Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"…with gleeful abandon"

Cover from a 1910 edition

"John Cleland began writing his novel [Fanny Hill] on something of a dare.... As a 19- or 20-year-old working for the British East India Company in what is now Mumbai, a friend challenged him to write a story about a prostitute without using a single obscene word. Challenge accepted, Cleland conjured up a remarkable range of metaphors for genitalia: 'flesh brush,' 'plenipotentiary instrument,' 'master member of the revels,' 'maypole,' 'store bag of nature’s prime sweets,' 'pleasure-thirsty channel,' and on and on.
     He made good use of them, too: A partial list of the book’s adventures includes an orgy, sex between women, masturbation, masochism, cross-dressing, and a detailed sodomy scene that is one of only two known explicit depictions of male same-sex ardor in the language before the end of the 19th century. (The sodomitical passage, which Cleland’s 2012 biographer Hal Gladfelder calls 'one of the most remarkable scenes in all of 18th-century literature,' disappeared from the published text until the 1980s.)"
— Ruth Graham, The Boston Globe
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