Nov 192010

Julia… worked, as he had guessed, on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department [of the Ministry of Truth]. She enjoyed her work, which consisted chiefly in running and servicing a powerful but tricky electric motor. She was ‘not clever’, but was fond of using her hands and felt at home with machinery. She could describe the whole process of composing a novel, from the general directive issued by the Planning Committee down to the final touching-up by the Rewrite Squad. But she was not interested in the finished product. She ‘didn’t much care for reading’, she said. Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.


She had even (an infallible mark of good reputation) been picked out to work in Pornosec, the sub-section of the Fiction Department which turned out cheap pornography for distribution among the proles. It was nicknamed Muck House by the people who worked in it, she remarked. There she had remained for a year, helping to produce booklets in sealed packets with titles like Spanking Stories or One Night in a Girls’ School, to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal.

‘What are these books like?’ said Winston curiously.

‘Oh, ghastly rubbish. They’re boring, really. They only have six plots, but they swap them round a bit. Of course I was only on the kaleidoscopes [that composed the text]. I was never in the Rewrite Squad. I’m not literary, dear — not even enough for that.’

He learned with astonishment that all the workers in Pornosec, except the head of the department, were girls. The theory was that men, whose sex instincts were less controllable than those of women, were in greater danger of being corrupted by the filth they handled.

‘They don’t even like having married women there,’ she added. ‘Girls are always supposed to be so pure. Here’s one who isn’t, anyway.’

[George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Everyman’s Library edition, Page 136-137]

In Orwell’s dystopia, sex is strongly regulated.

For the Proles, the working class, sex seems to be completely uninhibited, or at least it is from Winston’s perspective. Likewise, Proles are given free reign to indulge in liquor and gambling, and pornography.

For the Outer Party, roughly the middle class, sex is extremely regulated and disregarded. The Party attempts to channel the libido into endless activity, hard work followed by play that is as organized, compulsory and endless as work. No individual attachments or contemplation. Sex itself is reduced to something akin to an unpleasant medical procedure, a “duty to the party,” as Winston’s sexually dysfunctional wife called it.

Whereas Julia is an apolitical hedonist, Winston rhapsodizes about the liberatory potential of his affair with her, describing the way she takes off her dress as “a single, splendid movement” that could bring down the corrupt society.

I saw a book on sexual history in Germany that showed an interesting poster from the early Nazi regime. One half of the poster showed a number of fair-haired nudes in natural settings (walking in meadows or wading in streams), while the other showed dark-haired (Jewish?) women, dressed like showgirls, in indoor, urban settings. The captions read something like, “Bad beauty vs. good beauty.” The problem wasn’t with porn, just right and wrong kinds of porn.

It seems axiomatic that repressive politics leads to repressive sexuality. After all, the Nazis burned the Magnus Hirschfeld archives and gassed homosexuals alongside Jews. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Orwell’s Oceania is not universally sexually repressive, but it appears that sexuality of the Outer Party (i.e. the middle class) is tightly repressed, so as not to interfere with work or encourage dissent, but encouraged the opposite way for the largely expendable Proles, as an opiate of the mostly non-productive masses.

The other side of this issue is violence in Oceania. There a lot of public violence, both the mass execution of internal and external enemies, and the display of propaganda films with graphic violence. There’s also a lot of “private violence,” in the Ministry of Love, with torture and executions. Note that there is a significant disconnect between the two realms of violence, that the public executions are purely for show while the real work of suppressing resistance is done in secret, its victims completely disappeared.

Foucault talked about how, over the past few centuries in the West, the process of correcting social deviance has been hidden away from public view in institutions like prisons, hospitals, asylums, etc. In Orwell’s book, the state’s real work of violence is done in private, while the public work of executions, confessions and so on are just for show. Yet, Winston seems to have an instinctive knowledge of the “technology” of the Thought Police and the Ministry of Love, their instruments and techniques. Presumably there are rumors floating around. The separation can’t be perfect.

So, is Julia busy turning out porn that draws on the imagery of eroticized power from their own society?

Jun 042010

Ah&Oh Studio created a line of perfume packages based on male writers, including George Orwell, LaClos (author of Dangerous Liaisons), Edgar Allen Poe and the Marquis de Sade.

We found inspiration in the great, dark literature and distinctive, strong characters. We tried to describe the dark sides of men’s nature with line of scents named after famous writers.

Interesting that all four writers, not just Sade, could be seen as factoring into the history of BDSM. LaClos wrote about seduction and power games, and Poe about obsession and imprisonment. Even Orwell’s vision of dystopia in 1984 became fodder for masochistic fantasy.

I wonder what Sacher-Masoch or Richardson would smell like? Perhaps a complementary line of women’s fragrances: Stowe, Radcliffe, Rachilde, Reage, Rice, Carey?

May 122010

Debra Hyde’s blog has a quick look at Iwan Bloch’s Sex life in England (1934), including scans of some of the art.

Iwan Bloch was a noted author and sexologist from pre-Nazi Germany. He was a contemporary of fellow sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Sigmund Freud considered his contributions on homosexuality key to looking at sexual orientation from a non-pathological stance. I suspect it gave some level of legitimacy to Falstaff Press in the eyes of government suppression, but not much, given the fervor of the law. Although he was responsible for discovering the presumed-lost manuscript of The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade and he was an early biographer of the notorious figure, so who knows.

I’d like to see this book and have a good insight into pre-WWII European sexual culture.

Aug 202009

Thomas, Donald. The Victorian Underworld John Murray, 1998. Link Pg. 103 mainly

BDSM seems to have existed as an elite subset of prostitution. Specialty brothels escaped attention. Flagellation was mentioned in Sir John Davies’ Epigrams from 1599, which I haven’t located. Ashbee listed the principal whipping brothels in 1877, located in the better residential neighborhoods.

Swinburne patronized one at 7 Circus Road, St. John’s Wood. “two golden-haired and rouge-cheeked ladies received, in luxuriously furnished rooms, gentlemen whom they consented to chastise for large sums of money.”

Other houses had women whipped by male clients or in front of paying audiences.

In one court case, a 15 year old girl claimed she was beaten, by men known as “Sealskin” or “the Count,” while tied to a step-ladder.

In My Secret Life, Walter describes meeting a girl who describes being flogged by a woman “for a lady’s delecation.” No man present, and the lady was masked.

Mar 232009

The UK newspaper The Daily Mail provides a window into the private life of 18th century English writer Dr Samuel Johnson, specifically his masochistic relationship with another man’s wife, named Hester:

A sunny weekday afternoon in a well-appointed house in Streatham, South London. A generous lunch has been served, and the dining room has echoed with laughter and conversation.

A distinguished male house guest is left alone with his younger and much more attractive hostess. He murmurs something. She flushes and assents. They retire to a private room and lock the door behind them.

She sits on a chair and slips off her shoes. He kneels before her and takes her foot on his lap. He fondles it in his big hands, then stoops to kiss it.

Soon, at his urging, she has bound him hand and foot with padlock and chains, and he – suffused with shame and delight – is submitting to be whipped.

In one 1773 letter – written in elaborately formal French so that, if intercepted by servants, it could not be understood – he begged her [Hester]: ‘I wish, my protector, that your authority will always be clear to me, and that you will keep me in that form of slavery which you know so well how to make blissful.’

But there are signs that Hester – initially compliant – was an increasingly reluctant dominatrix. ‘I will detain you no longer,’ she wrote in reply, ‘so farewell and be good; and do not quarrel with your Governess for not using the rod enough.’

Even so, power play was an integral part of their relationship. In 1779 Johnson told Hester: ‘A woman has such power between the ages of 25 and 45 that she may tye a man to a post and whip him if she will.’

Hester later wrote: ‘This he knew of himself was literally and strictly true I am sure.’

And in a diary entry about her relationship with Johnson – whom she called ‘my slave’ – Hester wrote: ‘The fetters and padlocks will tell posterity the truth.’

This is an instance of the use of Master-slave terminology in an erotic sense, decades before the Munby-Cullwick relationship, which may not have been quite as unique as I thought.

The book is Samuel Johnson: The Struggle by Jeffrey Meyers Link

Dec 112007

GJ Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility, 1996 University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226037142

I finally got through The Culture of Sensibility, which focuses on the transformation of post-Restoration England and how that affected class and gender.

New wealth flooded into England, creating a solid middle class and a market for consumer goods, the “nation of shopkeepers.” When men met for business, they had to convince each other they were not thugs who would rob each other. Thus, they created manners and rituals to regulate interactions. The irony is that the wealth that made all this “civilizing” possible came from the Atlantic slave trade.

At the same time, natural philosophers like Isaac Newton and John Locke presented a new, secular model of human nature, that of sensibility. Human beings were born as blank slates and created through their experiences, which affected their nerves. Nerves were how people felt and experienced things, and if a person’s nerves would do the right things, they would feel appropriately in response to stimulus. To observe a suffering person would induce feelings of sympathy (not empathy) in the observer and naturally create a desire to help that person. Indeed, an observer of greater sensibility might feel more distress than the person who is actually suffering.

Continue reading »

Dec 032007

Family Portrait

Stone, Lawrence. “Libertine Sexuality in Post-Restoration England: Group Sex and Flagellation among the Middling Sort in Norwich in 1706-07” Journal of the History of Sexuality, 1992, vol. 2, no.4, pp. 511-26

For a while, I’ve been saying that Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick were the world’s first consensual BDSM relationship, but they may have some competition.

…it is astonishing to discover a small coterie of middle- and lower-middle-class young professional people, in the first decade of the eighteenth century, in the ex-Puritan provincial town of Norwich, palying such exotic erotic games as voyeurism, group sex, wife-swapping, the trimming of pubic hair, and extensive bisexual flagellation. At the center of all this deviant activity was a young bookseller bookbinder, Samuel Self, who styled himself “Mr.” and was a member of that ambiguous new urban class, the pseudogentry.

Continue reading »

Apr 042007

Thanks to eBay, I now own two copies of London Life magazine.

London Life was what succeeded The Englishwoman’s Domestic Monthly and The Family Doctor in sustaining England fetishist population. It was a popular magazine: maillot-clad bathing beauties (the bikini hadn’t been invented yet), Hollywood gossip, short fiction, etc.

It doesn’t get really interesting until you get to the letter sections. Then you’re hanging out with:

BROKEN SPIRIT: “…I act as lady’s maid to my mistress, and also to her friends when she entertains. I have to practically put on and take off every garment she wears. Every time she takes a bath I have to get everything ready, bath her [sic], and rub her briskly with a hot towel until my arms ache fit to drop off.”

VELVET CORDS: “Since we have been married we have both worn corduroy a great deal – my wife wearing costumes and skirts, generally in black or brown, and I wearing shorts, jacket and breeches whenever circumstances permit.”

MOUNTED MANNEQUIN: “After being unhorsed for so long, it is simply gorgeous to have my feet in the stirrups again, and to feel a horse’s ripping [sic] muscles between my knees….Naturally enough, my spurs came in for a good deal of attention. I am afraid I could not scrap any of these; but I found they could all do with new straps and buckles to smarten them up, and two pairs needed new rowels.”

ONE LEG: “No one appeared to take undue notice of my one-leggedness when in my bathing costume. Needless to say, I was very glad of this, because it gave me encouragement to bathe and sun myself quite oblivious to any missing leg…. I brought back from Paris six lovely slender crutches, black, blue, brown, and grey, for day use, and a red and green for evening wear.”

MALE CORSET WEARER: “Recently, however, a champion of the much-maligned waist compresser has arisen, who declares that if only men would take to wearing corsets, baldness would promptly cease to exist at all.”

BAS DE SOIE: “I love the costume of a French maid above all other styles, and because I first me my own sporty little wife at a private fancy dress ball, where whe was dressed in the most chic and daring French maid’s costume you cold imagine.”

MURIEL: “I was priveleged to witness an exciting wrestling match at my home the other evening between two of my friends, Betty, a typist, and Hazel, a shop assistant.”

WETTING PARTY FAN: “What has happened to ‘P.R.’ who used to write such thrilling letters about the wet and muddy exploits of Gwen and Madeline?”

BROWNIE: “I am awfully keen on mackintoshes, and so is my boy friend, who is a sailor in the Merchant Service. He is a great big he-man, and loves to dominate me. He likes to see me completely mackintoshed; and though at first I must own I did not like being dressed up in rubber clothes, I am now an ardent mac fan, and I realize that macs have a fascination all their own.”

STRICT MISTRESS: “If I were to employ females to slave for me in this way I should not get anything like such a thrill and ‘kick’ out of the practice that I always experience when ordering men and boys to do my bidding.”

All of these letters are written in a dead-pan, humorless style, no matter how outrageous the content. I’m going to give these letters the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were written by readers and not fabricated in house. However, how true to life they are is anybody’s guess. Some are plausible as treasured real-life incidents embroidered over time by fantasy, and some are pure wishful thinking. I also won’t speculate how many of the letters with female bylines are actually written by women.

After all, would you believe Hannah Cullwick and Athur Munby were real people if they had written into magazines instead of having their journals published decades after their deaths?

There’s a wide range of fetishes on display: amputees, shoes, boots and hosiery, corsets, French maids, wet and messy, silk and satin, etc. These days, these people would have blogs and MySpace pages and Yahoo groups. Back then, all they had was London Life.

However, this generation of fetishists differed from the Victorians. The people who wrote into the mid-nineteenth century magazines were on the extreme end of the “normal” end of the spectrum. Tight-lacing corsets, for instance, were just barely on the edge of fashion then. By the 1930s, when fetishists had pretty much taken over the reader-contributed sections of London Life, the female ideal was the supple, athletic flapper, and wasp waists were completely off the range of fashion. This was when the culture of fetishists started to evolve.

Incidentally, there was a fair amount of kinkness in the features too. One story, “Les Dance Apache!”, is about an Englishman on vacation in Paris who falls for a woman who does “le danse apache“, a stylized combat between a pimp and a prostitute (example video). However, it turns out the woman and her dance partner are running a variant of the Badger Game on the poor schlemiel.

I’ll try go get some scans up soon.