“Those pleasures so lightly called physical.” – Colette.
‘I can’t do this on my own, I bleated, I’ve not read much at all.’ Then I made a list and realised I’d read more than I thought. Here’s a random selection with comments from Barbie and me.
Fanny Hill: The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure – John Cleland
JJ: I thought this was so saucy on first read. Fanny, the accidental prostitute, upended through luck and lust ends up well and truly satisfied.
BS: This was probably the very first erotic book I ever read – and I found it great fun though not especially arousing.
Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin
JJ: A revelation. This book was a shock and a delight. Whilst describing all kinds of kink, the perspective is both feminine and literary. I read this as a teenager and some of Nin’s stories still sit in my subconscious.
BS: These stories are fascinating to me because some of them are delightfully transgressive. Nin sometimes touches on aspects of sexuality which are very much proscribed nowadays, yet does so with delicacy and humour.
JJ: And so intelligent in terms of her recognition of the differences between male/female arousal, don’t you think?
BS: Yes, and seeing the difference between erotica and pornography in terms of the way it’s written – erotica being generally more poetic and elegant. A lesson for me there, I think!
The She-Devils – Pierre Louÿs
JJ: I still have a soft spot for this one. Mainly because I was so wide-eyed when I first read it. It’s so energetically lusty and as much story as sex. The word ‘romp’ was invented for just such a book. It’s absolutely a male fantasy, but openly so.
BS: I only read the first 20-odd pages of this and though it was certainly energetic, I didn’t find it at all erotic. This is another account of transgressive sexuality but told with a certain amount of coarse humour; it put me in mind of Greek satyr plays.
JJ: Yes, you’re right. Lots of so-called erotica, regardless of origin, has that Carry-On, saucy postcard, slap-and-tickle tone. But some of it has moved on.
BS: I’m remembering all those seventies’ films that treated sex as a joke – Confessions of a Window Cleaner and such like. Perhaps we’re more sophisticated now.
Parachutes and Kisses – Erica Jong
JJ: This one I found extreme, but not in an erotic sense. It made me laugh more than anything else. As if she was hell-bent on shocking her reader. That tampon scene – ach y fi.
BS: Haven’t read this one – and your comment doesn’t inspire me to!
The Story of O – Pauline Reage
JJ: I read this in university, probably the first time I consciously became aware of the politics of sex. I am still awed by the brilliance of that title. Then I re-read it while directing a production of Spring Awakening. It’s not for the faint-hearted. But as for something that pushes boundaries ... I’m glad I read it.
BS: I’m in two minds about this one – it’s arousing, certainly but I also found it quite an uncomfortable read. We never seem to learn whether O gets any pleasure from the experience herself – she’s only willing to have these things done to her because it’s what her lover wants.
JJ: Well put. This is exactly why I have problems with de Sade, Saló and to an extent, Anastasia Steele.
BS: I’ve been dipping into de Sade (for research purposes, of course) and some of it is so extreme it becomes laughable. ‘O’ isn’t risible in that way, nor is it as extreme, but is more disturbing, in my view, because of that.
Exit to Eden – Anne Rampling
JJ: Oh, I enjoyed this one. Steamy and intense. I still remember a couple of scenes from that book which can still raise my temperature. She conveys exactly what extreme lust does to the mind.
BS: This one was an eye-opener for me – sensual rather than sexual really, and touching on the same deep fantasies as The Story of O but in this one we know the participants have given their consent and that they get something from the experience personally. Probably my favourite.
Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters
JJ: Sarah Waters is an amazing talent. This blend of historical, erotic and adventure left me breathless in every sense. Intensely erotic.
BS: I haven’t actually read this one but I did see the TV series and I have to confess women dressing as men in that effeminate guy sort of way certainly does it for me. I’ve just read the free chapter on Amazon and love the way the book opens with a description of Whitstable oysters and music hall. This one looks like great fun so it will be added to my ‘to be read’ list immediately.
JJ: And then get yourself a copy of Fingersmith. I wouldn’t describe it as erotica, but it’s hugely sensual and so beautifully written.
BS: Writing can be erotic even when it’s not about sex. Voluptuous description and characterisation can be just as thrilling as the depiction of sexual arousal.
The Dirty Bits for Girls – India Knight
JJ: A collection and commentary by India Knight, who reminds us of the saucy bits we loved as schoolgirls. It’s light-hearted and giggly, and more memorabilia than erotica.
BS: Haven’t read this one either but the chances are I’ll have read many of the dirty bits mentioned.
JJ: Have you got, if I may coin such a phrase, a favourite dirty bit? From your own work or others’?
BS: Oh, that’s a hard one. Oh sorry, pun not intended. A difficult one! I can’t think of a specific favourite phrase but the anticipatory moments – the moments before things start to happen – in Exit to Eden do it for me every time. I think as far as my own erotica is concerned, I need to infuse it with more sexual tension, as that’s what turns me on.
JJ: Which is why many women are still panting over Mr Darcy. For me, I think Anaïs Nin. She sums it up in this line – How much do you lose by this periscope at the tip of your sex, when you could enjoy a harem of distinct and never-repeated wonders?