The account Tom of Tehran (https://instagram.com/tom_of_
The account Tom of Tehran (https://instagram.com/tom_of_
Do you read slash fiction? Well, you read the Erotic Review, so presumably you have fairly eclectic literary tastes– but until recently I had never heard of it. Frankly, it was a more innocent time. Then one evening, quietly googling Sherlock plot predictions like the amazingly cool adult I have become, I stumbled across some of the most shocking filth I have ever read. Honestly, I may never be able to see Sherlock and Moriarty together on screen again without blushing.
It’s been odd weather of late. May struggles to present itself as nearly summer, rather like a long dreamed of or fancied lover who turns out on re-acquaintance to be not quite as remembered. May, despite sunny moments has been in general a little colder, less reliable and more windy than hoped for. The first two could well be true of lovers, but one hopes not the third. As my friend Nick the builder says ‘you can get pills for that’.
We like the winds of change, especially when they are blown as a result of popular vote, as if it means we, as a species, have evolved a little, that we have become a tiny bit better. Ireland’s vote to legalise gay marriage is a welcome change. It is a victory against the Church’s obdurate dogma and a show of Irish people’s maturity and goodness. In comparison to many other countries, Ireland has done well. Although homosexuality was a crime only 22 years ago, this is a good deal of progress. The result of the Irish referendum is great news. However, I cannot agree that upholding human rights should require a popular vote. It is always dangerous to ask the majority about the rights of a minority. But where in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does it say that a country has to resort to a referendum?
In Part 1 of this article, the evidence was laid out that writers are wary of presenting sexual detail. Peter Stothard, a Booker judge, had read 145 new British novels in one year and concluded that our writers prefer to close down the action at the bedroom door. The article also considered the psychological and cultural constraints and the idea of taste and decency. Some writers are now saying that this avoidance of sexual detail in literature is unwarranted. Sarah Hall, author of Haweswater, said in a recent Guardian interview, ‘Most novels avoid sex like the plague, but I love writing about it.’ She said she likes extreme situations: ‘people pushed out of their comfort zones; the civil veneer stripped off. Sex does that.’ So why are other writers more wary and how much of this is to do with the mechanics of making a story work? What is it that is shocking about sex when we read the details? Is it just that it comes in breach of a custom of silence and that, if that custom was broken for long enough, we would find it as normal to read a description of a penis as of a hairdo or pair of shoes? Or is there something in the nature of a penis or a vagina that makes it a bum note to describe it in the middle of a love-scene, even though it is fully present in it and there is no love scene without it?
There are unmentionable parts of human experience. At least, many writers seem to think so. The chair of the Man Booker judges in 2012, Sir Peter Stothard, observed before the rash of Fifty Shades inspired erotica distorted the picture, that literary sex had ‘gone out of fashion’. He reached that conclusion on the greatest possible authority, having just read 145 new British novels. This is not what was expected when legal changes freed writers to describe copulation more lucidly. Then it seemed that the main obstacle to sexual candour was the danger of being banned or imprisoned. But clearly there are other restraints at work. In terms of literature, some of these restraints may be psychological or cultural and some may derive from the mechanics of constructing a story.
When it comes to British politics, sex doesn't sell. Amid a war on pornography, there has been no mention of it during the election nor any promise one way or the other about how it should be treated. The British press loves sex when it comes in the form of scandals or scantily-clad young women, but it's not so keen on covering it as part of the news. Political parties feel no need to discuss their policy on sex or pornography, so major changes to the law, such as clamp-downs on online porn or significant changes to the rules around sex work, are ignored at election time and often passed with little debate during a parliament.
Any return from a visit ‘up-country’ is greeted with at least mild interest in the Old Doom Bar. If it is to London the attention is closer. Most of us make trips of greater or lesser frequency to the Great Wen and so are not entirely unsophisticated. Still, the stuff that happens there, happens here later, if at all. So it’s worth finding out about. The first thing your correspondent was able to report was the revival of the scantily clad female on posters in the underground. Backalong, ladies in their underwear were liberally displayed alongside the escalators and in the station concourses. Then they vanished in proper response to feminist complaints and the changing times. Now, at least one advertiser has broken ranks. Proteinworld.com offers what seems to be a slimming product on the premise of asking if one’s body is ‘beach ready’.
‘Girl Power 3.0’ is how the Observer described Ladybeard back in 2013, while over on Radio 4, Jane Garvey hailed it as ‘stylish’. This is an unusual level of hype for any student publication, and raised Ladybeard from the masses of magazines that are born and die each year in universities across the country. It had a lot to live up to when in late 2013, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, ‘The Body Issue’ was finally published. The editors describe the magazine as ‘an antidote to the toxic feminine and masculine ideals promoted by women’s magazines’. After a launch party in Cambridge, the first issue was distributed for free in ten universities. Then the money ran out, editors got sucked into exams, and Ladybeard went silent. It seemed that ‘Girl Power 3.0’ would suffer the same fate as its student mag compatriots; consigned to a box in the corner of a childhood room recently requisitioned by an unemployed arts graduate.
I brought three books with me when I moved to Paris on a £14 Megabus: one of them was The Story of O. I'd squirrel away in the predictably unheated top-floor bedroom-cum-kitchen-cum-occasional bathroom (I would say "garret", but it'll make me sound even more of a nob) and read it, while I waited for Ab Fab to stream. Published in France in 1954 by the appropriately monikered Jean-Jacques Pauvert, it's a dirty great romp of chains, castles, masks and leather, and its author was a 47-year-old editorial secretary, whose boyfriend had mouthed off that no woman was capable of writing an erotic novel. Anne Desclos, noted variously as 'prudish' and 'nun-like', wrote under a pen-name at Gallimard Publishers but invented a new one – Pauline Réage – for O, which became an immediate success, was banned in court, and whose author only revealed herself 40 years post-publication. I believe the phrase is "slam dunk".