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Lascivious Literature

Felicity Cloake

‘The books that the world calls immoral are
the books that show the world its own shame.’

– Oscar Wilde


  1. You don’t get much naughtier than the breathless ‘memoirs’ of eighteenth-century harlot Fanny Hill, here seen spying on her employer: ‘Her paramour sat down by her ... proceeding instantly to essentials, he gave her some hearty smacks, and thrusting his hands into her breasts, disengag’d them from her stays, in scorn of whose confinement they broke loose, and swagged down, navel-low at least. A more enormous pair did my eyes never behold, nor of a worse colour, flagging-soft, and most lovingly contiguous: yet such as they were, this neck-beef eater seem’d to paw them with a most uninvit-able gust, seeking in vain to confine or cover one of them with a hand scarce less than a shoulder of mutton.’ Not quite Mills & Boon, is it?

  2. It’s not all romance and roses for our naïve young heroines, however, as Katie Price explains in Being Jordan: ‘The arguments always ended in the same way: us having sex to make up. Often it was quite violent sex, but he was my first lover and I didn’t know any different. The only thing Jeff ever seemed to worry about when we had sex was that I didn’t see or touch his bum, as it was covered in pimples.’

  3. Even in literature with a capital L, things sometimes get a little bit kinky, as here in Daniel Defoe’s Roxana (1724), where our virtuous narrator pushes her protesting maid into bed with her husband: ‘At night, when we came to go to-Bed, Amy came into the Chamber to undress me, and her Master slipt into Bed first … but Amy did not go: Go you Fool, says I … but Amy wou’d not go. Nay, you Whore, says I … I sat her down, pull’d off her Stockings and Shooes, and all her Cloaths, Piece by Piece, and led her to the Bed with him … She pull’d back a little, would not let me pull off her Cloaths at first, but it was hot Weather, and she had not many Cloaths on, and particularly no Stays on … so I fairly stript her, and then I threw open the Bed, and thrust her in … he held her fast, and the Wench being naked in the Bed with him, ‘twas too late to look back, so she lay still, and let him do what he wou’d with her’. And then to the Employment Tribunal, one assumes.

  4. Sadly, all does not always run so smoothly in the course of true literary passion. Guilt has a tendency to overwhelm one ardent swain or the other, as here, where Anna Karenina’s melodramatic reaction to the lustful attentions of the infamous Vronsky suggests that he’s not as good in bed as he is on horseback: ‘“Everything is finished,” she said.’ Stroppy cow.

  5. And in his novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, the ever-tortured JM Coetzee even manages to write up a storm over the plain fact of having a willy: ‘Sometimes my sex seemed to me another being entirely, a stupid animal living parasitically upon me, swelling and dwindling according to autonomous appetites, anchored to my flesh with claws I could not detach. Why do I have to carry you about from woman to woman, I asked: simply because you were born without legs? Would it make any difference to you if you were rooted in a cat or a dog instead of in me?’ Some people just don’t have enough to worry about.