There is much to be said about the erotic books that were published during the Victorian era of sexual restraint and exceptionally good manners. There was an abundance of such literature celebrating all manner of sexual practices, though it wasn’t sold at booksellers, most of the trade taking place in Holywell Street, near The Strand in London. (It should be noted that even in the most passionate of scenes, there remained an emphasis on good manners, and the British class distinction).
Like children reaching their rebellious adolescence, many citizens in the United Kingdom rose silently against the curtailment of sexual freedom. Resenting the repression, perhaps they found their solace in the pages of these extraordinary tomes, though it was common knowledge that men and women who enjoyed the delights of corporal punishment, gathered in secret with like-minded souls, hungry to escape the (ironic) bondage of the crown. It is said that clandestine spanking societies flourished, especially within the upper-classes.
Spanking and caning was covertly championed as an alluring enhancement to the sexual act, and even self-flagellation was prevalent in the lives of the prurient underground populace. It is also worth mentioning that corporal discipline was used unhesitatingly as a means of punishment in the schools, and this may have contributed to the practice in adulthood.
While many of these books were churned out in back rooms by writers commonly referred to as hacks, many possessed writing skills that are still admired today. Not wishing their identities to be known, they penned their names simply as, Anonymous, and some of these so-called hacks, turned out novels that became classics. Birch and the Boudoir, My Secret Life, and Frank and I, to name just a few.
In the early days of my burgeoning love of these books, I often wondered how the novels survived through the decades, especially considering the laws and governance at the time. Certainly scandalous sexual play is captivating, but the more I pondered this question, the more I came to realize that it wasn’t just the tantalizing erotica that was the cause of their survival.
The heart of any book, the core, the pulse, the, pick me up and read me, and read me again, is the story.
Whether a mysterious murder, a scary romp through a haunted house, or a romance incorporating the passionate ache that lives in the souls of the Dominant and submissive, it is the telling of the tale and the charismatic characters that brings a book to life. In many of these Victorian novels, the story is the foundation upon which the naughtiness is built. These writers may have been outlaws, but their books have lived through generations, and they continue to thrive because they were penned by terrific story-tellers. I admire and respect their talent, and with every book I strive to reach the standards they set more than a century ago.