View Full Version : The Beginnings of Modern Erotic Writing - Part 2

Brigit Astar
05-30-2010, 12:06 PM
Erotica has been written for thousands of years. There are numerous erotic works that were written prior to the eighteenth century. But these works were either in the form of poetry—such as Sappho’s or Ovid’s or Catullus’s poetry, or prose poems such as the Song of Solomon in the Bible, or so-called sex manuals—such as the Kama Sutra or the Perfumed Garden.

By no stretch can works such as Cassanova’s Memoirs, Boccaccio’s Decameron, or Bracciolini’s stories be labeled erotic. The so-called erotic fiction and narratives of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are nothing more than bawdy tales; they contain no erotic elements as such.

In the eighteenth century the novel form was born (Don Quixote, Gulliver’s Travels, and Gargantua are not novels because they lack a plot). The first novel was Joseph Richardson’s Pamela. Although written in the early eighteenth century, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is not a novel because it, like its predecessors, lacked a plot.

The so-called erotic novels of the early eighteenth century, such as Defoe’s Moll Flanders and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, are not really erotic. They hint at erotica but they do not delve into it or describe it. An example of this is in Fanny Hill wherein the narrator states: And then he had his way with her. The narrator then goes on to another incident. Nothing actually erotic is delved into or described.

I have already dealt with De Sade in Part 1, and how he was not an erotic writer and did not write erotica.

It is not until the late eighteenth century that modern erotica as we know it was first written.

In 1798, a landmark book was privately printed. It was the first modern erotic novel. The title of the work is Pleasures And Follies Of A Good-Natured Libertine. The author was Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne. The book was actually begun in 1793, and was subtitled Anti-Justine, because it was both an attack and a reply to De Sade’s work Justine which was written in 1791.

What makes Pleasures And Follies Of A Good-Natured Libertine so unique is that for the first time in literature we are introduced to fully developed characters—both male and female—that are totally devoted to sexual pleasures, and to the description of those pleasures. In total opposition to De Sade who portrayed and looked upon women as objects and not as real human beings, and whose only function was to provide gratification to a male by inflicting pain upon them, Bretonne introduced and portrayed women as fully developed humans who actually enjoyed sex. And he described the sex feelings and scenes with a frankness and a realistic description that had never been read before.

In a way, Bretonne can be called the first “realistic” writer.

I will delve more into Bretonne and the first modern erotic novel—“Pleasures And Follies Of A Good-Natured Libertine”—in Part 3.