Erotomaniac: The Secret Life of Henry Spencer Ashbee

Erotomaniac: The Secret Life of Henry Spencer Ashbee

by Ian Gibson
     
 

Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834–1900) was a prosperous and respectable Victorian gentleman, a family man who counted among his many friends the celebrated adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton. But he was a gentleman with a secret—one so delicious that he rented a separate apartment to contain it. Within the well-appointed chambers of Gray's Inn, Ashbee

Overview

Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834–1900) was a prosperous and respectable Victorian gentleman, a family man who counted among his many friends the celebrated adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton. But he was a gentleman with a secret—one so delicious that he rented a separate apartment to contain it. Within the well-appointed chambers of Gray's Inn, Ashbee concealed an astonishingly vast collection of erotica and pornography, thousands of volumes strong. Ian Gibson, the acclaimed biographer of Lorca and Dalí, now turns his attention to the hitherto little-known Ashbee, a man who happily supported his wife and four children but spent his spare time meticulously cataloguing such risqué titles as Miss Bellasis Birched for Thieving and The Marchioness's Amorous Pastimes. And with exclusive access to Ashbee's diaries and his family's archives, Gibson has uncovered evidence that Ashbee may himself have been the author of the notorious My Secret Life—the "true" autobiography of an unnamed Victorian gentleman and his sexual adventures. With his celebrated touch for evoking both his subject and his subject's era, Gibson has created a telling and provocative portrait of a fascinating character and the no less intriguing age that made him possible.

Editorial Reviews

New Yorker
In The Erotomaniac (Da Capo), Ian Gibson investigates the life of Henry Spencer Ashbee, a respectable Victorian merchant who collected thousands of volumes of pornography spanning several centuries and languages. Gibson believes that Ashbee was also the author of My Secret Life, a notorious piece of Victorian pornography, reasoning, rather unflatteringly, that "it is a tale by someone who has not found erotic fulfillment, by someone for whom sex exists almost entirely in the head."

Of course, if we're to believe Freud, the impulse to collect is largely sexual anyway. Alfred Kinsey, before he embarked on his sex research, was a zoologist, and he collected millions of gall wasps in an attempt to log every variation in the species. Later, he switched to erotica; the editors of Sex and Humor: Selections from the Kinsey Institute (Indiana) gather some of the more lighthearted items from the collection -- kooky pinups, dirty postcards, and comics -- to illuminate their thesis that social taboos have forced people to "use humor to speak about sex."

There is no shortage of humor in the erotic art of Tomi Ungerer, whose wild imaginings include "Fornicon," a set of contraptions that look like a pornographic remake of "Metropolis." In Erotoscope (Taschen), a selection from four decades of drawings, Ungerer claims that he comes from a repressive Protestant background. This doesn't seem to have limited the amount of lewdness he can pack into a few swooping lines. Curiously, his artistic tastes seem to have dictated his sexual ones, rather than the other way around. His S & M kink reflects his love of shapes: tie a woman up, he explains, and "she becomes more fluid, and the pencil that draws her flows more easily across the paper." (Leo Carey)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780306810640
Publisher:
Da Capo Press
Publication date:
11/14/2001
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 8.31(h) x 1.13(d)

Meet the Author

Ian Gibson lives in a village near Granada, Spain. His Federico García Lorca: A Life won numerous awards and was named a best book of the year by the New York Times and the Boston Globe.

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