One of the best things that can come out of the entire 50 Shades of Grey hooplah is a lively and frank discussion of sexual and emotional abuse, what constitutes it and how to stop it.
This is however not the discussion we’re going to get into today. Nor are we going to discuss the finer points of BDSM (bondage, discipline, sado-masochism) as i am utterly unqualified. I applaud everyone’s consensual sexual adventures but personally, i’m not into the whole pain thing. I want my pleasure to be pleasurable. Although i have gone to Indian restaurants and when asked how spicy i want my meal have told them to go ahead and hurt me, so, you know, i can maybe sort of understand.
This post obviously has lots of triggers. These are 5 pretty friggin’ kinky and potentially fucked up books, depending where you fit on the sensitivity scale.
What i’m interested in discussing today is the literary lineage. With a certain regularity, every few decades, an erotic BDSM book pops up, sells inSANEly, and is a huge cultural deal. Plenty of erotic fiction is published in between, but the thing of which i speak smashes into pop cultural. EVERYone knows about it and discusses it at some point. Like 50 Shades of Grey. Say what you will about it (like it sucks) you HAVE discussed it. Everyone around you has too. It is the latest in a line of blockbuster erotic fiction where a (mostly but not always) woman goes through all sorts of fucked up, kinky, submissive, sexy time weirdness.
1. Justine or The Misfortunes of Virtue by the Marquis de Sade
This is an early novel and is paired with a later work Juliette, or Vice Amply Rewarded. Justine and Juliette are sisters. Justine is virtuous Juliette is… not.
Ah the Marquis de Sade. What can be said about him that hasn’t? The trail of BDSM blockbusters begins with him and might as well end with him because the shit in his books is so fucked up no one has topped it yet.
Justine was written in 1791. The plot concerns Justine, a 12-year-old maiden (“As for Justine, aged as we have remarked, twelve”) who sets off, to make her way in France. Juliette and Justine lived in a nunnery, where the Abbess of the nunnery corrupted Juliette (and attempted to corrupt Justine too). However, Justine was sweet and virtuous. When the Abbess found out about Bertole’s death she threw both girls out. Juliette’s story is told in another book, and Justine continues on in pursuit of virtue, beginning from becoming a maid in the house of the Usurer Harpin, which is where her troubles begin anew. It follows her until age 26, in her quest for virtue. She is presented with sexual lessons, hidden under a virtuous mask. The unfortunate situations include: the time when she seeks refuge and confession in a monastery, but is forced to become a sex-slave to the monks, who subject her to countless orgies, rapes, and similar rigours. When helping a gentleman who is robbed in a field, he takes her back to his chateau with promises of a post caring for his wife, but she is then confined in a cave and subject to much the same punishment. These punishments are mostly the same throughout, even when she goes to a judge to beg for mercy in her case as an arsonist, and then finds herself openly humiliated in court, unable to defend herself.
In her search for work and shelter Justine constantly fell into the hands of rogues who would ravish and torture her and the people she makes friends with.
Here we see the basic meme begin. Shy, innocent girl learns all about seediness and not just sex, very dominance oriented sex. Lots and lots of rape. As far as Marquis de Sade works go, it’s a breezy walk in the park. By the time he gets to Juliette or heaven forbid, The 120 Days of Sodom… 120 of Sodom is so fucked up i can’t even… we’re not going to talk about. Seriously i’m still scarred and it’s been many,. many years since i read that fucker (or as much of it as i could before i just starting cursing and through the book across the room. To quote Dorothy Parker: “This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
Fucking Marquis de Sade, Christian Grey would weep like a little wounded puppy if he ever encountered the MdeS.
2. Venus In Furs by Leopold van Sacher-Masoch
How influential is Venus in Furs, a book published in 1870? The word masochism is literally named after the author. Yeah. I’m gonna say reeeeeeEEEEEEAL influential.
However, in a refreshing change of pace this book, actually features a man being dominated and humiliated by a woman.
The story tells of a man, Severin von Kusiemski, who is so infatuated with a woman, Wanda von Dunajew, that he asks to be her slave, and encourages her to treat him in progressively more degrading ways. At first Wanda does not understand or accede to the request, but after humouring Severin a bit she finds the advantages of the method to be interesting and enthusiastically embraces the idea, although at the same time she disdains Severin for allowing her to do so.
Severin describes his feelings during these experiences as suprasensuality. Severin and Wanda travel to Florence. Along the way, Severin takes the generic Russian servant’s name of “Gregor” and the role of Wanda’s servant. In Florence, Wanda treats him brutally as a servant, and recruits a trio of African women to dominate him. (You can just go ahead and read all the shades of racism into that last bit that you want. You wouldn’t be wrong about any of them. See, it’s particularly humiliating to have BLACK women dominating him, because, come on, how low can you go? Apparently this is the lowest.)
The book caused an enormous stir which echoes even today. There’s a famous band named after it, there’s a Velvet Underground song, there’s plays and apparently there’s a new movie coming out directed by Roman Polanski.
The book is the exact gender reverse of 50 Shades. As one woman put it: “Severin likes women. Severin likes women who are filthy rich. Severin likes women who are filthy rich and treat him like shit. Wanda is that woman.”
3. The Story Of O by Anne Desclos (under the pen name Pauline Réage)
The Story of O was HUGE. Published in 1954 in France it was an international sensation. Banned, obscenity charges, the works. Desclos did not reveal herself as the author for forty years after the initial publication. She wrote the novel as a series of love letters to her lover Jean Paulhan, who had admired the work of the Marquis de Sade.
In the Story of O we get the true precursor to Shades of Grey.
Story of O is a tale of female submission involving a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer named O, who is taught to be constantly available for oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse, offering herself to any male who belongs to the same secret society as her lover. She is regularly stripped, blindfolded, chained and whipped; her anus is widened by increasingly large plugs; her labium is pierced and her buttocks arebranded.
The story begins when O’s lover, René, brings her to the château of Roissy, where she is trained to serve the members of an elite club. After this initial training, as a demonstration of their bond and his generosity, René hands O to his elder stepbrother Sir Stephen, a more severe master. René wants O to learn to serve someone whom she does not love, and someone who does not love her. Over the course of this training, O falls in love with Sir Stephen and believes him to be in love with her as well. During the summer, Sir Stephen sends O to Samois, an old mansion solely inhabited by women for advanced training and body modifications related to submission. There she agrees to receive permanent marks of Sir Stephen’s ownership, in the form of a brand and a steel tag hanging from a labia piercing.
Meanwhile René has encouraged O to seduce Jacqueline, a vain fashion model, and lure her to Roissy. Jacqueline is repulsed when she first sees O’s chains and scars, although O herself is proud of her condition as a willing slave. However, Jacqueline’s younger half-sister becomes enamored of O, and begs to be taken to Roissy.
At the climax, O is presented as a sexual slave, nude but for an owl-like mask and a leash attached to her piercing, before a large party of guests who treat her solely as an object. Afterward, she is shared by Sir Stephen and an associate of his who is referred to only as “The Commander”.
Some early editions included several different variations of an epilogue which note that O was later abandoned by Sir Stephen, though there is debate as to whether Desclos intended it to be included in the finished work; in one such version, O is so distraught by the threat of this abandonment that she insists she would rather die and asks for permission to commit suicide, which is granted.
You will be shocked to hear that there have been enormous heated debates surrounding the book from multiple sources and it is still discussed today.
4. The Claiming Of Sleepy Beauty by Anne Rice
The Sleeping Beauty Quartet is a series of four novels written by American author Anne Rice under the pseudonym of A. N. Roquelaure in the 1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Anne Rice came out as the author, which caused sales of the books to explode. The books were read and discussed far and wide, causing many debates across the cultural landscape. Some of the most interesting debates about this quartet came from various feminist factions focusing on all sorts of different aspects of these works. both positive and negative.
In the first chapter of the story, Beauty is awakened from her hundred-year sleep by the Prince, not with a kiss, but through copulation, initiating her into a Satyricon-like world of sexual adventures. After stripping her naked he takes her to his kingdom, ruled by his mother Queen Eleanor, where Beauty is trained as a slave and a plaything. The rest of the naked slaves, dozens of them, in the Queen’s castle are princes and princesses sent by their royal parents from the surrounding kingdoms as tributes. In this castle they spend several years learning to become obedient and submissive sexual property, accepting being spanked and forced to have sex with nobles and slaves of both sexes, being publicly displayed and humiliated, and crawling around on their hands and knees like animals until they return to their own lands “being enhanced in wisdom.”
In the castle Beauty meets another slave, Prince Alexi, with whom she copulates passionately. After that he tells her about the long adventurous journey he had in the castle. Alexi previously had been a stubborn prince who fought back all the attempts to break him, until the Queen sent him to the kitchen to have him tortured by crude kitchen servants. Alexi received such a savage and merciless punishment there that he began to lose his senses and, after some particularly humiliating training at the hands of a strong stable boy, Alexi became a totally surrendered slave, playing various sexual games at the Queen’s commands.
The moral of Alexi’s story notwithstanding, Beauty willfully disobeys, and the book closes with her being sentenced to brutal slavery in the neighboring village while her master weeps.
5. 50 Shades Of Grey by E. L. James
And here we come to the current darling of pop culture. Bought en masse, decried and slandered (amongst its critiques is that it’s horribly written, which is very true. Although not to single it out for this vice, Venus In Furs is pretty badly written in parts also, but in a different way)
I have nothing to add. You all know what it’s about. I haven’t actually read it (i haven’t actually read any of these in their entirety. I’ve read several chapter here and there of nearly all at some point, but this genre isn’t my thing and i am NOT friggin’ opening up a Marquis de Sade book again. I read as much of 120 Days as i ever need to and will happily die without reading any more).
So read 50 Shades, don’t read it, PLEASE talk about abuse and abuse awareness, seriously, that is the best and most important thing that can come from all this, but know that after all this dies down, if you wait 20 years, the next BDSM best seller will come out of nowhere and titillize another generation.