Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fifty Shades of Erotica

There has been a lot of talk lately about the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey (M), which some reviewers are referring to as an example of the erotica sub-genre “mommy porn”. This got me to wonder about the definition of erotica. According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary erotica is defined as “intentionally erotic literature or art”. Erotic is “ of or pertaining to sexual love “. So I guess that this “mommy porn” will arouse a reader but also appeal to the emotions.

There has been erotica in books since the beginning of time. Some would even argue that the Song of Solomon in the Bible is erotica.

Originally published in 1749 Fanny Hill : memoirs of a woman of pleasure (M) by John Cleland may be the most banned book in history and is considered to be the first original English prose pornography to use the form of a novel. Written as a series of letters from Fanny to an unknown woman, it covers just a few years of her life. Fifteen year old Fanny is lured to London by a girl from her village. There she finds herself lodging at a brothel. Through a series of affairs Fanny climbs the social ladder. It was scandalous for the time, both for the sex and the breaking of the class society.

Going forward a few centuries to Lady Chatterley’s Lover (M) by D.H. Lawrence published in 1928. The first edition was printed privately in Italy and would not be openly published until 1960. There have been reports the novel is based on events from Lawrence’s own unhappy life. Young married Lady Constance Chatterley is married to paralyzed and impotent Clifford. Constance realizes that she cannot live with the mind alone; she must be able to satisfy her physical needs. She turns to the gamekeeper Oliver Mellors for this. Mellors has his own relationship problems. While Constance’s relationship is all mind, Mellors chooses to live away from his wife due to her brutish sexual nature. As Constance and Oliver’s relationship develops each learns that the physical and emotional can co-exist.

I first heard of the 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer (M) novel by Henry Miller in a movie; which one I can’t remember. All I can remember is that the actor was hiding the novel because polite society did not read such things. Set in France during the late 1920s and early 30s the novel centers around Miller’s life as a struggling writer. In Paris at that time, he hung around a community of bohemians and often suffered from hunger, homelessness and despair. It is a rambling unorganized novel without a plot that I could find. I even got bored with the sex scenes after a time since his opinion of women was disgusting. A contemporary and lover of Miller was Anais Nin (M). Nin is hailed as one of the finest writers of female erotica, specifically Delta of Venus and Little Birds. Her novel, Henry and June, outlines the complex relationship she had with Miller and his wife June. Of the two writers, I prefer Nin.

The Story of O (M) is a erotic tale of love, dominance and submission published in 1954 by Anne Desclos under the pen name of Pauline Reage. It won the French literature prize Prix des Deus Magots in 1955. Desclos wrote the novel as a gift for her lover who was an admirer of Marquis De Sade’s erotica. He stated that a woman would not be able to write good erotica. It is the tale of one woman’s complete submission to a man in body, soul and mind. O is trained by her lover to serve an elite group of men. She is blindfolded, chained, whipped and taught to serve these men in any way they desire.

One erotic novel that I read as a teenager (although I was probably too young for it at the time) was The Fear of Flying (M) by Erica Jong. Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing is on a trip to Vienna with her husband when she decides to fulfill her fantasy of having sex with another man. This novel seemingly struck a cord with women in unhappy marriages as the books sold over 20 million copies worldwide. In the novel Jong coined a term “zipless fuck” which is defined as a sexual encounter for its own sake; no emotions, commitments or ulterior motives between two strangers. The man is not “taking” nor is the woman “giving”. Just like the song says “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with”.

Now this leads me to the reason I started to think of this subject matter in the first place. E.L. James has written a trilogy of erotica entitled Fifty Shades of Grey (M) , followed by Fifty Shades Darker (M) , and Fifty Shades Freed (M). James originally wrote the story as a piece of online fanfiction based on the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers, featuring characters Edward and Bella. She later removed this original version and re-wrote as a stand alone novel. This connection to Twilight help propel demand and got the attention of mainstream publishers. Random House Publishers has paid seven figures for the right to publish it and Universal Pictures is rumored to have paid $5 million for the film rights. So what is the fuss all about?

Twenty one year old virgin Anastasia Steele meets handsome billionaire Christian Grey. Grey’s sexual taste are specific and high maintenance, specifically into bondage and discipline. Yet there is something about sweet innocent Ana that arouses Grey’s emotional needs as well as his physical. Under his guidance Ana blossoms and the couple’s struggle to create emotional equanimity travels throughout all three books. Some critics reject the novel as more of an abusive relationship than one of bondage and discipline sexual arrangement. Grey tells Ana when to eat, stalks her and goes into jealous rages. Yet, users have nominated the novel for Best Romance. Having not read the novels yet I am not going to judge, but I do know that I am on the holds list anxiously awaiting my turn to read this novel. Maybe you will get on the list too.

So no matter what you feel or think about erotica, there are lots of materials to choose from. The library catalogue lists 810 entries; maybe one is right for you.

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