Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Feasting with Panthers: Victorian Erotica

--by Juliet

Back before I became a writer, I spent a lot of time painting. Nudes, mostly. Like this fellow -- half Greek, half Italian, all gorgeous:

Or this woman, a dancer with a certain flair for the dramatic:
But hiring models is expensive, and friends can only be prevailed upon for a certain period of time before they balk at sitting for hours on end in one position, with only the weak promise of hand-mixed mojitos at the end of it all.

What to do? I looked through artists' anatomy books for intriguing views of the human form, and even made my way through a good deal of porn...*yawn*. But then I found the mother-lode of lovely nudes -- Victorian Erotica.

Victorians, the posterboys and girls of sexual repression and angst, knew how to do sexy. The women have all kinds of body types, from skinny to beyond plump. The men are mustachioed and randy. They smile, they play, they cavort. They have personality.

And they're hot. Even today.

As an artist who loves to paint the human form, I know that what one person finds highly titillating, another skips over with no interest. But in general, a little mystery is at least as intriguing as overt nudity. A black stocking playing off a pale thigh, that muscular indentation on a man right below his waistline, a hint of a woman's breast peeking out from a lace bodice...
The Victorians had all sorts of taboos to go up against, proper behavior and social mores that their passions led them to defy -- and defile. Their numerous taboos made all those naughty bits dark and mysterious and oh, so sexy.

Or was it just the flattering sepia-toned, well-lit photography of the day?

I love living in the Bay Area in the modern age, when feeling ashamed is shameful and we're allowed --heck, even encouraged to pursue our hedonistic ways. But it plays havoc with scandal, and rather deep-sixes the obvious titillation of doing what you're not supposed to do. What do people have to get outraged over anymore? You're having pre-marital sex? Duh. You're in an interracial relationship? You'll have beautiful children. Same-sex relationship? Tried it in college. Drug addiction? More pathetic than scandalous -- try rehab.

So is this what makes Victorian erotica so hot? Is it the obvious social repression, the constant knowledge of potential consequences that spurs on the exploration of the naughty and the downright lewd? And if so, is there a raging hot underworld of erotica in fundamentalist Muslim countries where a single act of infidelity could result in being stoned to death by one's neighbors?

The Victorians, despite laws against having Too Good of a Time, gave rise to a huge, vibrant culture of pornography that remains relevant today. Photography, painting, literature, was one big old smut-fest, all wrapped up in bloomers and lace. Even now, Victorian tales of sex and depravity remain wildly popular.

They weren't bound by any of today's political correctness when it came to different cultures -- if it was sexy, who cared how accurate it was? Hence the ever- popular salacious harem motif:

Our modern vices were old news to them: drugs, threesomes, spankings, they did it all:

Oscar Wilde was one of the most famous Victorian-era authors of erotic novels. His tale of primarily same-sex passion and sensuality, Teleny, was wildly popular but brought him to the brink of public disgrace.
Wilde wrote to a friend that pursuing such erotic interests in his life and in his fiction
"... was like feasting with panthers; the danger was half the excitement ... "

And dangerous it was; Oscar Wilde paid for his sexual adventures with several years in prison for "gross indecency", and never recovered his health.

But when it comes to Erotica...don't we all want to feast with panthers, if only for a moment, and if only in our fantasies? If you're going to write erotica, take a gander at the writings left behind by the Victorian masters of the genre. And if you want to paint nudes, get yourself a book of Victorian photographs. And if you're just looking for some terrific Victorian raunch, check out Lady Winterbourne's Most Intimate of Diaries. You feaster, you.


Nicole Peeler said...

Those pictures are GORGEOUS and so hot. I feel all feisty now! What a way to start the day, thank you, gorgeous! ;-)

Juliet Blackwell said...

Thanks Nicole! Um...want to pose for me sometime? You gorgeous thing, you ;-)

Mario Acevedo said...

What thoughtful, academic research. Juliet is such a dedicated scholar. I'm sure there was nothing prurient or tawdry in her motives. And how extensive is her private collection?

Sophie Littlefield said...

this is a wonderful post!! I love how the phrase "complete and unabridged" can sound salacious in context. I LOVE the spanking picture, YOW. Most of all I love the phrase "feasting with panthers" - i do think that's a universal longing, and the only shameful thing is how hard people work to suppress it - when they suppress themselves it's just really sad, when they try to suppress other people it makes me want to rip their @#T%@#%@#%@@%# off and stuff them down their @#%@#%@#^^@^#@F!!!!!

Ooops. Sorry.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Love this post! Leading with your painting of that beautiful young man didn't hurt, and thinking about how the forbidden becomes erotic is always fun.:)

Juliet Blackwell said...

My sentiments exactly, Sophie. And Mario, I am indeed devoted to my research. Thanks for noticing ;-) said...

I hopped right over here from your FB post, and, boy, was it worth the trip!
Big question: which part of that first guy is Greek, which Italian?

I do wonder what's left to rebel against. Will we be going backwards just so we can revolt again?

Who cares—love the photos, especially your paintings.

Unknown said...

oh my ;)

Rachael Herron said...

I pose for mojitos. Just so's you know.

Anonymous said...

Talk about repression -- I read this blog at work! Maybe that's why so many people have affairs with workmates (aside from spending all their waking hours at work)'s one of the last real taboos that doesn't require a major equipment investment ;)

Anonymous said...

you are almost as perverted as Mario... but not in that creepy sorta way.... lovin' it in Denver

Gigi Pandian said...

LOVE the painting you did of the masked woman.

Adrienne Bell said...

I would definitely have to have the mojitos BEFORE the sitting. Yep. But wow, you've got some talents Juliet.

Nicole Peeler said...

Yes!!!! But do you have enough canvas?? ;-)

Gary Corby said...

Gorgeous pictures!

I look forward to a portrait of the Pens Fatales.

AJ Larrieu said...

This is genius! Reminds me of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters...

Jeri Hoag said...

I learn so much from your posts. I just love this blog.Thank you Thank you! I have been mulling/stressing over what to do about sex in this Romantic Suspense book I started writing. Although, I'll probably be like Rachel and do it with my eyes closed. The Arsenic book looks so incredible I just can't wait!
Jeri Hoag

Juliet Blackwell said...

Thanks for all the comments! I went on a little jaunt yesterday, and returned to find that I was called "perverted", and then I was invited to paint a few of you. Lovely ;-) I'll mix up some mojitos and take y'all up on your offers.
As to actually writing erotica -- it's tough. I talk a big game, but in my books I usually just fade out on the details ;-)

Mario Acevedo said...

I too was called "perverted" plus no one invited me to paint their picture. Or share mojitos.
I thought these two quotes were appropriate for this posting:

Be good and you will be lonesome. Mark Twain

Vulgarity is simply the conduct of others. Oscar Wilde