Saturday 21 October 2017

Exposed: the sexiest writing of all time...

The deluge of hype surrounding EL James's bestselling erotic novels, about which I wrote last week, continues unabated, with most of the posh British papers either musing on the cultural and sociological implications of the Fifty Shades phenomenon or devoting profiles to the author, aka British housewife Erika Leonard.

The most intriguing piece was in the Guardian, which came up with the idea of asking nine eminent writers to nominate the books or passages from books that they found the sexiest -- three of them opting for passages by Alan Hollinghurst and two for Pauline Reage's The Story of O.

I found it odd that two of those enthusing over Hollinghurst's homosexual couplings were women (literary agent Diana Athill and classical historian Mary Beard), while I didn't expect Margaret Drabble to favour Reage's story of captive female submission, though its other admirer, John Banville, chose to regard it as "deeply erotic precisely because the woman at the centre of it holds all the power".

I must have been reading a different book -- and one not as "beautifully and tenderly written" as the one Banville read. But this notion of the female victim as the ultimate victor over helpless male lusts is a staple of pornographic fiction -- perhaps most arrestingly depicted in the anonymous erotic novel, Beatrice, which was written in the early decades of the last century and which is available from Wordsworth Classics.

It's among the most erotic fiction I've encountered, and curiously rivalled only by another work with 'Beatrice' in the title -- a genuinely transgressive fragment called Beatrice Palmato, which was found among the manuscripts of Edith Wharton after the death of that great American novelist in 1937.

Running to a mere 15 paragraphs, this intense account of (probably incestuous) love-making is like the secret fulfilment of all those frustrated affairs that are to be found in The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence and other Wharton masterpieces. Google it and discover its disturbing power for yourself.

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