[jahsonic.com] - [Next >>]

Steven Marcus

Related: pornotopia - erotic fiction - Victorian era

The Other Victorians, A study of sexuality and pornography in mid-nineteenth-century England (1964) - Steven Marcus [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Steven Marcus is a British writer. His best-known book is the non-fiction The Other Victorians (1964), a study of sexuality and pornography in mid-nineteenth-century England. [Aug 2006]


Marquis de Sade's castle at Lacoste, 40 km from Avignon, France. It was recently restored by Pierre Cardin.

Pornotopia is a term coined by Steven Marcus in his 1964 book The Other Victorians.
The isolated castle on an inaccessible mountain top, the secluded country estate set in the middle of a large park and surrounded by insurmountable walls, the mysterious town house in London or Paris, the carefully furnished and elaborately equipped set of apartments to be found in any city at all, the deserted cove at the seaside, or the solitary cottage atop the cliffs, the inside of a brothel rented for a day, a week, or a month, or the inside of hotel room rented for the night—these are all the same place and are identically located. (Marcus, 1966: 271.) quoted by Irvin C Schick, Arvin C Schick in the The Erotic Margin, 1999.

On My Secret Life

In his book The Other Victorians (New York, 1964), Steven Marcus makes a case that Ashbee was not the author.

The Other Victorians, A study of sexuality and pornography in mid-nineteenth-century England (1964) - Steven Marcus

The collection of Victorian erotica is so vast it might fill an anteroom in Buckingham Palace, but the few books of any real interest would fit on one small shelf. The erotic writing of the time is so uniform in theme and execution that sketches of a half-dozen books will suffice for an assessment of its position in the history of the genre. Steven Marcus, in his brilliant and indispensable study of Victorian erotica, The Other Victorians (1964), rightfully criticizes its obsessive repetitiousness, but then proceeds to make assumptions about erotic writing in general as if the genre began and ended in the Victorian era:

A pornographic work of fiction characteristically develops by unremitting repetition and minute mechanical variation--the words that may describe this process are again, again, again, and more, more, more.

To argue that Victorian erotica is not of value because of its repetitiousness is one thing, but to include all erotic writing in this argument is quite another. Any fool can see that the problem with Victorian erotica--or indeed, modern erotica done by a formula-is its tiresome monotony. But Marcus doesn't limit his criticism to the repetitious plot action of Victorian writing. What he seems to be implying is that every "pornographic work of fiction" is flawed because it must describe the repetitious nature of the sexual act itself. This is like arguing that biography is an inferior literary form because everyone is born, lives a life, and dies. The facts of anyone's life are basically the same to the statistician, but the interpretation of a particular groan makes all the difference in understanding. One of the characteristics of any of our highest moments is that they are repetitious--or we would like them to be. Any satisfying experience calls for repetition--again, again, more, more--even to excess. Nevertheless, although it is necessary to take issue with some of Marcus' generalizations. The Other Victorians remains the only worthwhile study of Victorian erotica.

Bearing in mind that the Victorian era was not only prudish but socially enlightened, it is shocking to come upon a literature of sexuality whose most prominent features are flagellation and the molestation of children. Marcus has coined a word, pornotopia--"that vision which regards all of human experience as a series of exclusively sexual events or conveniences"--that provides an excellent starting point for a summary of erotic writing in the nineteenth century. Surely the most famous autobiography of all time, My Secret Life, is pornotopian. In its American edition (1966) My Secret Life runs to several thousand pages, and on each page the autobiographer--who calls himself Walter--describes one or more sexual encounters. After a few hundred pages of this, even the most receptive reader must stop and wonder about Walter's single-mindedness. My Secret Life is the reductio ad absurdum of the pornotopian vision. --http://www.eroticauthorsassociation.com/html/victorian.html [Nov 2005]

Steven Marcus’s pioneering study, The Other Victorians, first published in England in 1964, presented itself, somewhat defensively, as an academic piece of sociological research (Marcus 1964). In a series called Studies in Sex and Society, sponsored by The Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University and bearing the straight faced sub-title of ‘A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth Century England’, Marcus’s book nonetheless drew on sensational and detailed records of intimate Victorian sexual behaviour, and its carefully deployed scholarly credentials did not stop it being rapidly adopted by Book Club Associates. It was a book that, for the first time, gave the interested reader (rather than the specialist or antiquarian) access to the famous and emblematic ‘locked cases’ of sexually explicit material in the British Museum, reprinting extensive extracts from the most famous Victorian pornographic novel My Secret Life as well as re-instating Henry Spencer Ashbee as another key bibliographer of Victorian culture. Additionally, Marcus, by beginning his study with an account of Dr. William Acton, recognised the powerful nature of social discourses like medicine in the construction of Victorian ideology. Ronald Pearsall’s The Worm in the Bud – The World of Victorian Sexuality appeared in 1969, and gained widespread circulation reprinted as a Penguin book (Pearsall 1969). In 1970 two further books brought together ideas of sexuality and other forms of social transgression: crime in the case of R.D. Altick’s Victorian Studies in Scarlet (cited in the Victorian Studies round table as a characteristically sensational popularisation of the Victorians [Altick 1970]) and the underworld in the case of Kellow Chesney’s The Victorian Underworld, another book that rapidly became a Book Club favourite (Chesney 1970). --http://www.espach.salford.ac.uk/english/suplimentarymaterial/janerogers.htm [Nov 2005]

I would probably have remained convinced that 400-page novels were somebody else's problem had it not been for a book about sex; Stephen Marcus's The Other Victorians (1964), a serious study of Victorian sexuality and pornographic writing. To my great surprise, I found Marcus championing Dickens in strangely moving terms. One of the curiosities of Victorian writing is an immense private diary known as My Secret Life, by a man known as "Walter", which describes endless encounters with working-class women and girls. Walter was on various occasions interested enough to ask women about their lives, and wrote down what they told him; and as Marcus emphasised, his casual accounts of working-class life support Dickens's representation of contemporary London as authentic, again and again - "what often seem to be Dickensian impossibilities of behaviour were the very stuff of daily existence in London". He described Dickens with passion, as "the conscience and consciousness of his age", and more generally championed the Victorian novel as a device for declaring the common humanity of the working classes with their so-called betters. As soon as possible after finishing The Other Victorians, I got hold of a copy of Bleak House, and realised that it was a masterpiece of storytelling. It is now one of the books I most value. --http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/classics/story/0,6000,763820,00.html [Sept 2004]

The Other Victorians, A study of sexuality and pornography in mid-nineteenth-century England (1964) - Steven Marcus [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]

your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

Managed Hosting by NG Communications