Long before there was “50 Shades of Grey,” erotica writings had us turning 50 shades of red.
Historically, erotic writing on its own has never been a big seller for the publishing industry. It falls under romance and is one of the largest fiction categories with about a 3 percent share of spending — or about a billion dollars each year, according to Jim Milliot, co-editorial director of Publishers Weekly.
But that could change. After steaming up the suburbs, “50 Shades of Grey” is heating up the publishing world with lots of “wannabe Shades” coming out.
Kathleen Lubey, associate professor of English at St. John's University, says erotica takes us on a journey.
“It makes us think about what we want and what we don’t have,” Lubey said. “It’s always pushing the envelope with what is sexy, what is sexual and what is ‘unthinkable.’”
Erotica, she adds, “provokes a conversation in the reader’s head — it makes many people feel like they’re doing something a little wrong, when all they’re really doing is reading.”
So with all the hoopla over “50 Shades” you would think that E.L. James invented mommy and daddy porn. Not so. Click ahead to see other Notable Naughty Reads that shocked the world, forced nations to change laws and forever changed what we read.
By Gloria McDonaugh-Taub
Posted 28 Sept 2012
By John Cleland
Considered the first true erotic novel, Cleland wrote “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” in 1749 while he was in debtor's prison in London, or so the legend has it.
A true game changer, it was the first of its kind — an English novel whose plot was just about one thing — sex. His first version landed Cleland back in jail, charged with publishing an obscene book. One year later, a censored version called “Memoirs of Fanny Hill” was issued and survived a prosecution attempt by the bishop of London.
Shrouded in controversy for more than 250 years, the uncensored version remained banned in the U.S. until the mid-1960s and in Britain until 1970. It's now available for free on the Internet.
By D.H. Lawrence
Publisher: Grove Press
Lawrence’s steamy novel was long considered one of the most extraordinary literary works of the 20th century. Lawrence had, as James Petersen, author of “The Century of Sex: Playboy's History of the Sexual Revolution, 1900-1999,” said, “the sense of swoon.”
Published in 1928, the first edition was printed privately in Florence, Italy, and was banned in the U.S. and England, prompting one of the most spectacular legal battles in publishing history.
The book touched on several taboos: sexual relations between the classes, explicit descriptions of sex and its use of then-unprintable words.
When the book finally went on sale in England on Nov. 10, 1960, the BBC reported bookstores all over the country sold out of “Lady C.” By the end of the day, a total of 200,000 copies were scoffed up. By the end of the year, 2 million copies had been sold in England.
Five months later, the book’s publisher, Penguin, announced it was going public, offering shares oversubscribed 150 times — an obvious consequence of the huge sales achieved by "Lady Chatterley's Lover."
By Mallanaga Vatsyayana
Publisher: Inner Traditions
Written over 2,000 years ago, the Hindu love classic “Kama Sutra” is perhaps the most famous work on sex ever printed.
Dealing with all aspects of sexual life in verse and in illustrations, this has been the called the “Bible of Sex” and the chosen go-to for those who want to know and see all the how-tos and how far the human body can go.
The first English version was brought to publication in 1883 by explorer Sir Richard Burton — who published erotic works for private circulation. Sir Richard is also credited with translating “The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night” — more commonly known in English as “The Arabian Nights.”
By Xaviera Hollander
Publisher: Dell Publishing
For many baby boomers, this was their introduction to S-E-X.
Written in the era of free love, it shot straight to the top of the best-seller lists when it was released in 1971, selling more than 15 million copies.
“The Happy Hooker” is the behind-the-brothel's door memoir of Xaviera de Vries, who had immigrated to the U.S. in the early ‘60s. Tired of her oh-so respectable job as a secretary at the Dutch consulate, she quit to become a call girl, making what she claimed was $1,000 a night. A year later, she opened her own brothel “Xaviera's Happy House” and soon became New York's leading madam.
This was and remains a classic tell-all of the world's oldest profession.
By Erica Jong
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Published in 1973, “Fear of Flying” remains a feminist classic. In a nutshell, the book is the story of Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing, a 29-year-old poet who has a torrid affair with a man while she's on a trip with her second husband.
But “Fear of Flying” is more than just a passionate love story; it helped lift the spirits and empower those women who felt trapped and glued to the ground in unfulfilled, sexless marriages.
With its themes of self-discovery, liberation and womanhood, it was an international sensation, selling more than 20 million copies.
Lubey, the St. Johns professor, calls Jong’s novel a “historical piece.”
By Henry Miller
Publisher: Grove Press
The total opposite of ”Fear of Flying,” “Tropic of Cancer” is, according to Lubey, a classic work of masculine erotic literature.
Some 80 years since the book was published, it is still considered Miller's masterpiece and is responsible for altering censorship laws in the United States.
First published in France, “TOC” was once described as "notorious for its candid sexuality." It was banned in the U.S. until a landmark victory in which the Supreme Court declared it non-obscene.
“Tropic of Cancer” is Miller’s autobiographical fiction account of his life with other expats living the life in Paris during the Great Depression. It’s full of the author’s artistic suffering and his sexual pleasures.
By: Pauline Reage
Publisher: Ballantine Books
New to reading erortica? Lubey says this should be your first purchase.
This classic tale submission and bondage shocked the world when it was first published in 1954 in Paris.
Not allowing itself to get bogged down in a love story, it’s the first of its kind proving, according to Lubey, that sexual deeds and desires can be the governing idea of a book.
The “Story of O” is about a character named “O” — a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer who agrees to be a sexual slave for her domineering lover, René.
Lubey says “Story of O” remains surprisingly modern, even cutting edge, as it puts pain and humiliation at the forefront of one’s sexual experience.
by Anais Nin
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition
Caught up in one of the literary world’s most complicated and celebrated love triangles, Anais Nin wrote the short stories that make up “Delta of Venus,” reportedly as a joke for a collector. The stories helped earn Nin the title of queen of literary erotica.
Part of that expat group sloshing it out in Paris during the 1930s and ‘40s, the struggling writer wrote erotic essays for a private collector for a reported $1 a page.
Dealing with many “taboo” themes including abuse, incest and infidelity, Lubey said this collection surprises us even today with its sexual freedom and candor, delivering as she puts it, “a great bang for your buck.”
“Delta of Venus” and other great works by Nin were published after her death.
By Marquis de Sade
Publisher: Grove Press
Lubey says no list of erotic literature should exclude the writings of Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, who famously wrote, “It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.”
Born in France in 1740 to an aristocratic family, the Marquis de Sade is often called the world's most famous sexual pervert. Heck even the words “sadism” and “sadist” are derived from his name.
Lubey says Marquis de Sade is, if you will, erotica's marquee event. His works include, "Juliette," "The 120 Days of Sodom" and "Philosophy in the Boudoir: Or, The Immoral Mentors." These titles and more by the marquis combine politics, pain, power and sexual pleasure into one all-encompassing sexual experience, according to Lubey.
Many of his writings include sexual fantasies with an emphasis on violence, and many of them were written during his lengthy prison stays under extreme conditions.
His writings stunned his 18th century contemporaries, and even today, readers vacillate between fascination and repulsion.
By E.L. James
Publisher: Vintage (Random House)
And now for the mother of all erotica: “50 Shades of Grey.”
Often called “mommy porn” or “Twilight” for grown-ups, this trio of titillation has changed the sex lives of those in suburbia, be it in Montclair, N.J., or the outskirts of Milan, Italy.
An international best-seller, the heavy-breather is the story of Anastasia Steele an “innocent” (aren’t they always?!) college student who gets "whipped-up" in a dominant-submissive relationship with the very rich, totally handsome tycoon (aren't they always?!) Christian Grey.
E.L. James is the pseudonym for Erika Leonard, a former TV producer who had until now lived a pretty obscure life in England.
Her books have sold more than 31 million copies; Universal Pictures and Focus Features have purchased the rights to the novels for a reported $5 million, and EMI Records has released a 15-track album of classical music "personally selected” by "E.L.” to help those home players truly get in to the mood.
Will “50 Shades” have staying power? We won’t know for years, but it has sparked a revolution of sorts in the bedrooms of those bedroom communities — one that many couples hope will last.