Wed, Feb 06, 2019 - Page 4 News List

British Library making its collection of obscene writing available online

OUT OF THE CABINET:Volumes from the ‘Private Case’ of explicit books dating back to 1658 ranges from the hijinks of Roger Pheuquewell to pioneering gay porn

The Guardian

The sniggeringly pseudonymous Roger Pheuquewell’s contribution to a series of 18th-century erotic novels imagining the female body as land needing to be “ploughed” is among a collection of books from the British Library’s “Private Case” — a collection of obscene titles kept locked away for more than a century that are finally being shared with a wider audience.

First published in the 1740s, the Merryland books were written by different authors, all describing the female anatomy metaphorically as land ripe for exploration.

Thomas Stretzer, who died in 1738, was the then-anonymous author of A New Description of Merryland, credited in a 1741 edition to one Roger Pheuquewell.

Together with an 18th-century directory of sex workers in the Covent Garden area of London, and the violent erotic works of the Marquis de Sade, the Merryland books are among the 2,500 volumes in the British Library’s Private Case collection.

The volumes have now been digitized, and are being made available online by the publisher Gale as part of its Archives of Sexuality and Gender academic research resource.

“There was essentially a series of cupboards in the keeper’s room from the 1850s, where material that was deemed to be unsuitable was kept locked away — usually because of its obscene nature, so pretty much anything to do with sex,” said Maddy Smith, curator of printed collections. “It was added to throughout the 19th century, and this carried on until around 1960, when attitudes to sexuality were changing.”

The collection dates back to 1658, with the book Rare Verities: the Cabinet of Venus Unlocked and Her Secrets Laid Open — the double entendre very much intended, Smith said.

It also features 40 copies of John Cleland’s 18th-century novel Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, which is considered to be the first pornographic novel written in the English language; an account of the sexual exploits of a gentleman named Walter in Victorian England, My Secret Life; and Memoirs of Dolly Morton, an 1899 novel about the erotic adventures of a Quaker woman in the US south before the civil war.

Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal tells of the tragic relationship between a young Frenchman and a Hungarian pianist. Authorship of the novel has been attributed to Oscar Wilde and members of his circle in the late 19th century.

“Nowadays we are more used to erotica, and fiction in general, including gay characters and storylines, but in the past this was pretty shocking,” Smith said. “Teleny is one of the earliest works of male gay erotic fiction in English and it was particularly shocking at the time.”

The Private Case collection has been accessible to the public through the library’s rare books collection since the 1960s, but the digitization project with Gale means the titles will now be available to a much wider audience.

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