Friday, 23 October 2009


After posting the stuff about Aubrey Beardsley’s pornographic drawings, last weekend, I got to thinking about the Victorians, and what a funny lot they were. Their opposed attitudes to children, are glaringly obvious to us, in the 21st century. But apart from a handful of social reformers, the polar opposites seem to have passed them by. Victorian Art and Literature, portray dear, pretty, little innocents, gathered around Mama and Papa’s knee; not seeing the stifled, starving little nobodies, working the coal mines, or sweeping chimneys.

If we’re looking at polar opposites, it’s not too huge a leap to look at Victorian ideals of family life and domesticity, compared with the commercialisation of subversive pornography, who’s sole purpose was the encouragement of illicit sexual arousal. The irony has a clarity that cannot be missed. Fidelity and chastity, and their polar opposite; debauchery and depravity.

So was this abundance of pornography, a result of a morally severe society? A golden age of repression? I don’t know. All I can say here is, that it was there, and it was available. Pornography, for men in Victorian England flourished. An official statistic of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, indicates that by 1834, 3 years before the start of Victoria’s reign, there were 57 porn shops on one street in London alone.

Perhaps too much sanitization isn’t healthy? Perhaps it brings out a secretive behaviour, which results in delighting in the obscene? Perhaps the more we get, the more we want, as in the extreme stuff that’s available on the Web? Perhaps I’ve picked up on a topic that is far more complex, than I can deal with here? A lot of questions; a lot of ‘perhaps’.

I think that there’s a delicious naughtiness about the porn the Victorians liked to look at. Yes, it’s sleazy; but to my mind there’s a sort of childlike innocence, a naivety that’s been lost, in the hard core pictures and photos that you can find anywhere on the Web today. It’s fun, it’s joyous; it’s a celebration of the forbidden.


  1. Oooh, naughty-delicious, but yes indeed there's a sense of innocence to these images too. Innocense lost, perhaps?

  2. Wow, that horseback trick is impressive. (I guess all the hansom cabs were engaged, eh?) : )

  3. I love kinky Victoriania too - and Beardsley is great: so disturbingly creepy as well as lascivious.

    On an serious note, part of the root of victorian pornography was the invention of photography (there must be some Law that says "Any new technology will instantly be turned to the service of sexual titilation") and part was the MASSIVE double-standard in the sexual sphere. Respectable women were supposed to have no sexual predelictions at all and their husbands were supposed to put them on a pedestal as paragons of purity and all that was "good" and "feminine". There was no such standard applied to men. Hence (in part) the huge proliferation of porn and and prostitution, coupled with a wall of frigid silence about what the men were up to behind their wives backs.

    One thing I learned reading about the lives of famous writers (mostly 19th century) was just how much naughtiness they got up to:

  4. Thanks guys -- I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Yes Neve, I agree, I think there is a sense of lost innocence.

    And Jeremy -- you made me giggle. It's such a bizarre image.

    Thanks for mentioning the invention of photography, Janine, as an influence on Victorian porn. I hadn't thought of that. Duh!

  5. Hi Billie,

    Janine's post said much of what I had thought to say. The double standard, or even the triple standards if you include children, seemed to rule that period in history. Children were expendable and had no rights at all. Women were the next step up, but their rights were little better than that of a horse or dog. Prostitutes or those thought of as the lower classes perhaps had certain freedoms the 'privileged' didn't, but at what cost?

    The camera really did help porn leap into whatever shady existence it had back then. Innocent, perhaps. But it may have been the innocents of ignorance rather than anything romantic.

    Good post, Billie