I got a chuckle on Valentine’s Day when a Facebook friend posted this cute vintage valentine. Of course a lot of people were snickering at the thought of this kinky little bit of fun. Cat Johnson commented on ‘the good old days of innocence’ too.
But I’ve seen a lot of vintage erotic postcards that show there was no more innocence about bondage and fetishes in the ‘good old days’ than there was now.
While the history of erotic fiction stretches back before literature – before words – this 18th Century novel offers a good starting point for readers because it has such a modern tone. The poetry of the ancient world, whether Ovid’s sensual tales or the Song of Solomon’s caressing lines, require the additional skill of reading poetry, so neglected in our time. The frank sexuality of medieval authors like Chaucer, Boccaccio and Piccolomini (before he became Pope Pius II) likewise demand more than the casual reader may be prepared to offer.
But the rise of the novel in the 18th Century spawned many erotic tales, but Cleland’s novel – penned while he was incarcerated – offers a lively heroine who frankly tells her adventures to a friend in slightly defensive, but always detailed, letters. From her first misstep as a 15-year-old orphan to erotic adventures with all manner of men, Fanny eventually reunites with the love of her life, Charles, the young man who deflowered her and who immediately forgives her and marries the 18-year-old. It probably doesn’t hurt that she’s amassed a fortune by then.
In the intervening three years, the young woman has learned the joys of pleasure from both men and women, been paid to whip men and take part in orgies. The only thing that shocks her seems to be observing a pair of men in carnal embrace. Cleland’s heroine was later reanimated by Erica Jong in her 1980 novel Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones.
And of course the Marquis de Sade, whose fondness for a variety of erotic tortures made his name a byword lived in the 18th century.
With the 50 Shades series, it seems like a lot of previously ‘outré’ practices have been mainstreamed — but have they really? I’m so busy writing I don’t do near enough reading. How much kink is enough — or too much? Is it just one more sub-genre that some people read and others don’t? Has kink become mainstream?