Friday, July 18, 2008

A Guest Post: Classifying Works Containing Sexual Content

In response to a previous post of mine AgTigress said that
I am most uncomfortable about a classification that distinguishes at a primary level between 'didactic love fiction' and 'erotic (love fiction)'. The first level of any typology has to employ definitions that cannot overlap, otherwise the whole framework totters. [...] clearly a novel about love or a human relationship may be both erotic (= dealing with the topic of sexual love) and didactic ( = aiming to teach some lesson or principle) - or it may be neither.
Leaving aside what is or isn't "didactic," the following is a guest post by AgTigress which explores the differences between "erotica" and "pornography." I think it complements Sarah's post "Erotica vs. Porn" and my "Romance Novels: Pornography or Literature?"

The links included in the text were added by me.


Censorship and expurgation have a long history which is interwoven with profound changes in society over the last few centuries, a history that still casts a shadow today. It is too complex to examine in detail here, but some background knowledge is helpful if we are to understand why the current classifications of novels containing explicit sex seem to give people a lot of trouble. We are dealing with the aftermath of a situation that existed from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, in which open references to sexuality were believed to be wholly unfit for the ears and eyes of people whose innocence required protection, then defined as children and respectable adult women, or whose natural tendency towards licentious behaviour required restraint, namely the unsophisticated and uneducated members of the underprivileged classes. Most parents still exercise rights of censorship over their children’s reading, and most adults still do not wish to find practices they regard as intrinsically wrong, such as the sexual exploitation of children, casually featured and described in their leisure reading. We all recognise certain limits, and should be able to understand in principle the setting of boundaries, even though those boundaries vary enormously on an individual, generational and regional basis.1

The difficulties with clear classifications and definitions of erotica, so-called ‘romantica’ (an etymologically regrettable word) and pornography arise because the situation is still fluid and changing today. Those who discuss current fiction genres sometimes know little of the paths that have been travelled within the last few decades. Attitudes to sexuality have altered particularly radically over the last 50 years, and this is reflected in all areas of life, including changes in the legal position regarding censorship, and ongoing debates on what, exactly, constitutes ‘obscenity’.

In the 1950s, a writer could not, in a mainstream English-language novel, describe any acts in which a respectable married couple might engage on their conjugal couch; the bedroom door had to be firmly closed on the reader. Only the most cautiously euphemistic circumlocutions might be employed to indicate that a couple were having a good time in bed. Between the late 18th century and the end of the 1950s, there was no possibility of classifying any widely available book as an ‘erotic novel’. Any fiction with overt sexual description was unquestioningly classed as pornographic, and was in breach of obscenity laws. No distinction was made between well-written works and semi-literate ones; between books with interesting plots or with none; between those with well-drawn characters and those with identikit ciphers recognisable, if at all, only by the size and capabilities of their genitals. If a book openly described sexual acts, it was pornographic, and that was that.2

In the 19th century there were real problems even in the publication of academic non-fiction that dealt with sexual topics. However, works dealing with medicine or with some of the more arcane aspects of art-history or anthropology were not popular, mass-market books: they were expensive volumes, written to inform rather than to entertain and titillate, and were written and read only by highly educated men. They were therefore not expected to pose any dangers to the morals of the man (or worse still, the woman) in the street, who had neither the education nor the leisure time and disposable income to acquire and read them. Sexually explicit fiction was, in fact, published in Victorian Britain, but the publishers ran considerable risks, for their activities were illegal. Their marketing strategies had to be devious and inventive, and their readership was almost exclusively wealthy and upper-class. There were other problems relating to the visual arts, but that is a different, though connected, story.

In the changing society of the post-Second World War world, attitudes shifted dramatically, and this was quite obvious and visible even to a reasonably socially aware teenager at the time. In the UK, better and more easily available education, including university education, facilitated greater social mobility, and many of the rigid puritanical certainties of earlier decades, still based on a Victorian view of class and morality, started to crumble.

A crucial legal test-case took place in 1960, when Penguin Books decided to test the brand-new Obscene Publications Act of 1959 by putting out Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover in paperback. The book had first been published in 1928, but was obtainable in unexpurgated form only on the Continent. Raunchy English-language novels were sometimes printed and published in France, Germany or other European countries, and were consequently available to the wealthier sections of society who habitually travelled abroad. Ordinary middle-class and working-class Britons did not do so in the first half of the 20th century. Their holidays, if any, were too short, as were their finances. It has always been assumed by the rich and privileged (as it is by campaigners for censorship), that they themselves are somehow immune from the corrupting effects of obscenity that they hold to be so dangerous to hoi polloi. A paperback at 3/6d placed Lawrence’s notorious novel within easy reach of the masses, and struck at the very heart of the status quo regarding ‘racy’ fiction. (Three shillings and sixpence, a typical price for a paperback novel at the time, is 17½ p. in today’s UK currency, equivalent to about 35 US cents).3

Social and class implications run right through this topic, in the visual arts as well as literature. The most famous quotation from the Lady Chatterley trial was the revealing question one of the prosecution barristers asked a witness – 'would you want your wife or your servant to read it?' (My italics). Those who have read the book will be well aware of its extreme social, as well as sexual, subversiveness in the context of its 1920s setting: not only does it describe sexual intercourse, but it describes it taking place, with enjoyment, between an upper-class woman and a working-class man. That question, posed in 1960, brought home to most who heard or read it just how much the world had changed. The idea that a man had any right to control his wife’s choice of reading-matter, and the mere mention of servants, seemed completely irrelevant and archaic to most of us in 1960. Penguin won their case, on the new legal grounds of ‘literary merit’ as a justification for explicit sexual content. The mere presence of sexual incidents in a book no longer defined it automatically as pornographic, obscene and illegal, and the Penguin edition went on to sell 3 million copies, many of them doubtless to people who had not previously heard of D.H. Lawrence. Definitions had to be changed, but this has happened informally and gradually, and the situation in other English-speaking countries may lack the clear 1960 turning-point identifiable in the UK.

But if we return to the basic definitions from the etymology of the words, which is always a good thing to do, obvious definitions almost write themselves. ‘Pornography’ means ‘writings about whores’ and ‘erotica’ means ‘matters pertaining to eros, that is, sexual love’.

Prostitutes engage professionally, for profit, in a series of sexual acts with individuals whom they do not know personally, and with whom they therefore cannot feel any emotional ties. In a parallel sense, writings that describe a series of sexual acts between people whom the reader never gets to know, or even to recognise and tell apart, and does not care about, are pornographic. However, the prostitute – and the actors in a pornographic text – may find the sex acts perfectly agreeable, and may be engaging in them voluntarily, or indeed with enthusiasm: the sex acts themselves need not be unusual and extreme, as long as there are plenty of them. Written pornography should thus consist of a sequence of descriptions or vignettes of sex acts, often barely connected with each other in terms of story and plot (and frequently set against an unrealistically theatrical or exotic backdrop), taking place between stock characters that are interchangeable ciphers. The aim is solely to arouse sexual excitement in the reader. Like any other fiction, pornography may be well written and enjoyable or badly written and ridiculous.

Erotic activities must, by definition, involve personal, emotional ties of some kind, because the definition includes love. Agape is spiritual love, eros physical, sexual love. If a reader is to feel anything emotional, as opposed to physical, from reading a book, characters have to be rounded; they have to evolve and develop; they have to be real and interesting people who relate to one another in memorable ways. This is why Cleland's 1749 classic is not pornography, but erotica. The Happy Ever After ending is irrelevant to whether a work is erotic or pornographic: that characteristic belongs to romance, erotic or otherwise, and as it happens, Fanny Hill is also a romance, with a strongly emphasised HEA ending.

Erotica should therefore follow the usual rules of novels in having a proper story, with a beginning, a middle and an end, and believable, well-drawn characters who grow and change during the course of the story. The reader may still find the action sexually stimulating, but will also enjoy a specific narrative, not simply a sequence of generic sexual acts. ‘Erotica’ should also indicate novels in which the principal theme is the sexual relationship of the leading characters; they are about the sexual relationship(s) above all else. This differentiates erotica from the many other novels, common today, though completely unthinkable and illegal in the past, in which the main story arc is about romance, suspense, mystery, family relationships – any one of a dozen genres – but in which sexual incidents, where they take place in the text, are described in an open, graphic and detailed fashion.

There seems to be a widespread view today that erotica must include descriptions of adventurous and inventive sexual practices rather than so-called ‘vanilla sex’. This assumption has probably arisen because we have come to regard it as normal that the description of everyday sexual acts is perfectly acceptable and is often included in quite unremarkable, mainstream books that are readily available to all. This may lead us to imagine that ‘erotica’ must be something different and less ordinary. The precise types of sexual practices described seem to me to constitute another and separate classificatory system that can cut right across the main genre typology; for example, homosexual pornography, erotica, erotic romance and non-erotic romance are all viable definitions. As it might be hard, though not impossible, to sustain a whole novel on the basis of one devoted couple repeatedly copulating in the missionary position with the lights out, erotic novels probably do tend to display some sexual variety, but orgies with casts of thousands, or unusual uses of household appliances, are certainly not necessary to qualify a work as erotic.

‘Pornography’ continues to be used loosely and, in my view, inaccurately, as a pejorative term, but it is much better classification to avoid such value-judgements and to confine the term to writings that simply describe series of sexual vignettes without much in the way of plot or character-development. Because of the wide range of personal taste in sexual matters, what is offensive to one reader may be perfectly acceptable or pleasing to another. I have heard people declare that pornography is only about ‘bad’ kinds of sex – rape, paedophilia, bestiality, genuine sadism and the like. But some people regard homosexuality or consensual bondage games as disgusting and perverse, while others regard them as perfectly normal. I have even seen people claim that badly-written sex should be defined as pornography. All these approaches define pornography as ‘sexual fiction which I, personally, find offensive’. Individual tastes are a totally unreliable and unscholarly basis for classification; no wonder people disagree on what ‘pornography’ is, when they venture into such subjective territory. A more detached and objective approach is necessary.

If we stay with the basic meanings, both pornography and erotica may be well-written or badly-written; both may deal with kinds of sexual activity that an individual reader finds either exhilarating or repellent or any point between: the big difference is that pornography is episodic and lacks the true story arc and distinctive characters that we expect to find in a fully evolved novel. It is aimed only at arousing physical sexual response in the reader. A simple test of pornography is that the average reader can easily lose track of exactly who is doing what to whom. Erotica, though focusing on sexual activity, should follow the conventional structure of novels in having a proper story and believable characters.

1 The history of literary censorship in Britain and North America up to the late 1960s is wittily and informatively told in Noel Perrin’s Dr. Bowdler’s Legacy (London, 1970).

2 The term ‘erotica’, along with ‘curiosa’, was used chiefly in relation to 18th-century or earlier books and art with sexual themes, privately produced, or produced at times and places with sexual and social mores unlike those of Victorian Britain.

3 [This is a footnote added by Laura] I suspect that AgTigress's conversion doesn't take into account inflation. You can use this currency converter to "Find out how yesterday's prices compares to today's prices." They're using the word "yesterday" extremely loosely, since their converter will convert UK (English) currency from 1270 to 2005. I'm really including this link because I think it might be interesting for everyone who enjoys reading (or writing) historical romances. If you then want to convert modern UK pounds into another currency, you could use the converter here.

[And one final note from me (Laura). The illustration is, of course, the cover of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover from 1960, cover design by Stephen Russ. I found it at Wikipedia.]


  1. Excellent post, AgTigress! I have been saying for years that there is absolutely no need to invent a new classification for the new generation of erotica that has become so popular. It is what it is and the English language is quite capable of describing it.

    The confusion that has arisen, I believe, has to do with the fact that some people would prefer to avoid using the appropriate label -- erotica -- because they feel it is uncomfortably close to the word pornography.

    Thank you for reminding us that, when in doubt, the first stop should be the dictionary.

    --Jayne Ann Krentz

  2. there is absolutely no need to invent a new classification for the new generation of erotica that has become so popular

    I do think, though, that there are a lot of romances around nowadays which combine elements from more than one genre. Romantic suspense, for example, has to have suspense, but it also has to have romance. You could describe a romantic suspense novel as a "romance" and that would be correct, and you could possibly also put it in the mystery section but if you call it a "romantic suspense" novel, it's clearer that it's a mixture.

    I think the term "erotic romance" is helpful because it should indicate that the novels described that way (a) have "The Happy Ever After ending" for the relationship between the main protagonists who love each other. As AgTigress said, that guarantee regarding the ending "is irrelevant to whether a work is erotic or pornographic" but it is vitally important to romance and (b) it's "erotic" because of what it derives from erotica, i.e. as AgTigress says, "the principal theme is the sexual relationship of the leading characters." Or as Passionate Ink, the Erotic Romance Special Interest Chapter of Romance Writers Of America put it, "Erotic Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development."

    I think there can be some confusion about terminology which arises when cross-genre novels take only a flavour of another genre, but don't fully incorporate its principal theme into the work. I'm thinking, for example, of novels labelled "science fiction romances" which don't have a great deal of science in them (despite the fact they may include a few spaceships), or "historical romances" which don't seem very grounded in history, although the characters dress in period costumes, or "hot" romances in which the characters have lots of sex. They'd probably be more accurately labelled as, respectively, "romance with science fiction elements", or "romance with historical elements", or "romance with erotic elements".

  3. Fascinating topic, Laura and AgTigress!

    The cross-genre question is quite intriguing but after giving it a lot of thought -- and after writing a lot of books that are frequently labeled "cross-genre" -- I have concluded that very few, if any, books are actual "cross-genre" books.

    The same is true of so called "transcends the genre" books. Such books, in my opinion, do not exist.

    In the end, almost any book can be defined not by the various elements that are incorporated in it but by the one element you could not remove without destroying the entire story.

    Romantic-suspense is always held up as an example of the exception to this rule. It may be. But I know this much: It is invariably shelved in the romance section of a bookstore or a library, not the mystery section. And hard-core readers of mysteries and suspense novels rarely accept romantic-suspense as true examples of the mystery/suspense genre while romance readers have no problems at all accepting the books as examples of romance.

    It is certainly true, however, that as a practical matter, those who read and write a particular genre do define subdivisions within that genre.

    Mysteries, for example, are broken down into thrillers, police procedurals, cozies, private eye stories, historical mysteries, etc.

    Those who read and write romance do, indeed, classify the books into a number of subdivisions: paranormal, sweet, historical, contemporary, romantic-suspense, and, yes, erotica. In that sense, "erotic romance" certainly works. One could use it in a conversation with romance readers and writers and rest assured that everyone would know exactly what was meant. I'm not so sure how people who do not read romance would understand the term, however.

    Thanks for an intriguing subject. Posting here at your great blog is a lot more fun than trying to finish the next chapter of this dang book that I'm trying to write...


  4. Well, Jayne, I have to say that writing the above was more fun for me than getting on with sorting out the next 50 illustrations for the vast and endless volume I am completing, so we are both grateful to Laura!

    I think you know more than most of us about the evolution of new genres within romance fiction, since you were one of the very first writers of the 'paranormal romance', which is now everywhere, but which was a daring departure round about 1986 or so, when you published Crystal Flame.

    Good classifications can be added to, and sometimes combined or hybridised, without contradiction. There will always be a few individual items that don't fit any framework, but that's not a problem: the problem arises when the classification is so muddled that designations don't mean the same thing to different people. Arguing about how much suspense and how much romance should be in a romantic suspense novel is angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin stuff, but thinking that a book is pornographic because we get to observe the hero and heroine in bed is a fairly crass misunderstanding of modern fiction.

  5. AgTigress: one of the things I have always admired about your writing is the great clarity and precision you bring to the business. I love the point you make about good classification schemes allowing for combinations and hybridizations. And I agree that the real problems arise when the designations don't mean the same thing to different people. I suppose that is what has happened with "erotica" and "pornography". But, as you point out, definitions of both are not beyond reach.

    Good luck sorting out those images for the vast and endless book you're working on. I'm looking forward to reading it!


  6. Picking up on Laura's footnote about the value of three shillings and sixpence in 1960. Of course the value of money has changed hugely since 1960, so to say '17½ p' may mislead some. The relative value of 3/6d in 1960, compared with the price of food or average total income, puts it at about £7 in today's money - which happens to be a common price today in the UK for an average paperback novel. Category romances were, and are, cheaper: I wasn't buying Mills and Boon romances in 1960, but my guess is that they cost no more than 1/9d. Hardback novels cost upwards of 15 shillings or £1. You could get a simple, one-course cooked lunch for 3/6 in 1960, and you can get one today for about £7. A book that costs about as much as one modest hot meal is easily within the buying power of many, many people - it is not something one has to save up for.

  7. I too love AgTigress's specificity in her language use. I think this discussion of pornography and erotica is wonderful.

    Although I do have to say that I think there is still a functional difference between erotica and erotic romance, mainly because common usage has elided the eros=love part of the definition of erotica.

  8. "I do have to say that I think there is still a functional difference between erotica and erotic romance"

    Oh, I agree with you, Sarah. Different combinations of elements - sex, love, romance, suspense, historical settings, fantasy and others - work in ways that can significantly alter the overall balance and impact of a story.

    My main concern is really that some people (not those here, of course! :-D ) throw around the word 'pornography' in particular as a derogatory term without even having a clear idea of what they mean by it, but merely a vague perception that it deals with sexual matters of which they disapprove. Pornography seems to me to be a perfectly valid genre, and it can be done well or badly, but its structure and its aims are different from those of fully-realised novels that are erotic and/or that incorporate a lot of sexual action.

    I think it is also important to reflect that the comparative freedom we have to read (and to write) a wide variety of stories incorporating many different takes on sexuality is something that was denied earlier generations.

  9. As to the issue of books transcending genres, as a longtime romance reader, I find Jayne's point about defining them "by the one element you could not remove without destroying the entire story" fascinating. My mind keeps going back to Linnea Sinclair's Games of Command and trying to figure out which element I couldn't remove without destroying the story.

    It would be so easy to say it was their relationship that couldn't be removed but I hesitate. She does such a great job of weaving their developing romance into the fiber of the very tech-science problem of the world they inhabit that I just can't bring myself to say it. I'm not sure the two can be separated.

    So in theory, yes, I can see what you mean, Jayne, and there was even a time when romance writers didn't quite come up to, well, snuff in crossing those labeling lines. Or maybe it was other genre writers who didn't quite write enough romances into their stories. Either way, there are writers out there nowadays who are making it extremely difficult to make that call, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy areas.

    A lot of books just aren't that clear-cut anymore from a reader's standpoint no matter what labels the publishers put on them. I don't know, maybe they never were but there weren't that many of them before to choose from. There is a distinct difference between simple cross-referencing and a book truly being half & half. I have run across a few in recent years like Sinclair's that have made me wonder if that elusive ideal was possible.

    Thanks for a very enlightening and thought-provoking post, AgTigress. It helped explain some things that have been bothering me for some time. I'm going to have to reflect on how your definition would impact on the combinations of erotic romance within the genre, though, before I can comment on that aspect with any clarity of my own. ;)

  10. Mole pokes snout out of burrow timidly

    I hesitate to disagree with such an authority as Jayne, but I DO happen to consider romantic suspense at least as much suspense and/or mystery as romance; her definition may well apply to her wonderful books, but I'm thinking of Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Mary Stewart, and Nora Roberts, especially her J.D. Robb books, which include mystery, romance, and science fiction, being set in the future. The SF element is the slightest, but it does often play an important role.

    I have often discussed this subject with the Tigress, and as usual, she provides both expertise and enlightenment. She is such a treasure that I think they ought to put her in the British Museum.

    In addition to the Noel Perrin book cited in the footnotes, a seminal (no pun intended!) work on the subject is The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture by Walter Kendrick. (The title refers to the museum at Pompeii, which contains unique art and artifacts which are pornographic, a fact which would have had them thrown into the trash if they weren't unique art and artifacts! When we visited Pompeii in about 1954, they still had it: my father was allowed to see it, but not my mother or me. He described it as "Ladies' Night in a Turkish bath."),_Naples )

    As for the question asked in court about Lady Chatterley's Lover, I love the comment attributed to an English country gentleman: He didn't think the book obscene; he wouldn't object to his wife reading it, his son reading it, or even his daughter reading it.

    But he didn't think he'd want his gamekeeper to read it....

  11. Tal: Oh, my gosh! That line about the English country gentleman not wanting his gamekeeper to read Lady Chatterley's Lover is absolultely priceless!!!! Hadn't hear that one but I assure you, I won't forget it.


  12. Jayne, there's another funny one somewhere that I don't remember well enough to quote: it's supposedly a perfectly straight-faced review of the book from Field & Stream.

    WV: spcxqplu--Inuit word meaning "You haven't LIVED until you've Eskimo-kissed a star-nosed mole!"

  13. Tal, I carefully avoided the question of sexual imagery in the visual arts for a number of reasons. The problems are, and always have been, different, and there is an extensive bibliography, going back to the early 19th century at least, and particularly voluminous over the last generation or so.

    The erotica/pornography contrast I drew in dealing with written fiction cannot apply in the same way to sculpture and painting, because the narrative element present in a novel does not work in the same way, even if a picture refers (as it often does) to a well-known story or myth; furthermore, no particular skills or education are required to see and understand a visual image of sexual activity. Confining such material to a particular audience has to be done in a different way. Finally, there is the question of the meaning of sexual imagery in different cultures. We (or at least, I) have been speaking of post-medieval written work in English, that is, in a predominently Judaeo-Christian society, influenced even today by some of the tenets of that religious tradition. Erotic imagery in pagan Graeco-Roman, Hindu, Japanese, African and many other cultures embody different cultural traditions and meanings, and it is essential to look at them from an objective viewpoint free of European/Christian assumptions. It really is a very different matter.

    For anyone who wants to get a general introductory overview of the changing perceptions of Graeco-Roman eroticism from the 18th century onwards, I would recommend Sex or Symbol: erotic images of Greece and Rome, by Catherine Johns (London and Austin, Texas, 1982 and numerous subsequent editions, the current reprint 2007). Although now an old book, the background, including the matter of the Naples Museum Secretum is set out so that the reader can gain some insight both into what the Classical world intended by sexual visual imagery, and how it was received by modern Europeans.

    On Graeco-Roman art alone I could probably compile a bibliography of dozens of books and articles from the last 20 years. On Victorian society and sexuality, there is a great deal more now than the books cited in the original short bibliography of Sex or Symbol, though I would still particularly recommend Pearsall's The Worm in the Bu (link provided by Laura in my blog above), Fraser Harrison, The Dark Angel; aspects of Victorian Sexualitym and Eric Trudgill, Madonnas and Magdalens.

    Modern gender studies have also, obviously, produced a lot of material that has a bearing on these questions, and I am not even up to date on all of this, as it is no longer an area of research that I am actively pursuing.

    Peter Webb, The Erotic Arts remains useful, and for an up-to-date popular multi-author overview, I recommend Steven Bayley (editor), Sex (London 2001).

    I could say a LOT more on this: you can see why I confined myself to the classification of modern English-language novels containing sexual material.

  14. Apologies for typos above - writing in a hurry.

  15. Wonderful article, Agtigress. I think in some form, it should be published in legal journals or made available to those deciding whether something is pornographic or not.
    Your descriptions are helpful to those of us writing to think through how sexual activity is used in our work. Again, clear, descriptive and helpful. Thanks.

  16. One last note here: I can personally recommend the book AgTigress mentioned above: Sex or Symbol: erotic images of Greece and Rome, by Catherine Johns (London and Austin, Texas, 1982 and numerous subsequent editions, the current reprint 2007.

    In a word: Fascinating.


  17. there's another funny one somewhere that I don't remember well enough to quote: it's supposedly a perfectly straight-faced review of the book from Field & Stream.

    It's a review by Ed Zern, in the November 1959 edition of Field and Stream and it appears in full at the foot of page 152, and the top of page 153 in Warren Roberts and Paul Poplawski's A Bibliography of D. H. Lawrence. As for whether it was "straight-faced" or not, there seem to be doubts about that. According to William Safire, writing in the New York Times, "In 1959, the Field & Stream columnist Ed Zern tongue-in-cheekily reviewed D.H. Lawrence's classically racy and much-banned novel,Lady Chatterley's Lover."

    This sporting magazine's version of the review differs only very slightly from that given by Roberts and Poplawski:

    Ed Zern , the longtime "Exit Laughing" columnist for Field & Stream, died recently at age 83. Zern wrote many books, but he will be best remembered for his 1959 review of a reissue of Lady Chatterley's Lover, the piece, which originally ran in Field & Stream, was reprinted in Hunting and Fishing from A to Zern. Of the D.H. Lawrence novel, Zern wrote:

    "This fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoorminded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways of controlling vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book cannot take the place of J.R. Miller's
    Practical Gamekeeping."

    Publications from
    The London Times Literary Supplement to Reader's Digest reprinted the review, but Zern always said he was most pleased by "the seven letters from Field & Stream readers asking where they could find a copy of J.R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping."

  18. Of course, if Zern was being at all serious about the gamekeeping-related content of Lady Chatterley's Lover, it would support the Tigress's point that "clearly a novel about love or a human relationship may be both erotic (= dealing with the topic of sexual love) and didactic ( = aiming to teach some lesson or principle)."

  19. Thanks so much for the fine distinctions, Agtigress, one of which (as fine distinctions deserve) I'm going to try to muddle a little bit.

    I have in mind the distinction between "narrative" and "episodic" and my experience of writing BDSM in my Molly Weatherfield Carrie books. Yes, BDSM porn is always episodic (necessarily within that thrilling omigod-what'll-she-have-to-do-next ante-raising dynamic). I was very aware of that form when I wrote the books. But what I learned as I wrote them was that my characters (quite generally -- if amazedly -- described by readers as "real") had memories and desires (even, sometimes to the extent of mixing them). And so episodes were anticipated before the fact and mulled over afterwards, leading, I believe, to an emergent over-arching narrative form. But then, my favorite literary form has always been the moebius strip.

    This is too brief. I'm gonna have to go home and blog some more about it. Thanks again for all the food for thought.

  20. Pam: I have thought about your points concerning character development taking place in spite of a fundamentally episodic structure.

    I accept that a series of loosely interlocking events, as opposed to an overarching single story (or a main story interwoven with subsidiary sub-plots ) might lead to some character development, provided the same characters take part in all or most of the episodes. I am thinking of a book by a friend of mine which has an historical setting and a diary-like structure, following the everyday events of one year, month by month (no sex!): there isn't a lot of character development, but of course one gets to know the actors as individuals, and to recognise them. But as a fictionalised account of the daily events of one year in one place, I am not sure I regard it as a real novel, though. The lack of an integrated plot bothers me, and although the characters become familiar, they are no different in December than they were in January.

    I read a lot of Victorian pornography about 30 years ago, and the usual technique was to replace story by an 'exciting and exotic' locale and situation - harems, pirate ships on the high seas, and the like. The individual characters were always two-dimensional and interchangeable, and the main concern of the authors was always complexity of sexual conjugation. One could never predict what a given character might do even in a sexual situation, let alone in everyday life, because they remained strangers.

    To me, the key is really whether one (a) gets to know characters as individuals, so that one knows what character A and character B are like as people, and (b) that one gets interested in them as people, as opposed to being interested only in the sexual acts they are performing.

    The nature of sex is such that there are times when many, if not most, of us would actually like to be able to practise it or at least observe it without taking account of the infinite complexities of specific personal relationships and emotions - the 'sex with a stranger' fantasy - and this is where well-written pornography meets a perfectly valid need.

  21. Sarah said there is: '...a functional difference between erotica and erotic romance, mainly because common usage has elided the eros=love part of the definition of erotica.'

    I may be misunderstanding you here; I certainly see a distinction between erotica and erotic romance: the latter requires a HEA element, and the former does not. On the issue of 'common usage eliding the eros=love' part of the definition, I am not sure I understand fully.

    I have not read enough contemporary fiction labelled 'erotica' to be sure, but I should say that if there are no personal relationships, only sexual ones, then a work is probably pornography, however it is labelled. But if, in the course of a multitude of sexual activities, different characters interact with each other on many levels, then 'sexual love' is present, whether it is conscious or not.

    We love many people, in many different ways, many of them in ways that do not include sexual desire at all; love family members is one obvious case, but most of us also have close friends for whom we may feel deep, but non-sexual, love.

    However, if we take a different situation, one in which two friends have a brief and enjoyable sexual fling, and then continue to be non-sexual friends after it is over, both love and sex have entered into that friendship, even though there was no question at any stage of establishing the complex and multi-layered relationship of a lasting pair-bond. There are close friends with whom one can theoretically contemplate having a sexual relationship, and those with whom one can not: the former are people for whom one could feel sexual (as well as emotional/spiritual) love, and the latter are not. People who are strictly heterosexual cannot contemplate a sexual relationship with a close and friend of their own sex, even though they may feel deep affection for them.

    I do think that sexual love - a combination of plain desire and a wide, deeper liking for that individual is a clear sub-category of love as a whole. In terms of fictional stories, accounts of sexual relationships between people who have those feelings for each other, and whose interactions evolve, would be, in my view, erotica rather than pornography. At the end of the story, though no permanent pair-bonds have been formed, friendships should have changed and deepened.

    However, if during the course of the story a permanent pair-bond, or more than one, develops, then that element is romance, and the story as a whole is erotic romance.

    Am I making any sense, and does this relate to your comment at all?

  22. Again, excuse typos. I don't think I shall ever master accurate proofreading on a screen.

  23. Pam's posted a follow-up to this discussion at her blog.

    It's primarily focussed on the sexual attractiveness of power imbalances based on gender and class differences:

    it seems that these days the difficulties and obstacles we apprehend are the limitations placed upon women (and others) whose abilities outstrip their opportunities – even if we might still find the notion of power conferred by birth or brawn oddly, guiltily sexy and the source of ultimate resolution rather than an obstacle to it. (I mean, wouldn’t you rather marry a Mr. Darcy, who is after all adored by his tenants, than send him packing and set up an agrarian cooperative at Pemberley?)


    the privileged position of the gentleman – constitutes an major armature upon which hot historical romantic fiction is built today, producing the charged field upon which erotic romantic struggle is waged and never entirely decided. In its way of looking for narrative solutions, erotic romance (historical and perhaps other subgenres as well) cheers for both teams: we want the full humanity of those who aren’t gentlemen and the powerfully, seductively oxymoronic notion of human hierarchy and natural aristocracy.

    I suspect that Pam must be right about what many readers find "guiltily sexy" but personally, I'd vote for the agrarian co-operative, and while I can understand that power can be attractive, I'm not at all seduced by notions of "human hierarchy and natural aristocracy."

    Pam promises to address "the pornography/erotica distinction" in another post, next week.

  24. Laura wrote: personally, I'd vote for the agrarian co-operative, and while I can understand that power can be attractive, I'm not at all seduced by notions of "human hierarchy and natural aristocracy."

    There speaks the woman who would probably wind up marrying George Wickham!

  25. No, Tal, I wouldn't as, unlike Lydia and Mrs Bennet, I have no penchant for men in red coats. I would, however, find it difficult to avoid feeling a certain attraction towards Henry Tilney.

  26. But would he feel a certain attraction towards you? He seems to favor bimbos.

    I thought George Wickham would win you over because you seem to share a resentment of the power of the upper classes.

    Never mind--I'm sure that the Rev. Mr. Collins will get around to proposing to you eventually. He's got a little list...

    WV: nkseokp--Inuit word meaning "Not now, Nanook; I have a headache."

  27. But would he feel a certain attraction towards you?

    Perhaps not, but we really wouldn't suit, so that would be a good thing. I don't self-insert, and I have no desire to take any heroine's place. Or maybe it's just that, to paraphrase Mr Darcy, although I've come across some heroes whom I'd find somewhat attractive, I've yet to read about one who's close enough to my ideal to tempt me!

    He seems to favor bimbos.

    I'll have to defend Catherine now. She's not a bimbo. She's just very honest, very young and very naive, but she becomes less naive as a result of her time in Bath and at Northanger Abbey, and she's certainly got the right family background to make an excellent vicar's wife. I suspect Henry finds her transparent honesty and lack of guile refreshing, given how calculating and selfish his father and brother are.

  28. I thought George Wickham would win you over because you seem to share a resentment of the power of the upper classes.

    George Wickham is just resentful, which is a different matter entirely.

    I'm sure that the Rev. Mr. Collins will get around to proposing to you eventually. He's got a little list...

    No, I'm safe from him: I very much doubt Lady Catherine would approve of me.

  29. I can hear her now, Laura: "I am sure that I would have been a most successful academic myself, had I ever bothered to read a book...."

    WV: oqcoit -- Vulgar Inuit term for sexual intercourse

  30. Very belately adding that I'm a Henry Tilney girl myself, Laura. Are there any other wits among Jane Austen's heroes? Give me someone man enough to joke about muslin every time.

    Apologies, meanwhile, for not following up on the first response to AgTigress on my own blog. The subject is bigger than I thought (pornotopia, anyone?). I'm still working it through, and probably will send out little beeps from time to time among my other blog posts.

  31. Give me someone man enough to joke about muslin every time.

    Earlier this week I washed a new dress for the first time and thought I could have done with Henry Tilney's advice on how well it would wear.

    Are there any other wits among Jane Austen's heroes?

    As Mr Bennet isn't the hero of Pride and Prejudice, I think the answer's no, but perhaps there's a minor work in which there's another witty hero. Sarah's the Austen expert round here.