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Pleasure Bound

Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism

Deborah Lutz (Author, University of Louisville)

Overview | Contents

A smart, provocative account of the erotic current running just beneath the surface of a stuffy and stifling Victorian London.

At the height of the Victorian era, a daring group of artists and thinkers defied the reigning obsession with propriety, testing the boundaries of sexual decorum in their lives and in their work. Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhumed his dead wife to pry his only copy of a manuscript of his poems from her coffin. Legendary explorer Richard Burton wrote how-to manuals on sex positions and livened up the drawing room with stories of eroticism in the Middle East. Algernon Charles Swinburne visited flagellation brothels and wrote pornography amid his poetry. By embracing and exploring the taboo, these iconoclasts produced some of the most captivating art, literature, and ideas of their day.

As thought-provoking as it is electric, Pleasure Bound unearths the desires of the men and women who challenged buttoned-up Victorian mores to promote erotic freedom. These bohemians formed two loosely overlapping societies—the Cannibal Club and the Aesthetes—to explore their fascinations with sexual taboo, from homosexuality to the eroticization of death. Known as much for their flamboyant personal lives as for their controversial masterpieces, they created a scandal-provoking counterculture that paved the way for such later figures as Gustav Klimt, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Genet.

In this stunning exposé of the Victorian London we thought we knew, Deborah Lutz takes us beyond the eyebrow-raising practices of these sex rebels, revealing how they uncovered troubles that ran beneath the surface of the larger social fabric: the struggle for women’s emancipation, the dissolution of formal religions, and the pressing need for new forms of sexual expression.

Book Details

  • Hardcover, Rough Front - Edge: Deckle, Feather, Uncut
  • February 2011
  • ISBN 978-0-393-06832-0
  • 6.2 × 8.6 in / 336 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

Pleasure Bound shines a sensitive light into the darker corners of Victorian sexuality. The sometimes subtle, sometimes consuming interplay of sensuality and death; the danger and draw of sexual transgression; the irresistible lure of forbidden pleasure--through their erotic longings and adventures, the Victorian sex rebels lead us to the heart of a struggle for authentic sexual expression in an era of repression now past. Or is it?” — Patricia Anderson, Ph.D., author of When Passion Reigned: Sex and the Victorians

Pleasure Bound is a lively, readable and informative survey of the sometimes surprising connections between art, literature, and the sexual underworld in Victorian England.” — David Lodge, author of Deaf Sentence

“As seductive as a Swinburne sapphic, Pleasure Bound is for the casual reader, the aesthete and the pleasure seeker alike. If there wasn't a scholarly excuse for reading it, you'd feel guilty for having so much fun. Just don't leave it lying around.” — Wesley Stace, author of Misfortune

“Using a deft combination of biography, aesthetic analysis, and cultural commentary, Pleasure Bound offers a history of those Victorian writers and artists who lived—and sometimes died—for the conjoined cause of eros and art. The result is a bawdy, intricate, edifying, and sometimes heartbreaking book that sheds light on a fascinating constellation of creators, without ever losing sight of the importance of keeping—as Lutz sagely puts it -- 'the dark core dark.'” — Maggie Nelson, author of The Art of Cruelty

“A literary miracle of form and content. The book pleads with us to find the moral imagination to break the American pattern of racial abuse. Allen’s ambitious, breathtaking book challenges the moral composition of the world it inhabits by telling all who listen: I loved my cousin and he loved me, and I know he’d be alive if you loved him, too.” — Matthew Kaiser, Harvard University

“A compassionate retelling of an abjectly tragic story...Among the most valuable contributions Allen makes is forcing us to ask: To what end are we locking up our children? Are we not foreclosing their options before their lives have even begun?...Allen’s analysis of gang culture—or “the parastate,” as she calls it, with its own bylaws and tragic form of appeal—may be where she’s at her ferocious best.” — Frederick S. Roden, author of Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture

“"[Cuz] address[es] issues worth pondering: how codes of masculinity constrain and cripple men, the lure of violence, the mysteries of human personality and the debts family members owe one another in dire circumstances…In writing about her cousin, Allen is also elegizing other black men victimized by poverty, drugs and unequal justice. Her blend of personal anguish and social consciousness evokes not just [John Edgar] Wideman, but Jesmyn Ward's 2013 memoir, Men We Reaped."” — Simon Van Booy, author of The Secret Lives of People in Love

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