Erotic Review Magazine

The Lost Age of Paperback Porn: ER Books' Past Venus Press revisits some hard-won erotic freedoms

by C.J. Lazaretti / 6th June 2014

Looking back at the literary sleaze factories of the 60s and 70s: now Erotic Review Books revives pulp porn fiction from the past as an erotic oddity in their Past Venus Press imprint.

Do sexual prurience and lurid titillation have a place in Britain? A seemingly predominant cultural unease has marked the public reception of all topics related to sexuality and bodily functions, especially in the realm of artistic expression, for longer than most people can remember. An imprint like Past Venus Press, the unrepentant collection of shameless pulp erotica that now joins ER Books’ roster of erotic e-books, offers a tongue-in-cheek reminder of a different brand of British attitudes towards sex.

Most inhabitants of the British Isles will certainly have some familiarity with the debate that surrounds their nation’s alleged reluctance to address sex and sexuality. However, it is too easy to overvalue a largely Victorian (therefore relatively recent) attitude of overreaction and moral outrage towards sexual indulgence. No responsible adult can forget the consummate bawdiness spewed from the nation’s finest quills, including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Pope. Britons were laughing at the beast with two backs long before the Home Office ordered the seizure of all imported copies of Lolita. Read the big boys, study them if you must: it is a laugher of careless titillation as much as it is one of self-recognition.

For the origin of truly worrisome extremes of censorship, of course, one seldom needs to look across oceans of time, but of space. It is from the other side of the Pond that Britain’s newfound tradition of politically correct outrage stems: America, the land where any cheeky outburst can lead to Supreme Court hearings, from Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt to Howl and “Louie Louie”. With the possible exception of Thatcher’s wholesale adoption of Reaganomics and Blair’s dutiful War on Terror, no other realm of public debate in Britain has been so thoroughly shaped by the opportunistic conservative agenda of squeamishness and shock that permeates its most famous former colony.

Literary giants of worldwide critical renown, like Joyce, Burroughs and Lawrence, had to endure lengthy legal controversies in order to enjoy the simple right of being published. If the crowning achievements of Modernism suffered such a legal assault because of the odd onanistic indulgence or garden romp with the help, what chance had the likes of Incest Manor and I, Cuckold?

The answer is – none. Obscenity charges, no matter how casual or lacking in evidence, shut down many hard-working American bookstores and publishers in the 20th century. Then came the landmark case of Redrup vs. New York in 1967, and change caught up with the times. Times Square newsstand owner Robert Redrup was convicted of ‘commercialised obscenity’ after selling two erotic pulp novels to an undercover cop (namely Greenleaf Classics’ Lust Pool and, oh so ironically, Shame Agent). Publisher William Hamling quickly picked up the bill of Redrup’s legal expenses and appealed the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court. The court overturned the conviction on account of the offending material having been sold neither to minors, nor to unwilling adults. The precedent was set up for a true liberalisation of publishing. Dozens of obscenity trials were quickly dismissed after the result. Consenting adults had now regained their lost right over their own moral preferences, a rediscovery of freedom spelled out explicitly in Justice Potter Stewart’s celebrated closing remarks from a similar contemporary case:

Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Long ago those who wrote our First Amendment charted a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is truly free. In the realm of expression they put their faith, for better or worse, in the enlightened choice of the people, free from the interference of a policeman’s intrusive thumb or a judge’s heavy hand. So it is that the Constitution protects coarse expression as well as refined, and vulgarity no less than elegance. A book worthless to me may convey something of value to my neighbor. In the free society to which our Constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself.

(Ginzburg vs. United States, 1966)

As the 60s died a whimpering death under the 70s of Nixon and Agnew, a new reactionary wave attempted to vilify and criminalise once more the right to informed sexual expression, but by now the business was just too big to suppress. Sleazy paperbacks hit American top shelves by the millions, catering to every kink imaginable, from the tried and tested wife-swapping and incest fetishes of the 50s to more extreme fantasies in prisons, barnyards and even concentration camps. Publishers like Midwood, Brandon House, Pendulum, Pleasure Readers, Lancer and Essex House were clearly cornering the market of provocative taboo titles, often commissioning pre-titled novels from writer wannabes who were lucky to get a couple of hundred dollars for the privilege of a byline under titles like Hot Fireman in Drag and Dial O for Orgy.

Keep an eye out for the upcoming releases in ER Book’s Past Venus imprint of erotic e-books. They may be lurid little tomes of filth. They may have no identifiable aim greater than indulging prurient fantasies of the most debauched order. They may even have questionable artistic merit, like so many detractors of erotica have repeatedly insisted throughout history. But their publication was a hard-earned right, and one that deserves frantic celebration as well as constant vigilance.

 

You can download such gems as Backdoor Virgins or The Young Governess as e-books for your Kindle or any other e-reader at ERBooks.com; and for Erotic Review Readers, a special deal: buy one, get one free, if you enter the following code: pvp69. Valid until 21st June

Looking back at the literary sleaze factories of the 60s and 70s: now Erotic Review Books revives pulp porn fiction from the past as an erotic oddity in their Past Venus Press imprint.

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