostitution or a prostitute.” Hence, Fanny Hill, John Cleland’s 1748 novel about a young prostitute’s sexual adventures, is correctly called “the original English prose pornography.” So what’s so shocking about it? It tells the story, using delicious erotic euphemisms, of a young woman who loves sex with many partners, male and female, and eventually finds happiness in middle age with a former client. Not so scandalous these days, but Fanny Hill still remains one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history.
Tropic of Cancer is considered a literary classic by the infamous Henry Miller, who was notorious for his depictions of sex in his books. Published in Paris in 1934, the novel follows a young writer living in bohemian Paris (hmmm, who could this be based on?), dealing with issues like hunger, homelessness, and loneliness after his separation from his wife. Sex, of course, happens a lot, which is why it was immediately banned in the United States, and only smuggled copies were available in England. It wasn’t until thirty years later that the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the state findings that claimed Tropic of Cancer was obscene. Today, it appears on many Best-of lists, including the Board of the Modern Library, Time magazine’s 100 Best Novels, and Esquire’s “75 Books Every Man Should Read.”
Anaïs Nin was the definition of “girl power” back in the day. The French-born scribe found her passion for sensual writing when she was commissioned, along with other now-famous writers, like Henry Miller and poet George Barker, to create erotica for a private collector during 1940s. Nin produced graphic, non-flowery short stories describing explicit sexual escapades for The Collector’s clandestine consumption.
In later years, Nin was not proud of her pornographic creations, but she changed her mind in 1977 with the publication of Delta of Venus. Comprised of fifteen of her earlier private erotic short stories, she said of the novel, “I finally decided to release the erotica for publication because it shows the beginning efforts of a woman in a world that had been the domain of men.”
Although this erotic novel has been banned from several shelves across the nation including the world’s largest bookseller Amazon for being too scandalous, Nin will go down in history as one of the most talented 20th-century erotica pioneers.