Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism

Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism

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by Deborah Lutz
     
 

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A smart, provocative account of the erotic current running just beneath the surface of a stuffy and stifling Victorian London.
At the height of the Victorian era, a daring group of artists and thinkers defied the reigning obsession with propriety, testing the boundaries of sexual decorum in their lives and in their work. Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhumed his dead

Overview

A smart, provocative account of the erotic current running just beneath the surface of a stuffy and stifling Victorian London.
At the height of the Victorian era, a daring group of artists and thinkers defied the reigning obsession with propriety, testing the boundaries of sexual decorum in their lives and in their work. Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhumed his dead wife to pry his only copy of a manuscript of his poems from her coffin. Legendary explorer Richard Burton wrote how-to manuals on sex positions and livened up the drawing room with stories of eroticism in the Middle East. Algernon Charles Swinburne visited flagellation brothels and wrote pornography amid his poetry. By embracing and exploring the taboo, these iconoclasts produced some of the most captivating art, literature, and ideas of their day.
As thought-provoking as it is electric, Pleasure Bound unearths the desires of the men and women who challenged buttoned-up Victorian mores to promote erotic freedom. These bohemians formed two loosely overlapping societies—the Cannibal Club and the Aesthetes—to explore their fascinations with sexual taboo, from homosexuality to the eroticization of death. Known as much for their flamboyant personal lives as for their controversial masterpieces, they created a scandal-provoking counterculture that paved the way for such later figures as Gustav Klimt, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Genet.
In this stunning exposé of the Victorian London we thought we knew, Deborah Lutz takes us beyond the eyebrow-raising practices of these sex rebels, revealing how they uncovered troubles that ran beneath the surface of the larger social fabric: the struggle for women’s emancipation, the dissolution of formal religions, and the pressing need for new forms of sexual expression.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lutz (The Dangerous Lover), a professor of Victorian literature and culture at Long Island University, explores that era as one of sexual and erotic experimentation, when an artist like Dante Gabriel Rossetti used a prostitute as a model in a painting of Mary Magdalene, and even "respectable gentlemen" sought "young grenadiers" for anonymous sex in public toilets. Artists and writers produced sexually themed writing and painting that unsettled Victorians by evincing radical ideas about sexual freedom, women's rights, and religious doubt. Rossetti brought sensuality to his paintings of sickness and death. His devout yet daring sister Christina's work reforming prostitutes inspired her own lush sensual verse. Richard Burton, the secret agent and explorer, wrote how-to manuals on sexual positions; and Algernon Charles Swinburne published verse on hermaphrodites, bisexuals, sexual sadists, incest, and the femme fatale, and loved being flogged by prostitutes dressed as schoolmasters and mistresses. Lutz's long-winded meanderings often erode the sexiness of her subject matter, but this is a perceptive, thorough assessment of Victorian erotica and those defiant ones who crafted it. 8 pages of color and 5 b&w illus. (Feb.)
Patricia Anderson
“Pleasure Bound shines a sensitive light into the darker corners of Victorian sexuality. The sometimes subtle, sometimes consuming interplay of sensuality and death; the danger and draw of sexual transgression; the irresistible lure of forbidden pleasure—through their erotic longings and adventures, the Victorian sex rebels lead us to the heart of a struggle for authentic sexual expression in an era of repression now past. Or is it?”
David Lodge
“Pleasure Bound is a lively, readable and informative survey of the sometimes surprising connections between art, literature, and the sexual underworld in Victorian England.”
Wesley Stace
“As seductive as a Swinburne sapphic, Pleasure Bound is for the casual reader, the aesthete and the pleasure seeker alike. If there wasn't a scholarly excuse for reading it, you'd feel guilty for having so much fun. Just don't leave it lying around.”
Maggie Nelson
“Using a deft combination of biography, aesthetic analysis, and cultural commentary, Pleasure Bound offers a history of those Victorian writers and artists who lived—and sometimes died—for the conjoined cause of eros and art. The result is a bawdy, intricate, edifying, and sometimes heartbreaking book that sheds light on a fascinating constellation of creators, without ever losing sight of the importance of keeping—as Lutz sagely puts it — 'the dark core dark.'”
Matthew Kaiser
“A delightful spree through Victorian England's red-light district, Deborah Lutz's Pleasure Bound explores in lucid and engaging prose the pornographic underpinnings of nineteenth-century British art, poetry, and anthropology.”
Frederick S. Roden
“It is unusual to find a history of sex that is both readable and erudite. Deborah Lutz’s Pleasure Bound is a delightful romp between the legs—and elsewhere—of Victorian England that offers a deeply penetrating gaze into its sexual subjects.”
Simon Van Booy
“A polished, thought-provoking, and original work of history that possesses all the finesse of literature.”
Library Journal
Writing about the advice to courtesans in Richard Burton's translation of the Kama Sutra, Lutz (English, C.W. Post, Long Island Univ.; The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-Century Seduction Narrative) notes, "No judgments about the profession are found here…it is presented as a legitimate occupation…that requires skill and intelligence." In this compelling look at the men who made up the Cannibal Club and the Aesthetes—two Victorian groups responsible for producing much of the sexually themed writing and painting in mid- to late 19th-century England—Lutz approaches her subject in much the same way. Many critics view Victorians and their sex lives through the lenses of contemporary theoretical frameworks. What Lutz is trying to do here, however, is present glimpses into the often complex working and personal lives of such figures as Burton, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne as they actually were. In doing so, she attempts to place herself and her readers "in these drawing rooms, public urinals, and studios and see them without the layers of cultural accretion that veil our eyes today." VERDICT Although Lutz aims high and is not always successful, her nuanced and fascinating work deserves a wide audience. Recommended.—William D. Walsh, Georgia State Univ., Atlanta
Kirkus Reviews

Illumination of how changing attitudes toward religion and sexuality transformed the arts and culture of Victorian England.

By now it has become widely accepted scholarly knowledge that the Victorian age wasn't as repressed as is commonly caricatured. Lutz (Victorian Literature and Culture/Long Island Univ., C.W. Post; The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-Century Seductive Narrative,2006) attempts to reach beyond an academic readership in her interwoven accounts of the likes of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Richard Burton, Algernon Charles Swinburne and Oscar Wilde. Perhaps the greatest revelations lie in her exhumation of the painter Simeon Solomon, then notorious, now a "forgotten martyr, his art and life a disappearing act perpetuated by his intolerant times." With Darwinism threatening Christianity and art asserting a value higher than conventional morality, poets, painters and pleasure seekers alike felt liberated to explore the "dark, secret places" and find ecstasy in the previously unspeakable. Though she offers plenty of reference to sodomy and sadomasochism, Lutz's prose too often succumbs to cliché—"pains in the neck"; "spread like wildfire"—but generally avoids the overwrought opacity of much academic writing. The author credits the age with reviving the legacies of Blake, Shelley and Keats, and with anticipating the expectation "that it seems somehow 'normal,' that the artist (or, today, movie or rock star) must have a complicated, even scandalous, sexual life." Her cultural criticism resists viewing the era through a contemporary lens, as she acknowledges that the term "homosexual" didn't enter the parlance until the 1880s and that the changing roles of women resist modern feminist revisionism. Yet Lutz reinforces the cultural significance of an era in which "Art (with an unashamed capital A) was more worthy of worship than a stony, distant god."

Neither as steamy as its title nor as impenetrable as the academic stereotype.

Jonathan Yardley
Deborah Lutz…writes well, even amusingly at times, and clearly knows her subject. Unlike some students of Victorian sexuality, she does not make the mistake of drawing broad conclusions from the behavior of a handful of artists and writers.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393068320
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
02/14/2011
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Lutz's books include Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism and Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture. The Thruston B. Morton Professor of English at the University of Louisville, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and Brooklyn, New York.

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Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Vanessortia More than 1 year ago
While reading this, I found a great list of other books I'd like to peruse. Victorian sex rebels are awesome!
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