My favourite porn writer is not so prudish - Macleans.ca

My favourite porn writer is not so prudish

Arcane sexual matters now have a pass into normal conversation ever since the breathtaking success of Fifty Shades of Grey

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My favourite porn writer is not so prudish

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The question of whether it is truly sexually gratifying to have a Wartenberg pinwheel roll over your nipples while handcuffed to a stretcher bar with a ball gag in your mouth is something I hadn’t really thought about in the sheltered life I lead. I haven’t even been beaten with a Perspex ruler. I did once go out with an Englishman who was reputed to have an extraordinary collection of canes and crops for flogging but, apart from asking if I rode, which I did not, nothing in our brief acquaintance seemed to unlock that door.

These arcane sexual matters now have a pass into normal conversation ever since the breathtaking success of the new trilogy of novels Fifty Shades of Grey set in an idealized world of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism) and all their sex toys. The author, under the pseudonym E.L. James, was on Time’s 2012 100 Most Influential People in the World list, which tells us something, I expect, but probably nothing good. The plot of the novels is bog standard Cinderella with a modern twist: a young virgin, Anastasia, meets an extremely wealthy unable-to-commit Adonis, Christian Grey, who has a thing for inflicting physical pain because of—here comes the contemporary bit—his abused childhood involving a crack cocaine-addicted mother. By the end of the second novel, Christian has reformed and he marries Ana in book three.

I was genuinely riveted for at least the first 20 chapters. One always likes learning about a new culture. Now I know that the beginning position for a submissive is sitting on her ankles, hands positioned on spread thighs and head down until Master allows you to look up. The novel is a tease: you get to see the drawer of sex toys in volume two—clamps and various devices to wear in one’s bottom or front—but the actual descriptions of congress are, apart from explicit names for various bits of the body, pretty tame. Like much soft pornography, this book has the sound and scope of a prudish author and a legalistically prudent publisher.

Shades is making a fortune and is being purchased and downloaded by mummies the world over. The author is something of a role model for women. She’s a married mum with two children living with her husband of 25 years in Brentford, Middlesex (a decent, unfashionable suburb of London). Her name is Erika Leonard née Mitchell and she has been a TV production manager. Her Irish husband, Niall Leonard, writes unremarkable screenplays. Heaven knows how it feels to see your wife’s first attempt at novel writing go utterly viral after plugging away for decades and blogging advice columns to beginning screenwriters. There are some greyish (no pun intended) areas of copyright hovering about the trilogy, which belongs to that peculiar genre of fan fiction in which fans take the characters they love and write new books about them. Shades was originally written by James/Leonard as a piece of online fan fiction titled Masters of the Universe under the name Snowqueen’s Icedragon. Her characters were from Stephenie Meyer’s highly successful young adult series of novels about vampires. Twilight’s male hero, Edward, is, like Christian, so gorgeous that heroine Bella nearly passes out every other page; the heroine herself is like Ana, so pale, fragile and innocent that I’ve never met one.

Shades is universally described as soft-core pornography. Actually, the word “pornography” only surfaced around 1850, but the lascivious book full of erotic detail and forbidden situations like the sadism of the marquis de Sade has been with us forever. Women often wrote good pornography, although when it didn’t come naturally, as with serious author Anaïs Nin who did it to make some quick money in the 1940s, it was too cerebral. Outstanding early examples of English porn (separate from “real” books like Tom Jones, Lolita and Lady Chatterley’s Lover) include the 1748-49 classic Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland, better known as Fanny Hill, a bouquet of flowery writing about sex, and the anonymous late Victorian novel My Secret Life of a slightly grittier prose.

To get by the censors, porn often got polished up by attributing it to translations from Latin and French or exotic cultures. Explorer Sir Richard Burton used Indian and Arab sources for his Book of a Thousand and One Nights, better known as Arabian Nights (which became a children’s book with gorgeous illustrations covered with tissue paper—remember those?). Burton’s entire translation did not make it into the kiddy version, given as it was to footnotes such as “Debauched women prefer Negroes on account of the size of their parts. I measured one man in Somali-land, who, when quiescent, numbered nearly six inches . . . whereas the pure Arab, man and beast, is below the average of Europe . . . ” Well, that’s how much he knows.

The French always did porn the best. In my adolescence, Pauline Réage (pen name of Anne Desclos) wrote the 1954 dom & sub classic Story of O, which does not, I recall, have a single page without a sexual reference. It’s far more titillating than Shades but lacks the “redemption” motif post-Oprah books require. Then there were the French “pornos” by Left Bank publisher Orties Blanches with my favourite title, Pantalons sans défense. Still, if I were asked, and I realize absolutely no one is asking me so this may be my last column, I’d say that Frank Harris, the marginally insane, multi-talented, British-born American journalist, written about by authors from Oscar Wilde to Tom Stoppard, is my favourite porn writer. His My Life & Loves was published in 1922 in an exquisite little volume with Praxiteles’ Aphrodite nude torso on the cover, and the whole edition is online for free. With luck, soon you’ll be able to download it on your Kindle as granny porn.

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