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Erotica and Pornography  
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Although homosexual activity continued to be an occasional diversion of the upper classes and as such appeared up through modern times in such coterie works of aristocratic origin as The 120 Days of Sodom (composed ca 1785) by the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), the practice was no longer so much as alluded to in respectable literary works.

Sade is, in fact, a transitional author in another sense. since he complements the pederastic focus of the earlier periods with modern interest in the activities that now bear his name.

Victorian Literatures

With the Victorian Era, several significant developments redirected Western homoerotica. A repetitious sameness came to characterize the prose of all pornographic descriptions, a sameness for which Steven Marcus has coined the term pornotopia. And there is a significant increase in the proportion of depictions of homosexuality that represent loving and equal relationships.

Yet in the face of the stranglehold of middle-class morality on official public opinion, a frank merging of the interests of the upper and lower classes continued in the sex industry. Within the nether world, homosexual experiences had a surprising openness. In its sexual attitudes, the Victorian underground was as polymorphously perverse as classical antiquity. Open discussion of homosexuality was, however, severely restricted.

Yet many straight pornographic novels of the Victorian Era include without surprise or negative comment sexual encounters between (straight) men, with the implication that all men quite naturally on occasion desire other men.

In The Romance of Lust (1873-1876), for example, protagonist Charlie Roberts is first introduced to sex by his uncle, and there are numerous scenes involving man-with-man sex interspersed throughout the novel. The principals participate in role-switching with a refreshing facility. In the pornographic world of carnality, anything is possible.

In The Power of Mesmerism (1891), hypnotism is a magic force that licenses entry into this world of possibility. There are many instances when the protagonist Frank Etheridge uses his power to engage in sex with other men, and of course, he can never suffer any rebuff. Despite his absolute control of the sexual encounters (or perhaps because of this fact), he shows an admirable versatility. He is, however, primarily interested in releasing the lusts of his parents in an incestuous tangle.

Male homosexual encounters are also included in Victorian autobiographies like My Life and Loves (1926) by Frank Harris (1855-1931) and My Secret Life (1890).

Unlike Victorian fictional heroes, the autobiographers are never quite comfortable with the implications of these occasional forays outside their usual sort of sexuality, but the works are important for showing that the frank bisexuality of numerous pornographic novels of the period is not simply fantasy but reflects actual activity.

Even if the Walter who narrates My Secret Life is not transcribing his life with perfect accuracy, Harris is a real person who can be placed in the social fabric of the time, suggesting that modern Western polarized sexual identities were not yet the norm at least for the upper and lower classes.

The Sins of the Cities of the Plain (1881) by Jack Saul (fl. 1881), with its surprisingly realistic depictions of rent boys and their patrons, is perhaps the first novel in English to focus primarily on man-with-man sexual relations.

The poetry collection White Stains (1898) by Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) is the first work to illustrate what Brian Reade describes as the "brutal, burlesque approach to sexual intimacies and emotions . . . [the] ribaldry" characteristic of modern attitudes.

And Teleny in 1893 inaugurates the primary tradition of homoerotica in Europe. Perhaps owing a good deal of its influence to its frequent attribution to Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the work is apparently a collaboration among members of the Wilde circle. It is also a real novel of adult experience in the sense that it has a plot that goes beyond the presentation of erotic encounters.

One character takes his sexual experimentation too far when a wine bottle lubricated with pâté de foie gras breaks inside him while being used as a dildo. With great dignity, he winds up his affairs in the world and then kills himself rather than face the painful inevitability of slow death from internal damage.

In addition, the main character, Camile Des Grieux, twice attempts to take his own life, and his beloved, René Teleny, actually succeeds in doing so.

In fact, Teleny introduced the theme of suicide as a resolution to problems raised in gay-themed fiction. This served for many decades as a plot device to license the discussion of such problems. The tradition was continued and institutionalized in the pulp novels of the early modern period.

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