Monday, April 9, 2007

Bad(der) Girls and Forbidden Books

The proposal I’m working on at the moment has for a heroine a former dominatrix, a woman cast out of polite society, who took to prostitution to survive, and now has made enough money to retire. She also carries a big grudge which is where the story gets to be fun. (Cross your fingers my editor likes this idea!)

Anyway, I thought I better do some research on historical dominatrixes, and did what I usually do: Google.

I came up with Theresa Berkley, who ran a brothel devoted to flagellation during the Regency period, and who apparently invented or commissioned the Berkley Horse, which enabled her to whip anybody, well, on any part of the body. I have yet to find a picture or a good description of this, which means I get to use my imagination!

However, the reference to her was awfully circular. From Wikipedia to the Deviant’s Dictionary entry on flagellation and back again, the text identical, and all referencing the same book.

Right, says I. Let’s see this book then. So a copy of it finally arrived on Saturday. I haven’t had a chance to read much of it yet, but this source book, Index of Forbidden Books is not that list that the Catholic Church once prohibited (although I’m sure all these books are on there) but a list of Victorian erotica complete with reviews, and with lots of side-trip details, like talking about the madams of various brothels, or sharing a short story. No pictures, alas, and the only extant copy of it seems to be a Sphere 1969 imprint, although Wikipedia again tells me that the original is in the British Library or Museum or somewhere. So I think it’s the real deal.

It still feels a bit circular to me, but the author is the guy they think wrote or edited My Secret Life, about a young Victorian man’s womanizing. And that book’s credentials have been proven.

In any case, the Index of Forbidden Books is cool in that it dips back to pre-Victorian erotica, and so we get to learn about women like Mrs. Theresa Berkley. Who in the code parlance of the day is known as a “governess”. Which phrase I get to have fun with in my current WIP.

Anyway, here are some titles plucked randomly from Index of Forbidden Books:

PRETTY LITTLE GAMES for Young Ladies and Gentlemen. With Pictures of Good Old English Sports and Pastimes, by T. Rowlandson, 1845. (Yes, that Rowlandson).

MEMOIRS OF ROSA BELLEFILLE: or, A Delicious Banquet of Amorous Delights! Dedicated to the Goddess of Voluptuous Pleasure, and her soul-enamoured votaries. (Ashbee’s review begins: “This is an insipid, tiresome book...”)

THE ADVENTURES OF AN IRISH SMOCK. Interspersed with Amatory Anecdotes of a Nankeen Pair of Breeches. By Terence O'Tooleywag, Esq.

MADAME BIRCHINI’S DANCE. A Modern Tale, With Considerable Additions, and Original Anecdotes collected in the Fashionable Circles. Now first published by Lady Termagent Flaybum.

OK, so somebody’s got to name they’re crazy aunt this or something similar!

I'm glad that the titles I made up for the erotica library in SHOW ME weren't too out of line!

Well, I guess I better stop blogging and resume work on this proposal. I decided on Friday to cut everything except the first half of the first chapter. This is what we call a “false start”, or if you’re under deadline (which I’m not currently), it’s called “Oh sh--t!”


Pam Rosenthal said...

Fascinating stuff, Celia. Wow.

Kate Pearce said...

More books to read! I love you fellow crumpets!

Celia May Hart said...

I have to say that now I've read a little bit more, it's already hit my squick button, and did so by page 26.

But hopefully that will be the only instance of ickiness.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to read Madame Birchini's Dance, be sure to get Lady Bumtickler's Revels!Sort of a matched set I believe.

Really, these Victorian erotic productions are more quaint than erotic, but have a certain charm and interest.

Celia May Hart said...

SkipChurch -- where would I *find* Madame Birchini's Dance? I had no idea it was still in print!