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10 Books That Prove The Victorians Were Kinky

Nene Adams

You probably think of Victorians as having been incredibly prude. But the truth is they could be just as depraved as the rest of us—they were just far better at hiding it. Once you get inside their books, you quickly find out what they were really up to behind closed doors.

10 The Pearl
William Lazenby, 1879-1880

The PEarl

This first entry is a slight cheat: The Pearl was not actually a book, but a magazine published briefly in 18 volumes and two Christmas Annuals until the publishers were threatened with prosecution for distributing obscene literature.

The Pearl contained pornographic stories—many were serialized and included such classics as Lady Pokingham or They All Do It and Sub-Umbra or Sport Among the She-Noodles—plus dirty jokes, limericks, and humorous song and poem parodies. The magazine’s primary focus was humor; the stories were often satirical in nature, though still very explicit. You can read The Pearl on-line.

9 The Romance of Lust
Anonymous, 1873-1876

Romance of Lust

This verbose, first person narrative follows the fictional Charlie Roberts from his young sexual awakening all through his maturation and development. The Romance of Lust chiefly noted not for the perversity of the acts themselves, which include orgies and incest. All four volumes are available on-line.

8 The Sins of the Cities of the Plain
The Lives

Also known as The Recollections of a Maryanne, The Sins of the Cities of the Plain is a pioneering work of gay erotic fiction chronicling the experiences of a rent-boy—a “Maryanne” (19th Century slang for a homosexual). Some of the characters are drawn from actual people, such as the transvestites Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park. The author’s name is certainly a pseudonym. Intimate encounters include cross-dressing and orgies.

This book gives a fascinating glimpse into the hidden world of upper and lower class gay Victorians. Unfortunately, it cannot be found online.

7 The Nunnery Tales
Anonymous, 1866

nunnery Tales

This book is also known as Cruising Under False Colors, A Tale of Love and Lust. It features plenty of sacrilege flavored action with bawdy nuns and salacious priests among the fictional characters. It also includes raunchy humor, possibly exaggerated explicit intimacy, and lesbian encounters (no surprise as the story takes place in a convent), erotic flagellation and spankings, group encounters, incest, and a little cross-dressing.

Interestingly, it may have been adapted from a much older 17th century French work and has been reprinted often. You can read the book on-line.

6 Venus in Furs
Ritter von Leopold Sacher-Masoch, 1870

This famous erotic and somewhat autobiographical work is actually the origin of the term masochism (for those who wonder, we can thank the Marquis de Sade for “sadism”). The protagonist, Severin, is infatuated by a beautiful woman and offers himself as her slave. Obsessed with his total submission to her, he urges the woman, Wanda, to humiliate and degrade him more and more cruelly as the story goes on. The book is focused on fetish and S&M, and remains very popular.

It’s more of a literary drama than the usual explicit offering. You can read the book on-line. Roman Polanski adopted Venus in Furs for the silver screen in 2012.

5 The Autobiography of a Flea
Anonymous, 1887 or 1888

Autobiography of a Flea

A work of social satire with a wafer thin plot containing many erotic scenes as witnessed by a flea (hitching a ride on a young woman) traveling from home to home and peeping at the sexual activities of the residents. What does the flea see? Quite a lot, including explicit intimacy, group encounters, lusty priests, seduction of the innocent, deflowering, incest, corporal punishment, and bukkake. Many of the characters are caricature types that would have been recognized by 19th century readers.

You can find the book on-line.

4 The Lustful Turk
Anonymous, 1828

Lustful Turk

Another slight cheat since this one’s pre-Victorian, but the popular and notorious novel remained in print even into the 20th century. Given the 19th century appetite for exotic places and cultures (and more than a touch of xenophobia), the Lustful Turk satisfied readers on several levels. An English lady writes letters to her friends back home about her capture by Turks and forcible ravishment, after which she wholeheartedly embraces a variety of explicit, erotic encounters with men and women in the Sultan’s harem. The book is so popular it was even made into a sexploitation film in 1968.

You can read the book on-line.

3 The Mysteries of Verbena House
Etonensius, 1881

Mysteries

Also know as Miss Bellasis Birched for Thieving, this book is one of the classics of Victorian erotica showcasing the 19th century fascination with discipline. It was first published in two volumes with illustrations. When naughtiness like theft ensues at a fashionable girls’ boarding school, the wishy-washy headmistress calls in a stern male disciplinarian to oversee the lovingly described chastisements and intimate encounters of students and staff. Applications of punishment effect positive changes to everyone’s morality and character. The authorship of Verbena House has been in dispute for over a century.

Sadly, this is not available on-line.

2 The Whippingham Papers
St. George Stock, 1887

Spanking

The most notable detail of this book is the flagellation themed poetry of Algernon Charles Swinbure. All the stories and other poems in the volume deal with the so-called “English vice.” A small sample of Swinburne’s unsigned work is included here. Possibly due to the prevalence of harsh corporal punishment at school and at home, many Victorian gentlemen enjoyed reading about the birch and the cane (and paying for similar treatment in popular flagellation brothels). While the volume is not on-line, you might find a reprint.

How those great big red ridges must smart as they swell!
How the Master does like to flog Algernon well!
How each cut makes the blood come in thin little streaks
From that broad blushing round pair of naked red cheeks.

1 Gynecocracy
Attributed to “Viscount Ladywood,” 1893

Gynocracy

This is a fine example of the so-called “petticoat governance books.” While Englishmen may have been lords and masters of their homes and families, it’s clear from the popularity of this type of novel that many had secret submissive longings. This particular example features lots of incidents in which a young man is forced to wear women’s clothes, including a corset, and serve very dominant females’ whims as a young woman. The narrative includes explicit encounters with women and men, humiliation, bondage, discipline, a drag king, and some imaginative corporal punishments.

You can read the book on-line.

Nene Adams

Nene Adams is a published author, editor, historian, and American expatriate living in the Netherlands in a ménage à trois with her book collection and her lovely partner.

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