Conscious and unconscious erotica

Mark twain pic

Some writers knowingly produced erotica; others unknowingly published smutty material. Here are a few examples


Pietro Aretino (1492 – 1556), Sonnetti Lussuriosi(1524)

The Sonnetti Lussuriosiof this poet, gossip and writer of witty plays was a collection of verses and erotic drawings that, like the Kama Sutra, demonstrated positions for sexual intercourse. Though the book proved very popular, it earned the wrath of the Pope, an erstwhile patron of Aretino, along with Emperor Charles V. Aretino lost his papal patronage, but he also was taken to task by the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Dr John Donne, who objected that some of the sexual positions were missing.

Norman Douglas (1868 – 1952), Some Limericks(1928)

The author of Old Calabria and South Wind, also compiled Venus in the Kitchen, a collection of aphrodisiac recipes, and the privately printed Some Limericks. The latter, which has been described as ‘ irreverent, scatological and erotic ‘ , was accompanied by ‘ scholarly ‘ notes that sent up the sort of po-faced critical apparatus so beloved of Ph D candidates.

W S. Gilbert ( 1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan ( 1842 – 1900) . ‘ The Sod’s Opera’.

The humorous double act that gave us so many wonderful operettas also composed The Sod’s Opera , among the characters of which are Count Tostoff and the Brothers Bollox ( a pair of hangers on) and Scrotum, a wrinkled old retainer. Oddly, there are no records of a public performance, though it would be refreshing if some village Opera society put on their version of it.


Anais Nin ( 1903 -77 ) The Delta of Venus.

The friend of pornographer Henry Miller got together with Nin and an army of hard up writers to form a sort of porn factory which turned out several erotic works, some commissioned by an anonymous tycoon. Ms Nin was also a novelist and a prolific diarist.

Felix Salten aka Siegmund Salzmann ( 1869 – 1949) Josefine Mutzenbacher.

The apparently wholesome author of Bambi(1929), a children’s story which recounted the struggle of an orphaned deer, which was later immortalized by Walt Disney, also penned an extremely well received erotic novel that painted a very accurate picture of  the life of a prostitute among the petit bourgeoisie in fin de siecleVienna. Today it is regarded as equal in status in the German-speaking word to our own Fanny Hill. Continue reading

The Table Talk of T.S. Eliot

Eliot was at a fashionable dinner party of London intellectuals where the conversation was rather stilted because everybody felt they had to say something profound in front of the great man (who said very little.) Eventually after an awkward silence the wife of an academic complained about her high electricity bills. The other guests were a little shocked that such trivial matter was being discussed, however Eliot suddenly came to life. "Are you on the night tariff?" he asked the woman and proceeded to discourse knowledgeably about reducing household bills.

Another instance where Eliot succeeded in flummoxing high minded intellectuals was at the Wednesday Club in 1956 - the writer Paul Bloomfield reported the following. Asked for his favourite passage of English prose, the great poet at once replied, assisting his performance with the appropriate gestures:

'Well,' cried Boss McGinty at last, 'is he here? Is Birdy Edwards here?' 
'Yes,' McMurdo answered slowly, 'Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards.' 

After a bemused silence, in which none knew, or cared to admit they knew, the source, Eliot pleasantly revealed it: Conan Doyle's The Valley of Fear.