Friday, 29 June 2012


She stood alone in the sodden field on the outskirts of Paris, her fashionable ankle boots firmly planted in the mud churned up by the cavalry who drilled there. 

No, she would not be tied to the stake, she told her executioners politely. And nor would she allow them to blindfold her. She faced the barrels of the firing squad without flinching.
Earlier, at 5am, they had woken her in her filthy cell in the Prison de Saint-Lazare to tell her this was the day she would die. She dressed in her best stockings, a low-cut blouse under a dove-grey, two-piece suit.

On her head she perched a three-cornered hat at a jaunty angle, hiding her greying hair, unkempt and unwashed through nine months of incarceration. Over her shoulders she slung a vivid blue coat like a cloak to keep out the cold October air.
In a black car with its window blinds down, Margaretha Zelle, convicted of espionage, was then driven at speed through the still streets of the capital - a place she loved with a passion, though she was Dutch not French - to this damp and drear spot.
The 12 soldiers in their khaki uniforms and red fezzes raised their rifles. She waved to the two weeping nuns who had been her comfort in prison and on her last journey. She blew a kiss to the priest and another to her lawyer, an ex-lover.
The sun was coming up when the shots rang out. Zelle slumped to the ground. The officer in charge marched forward and fired a single bullet into her brain, the coup de grace.
An extraordinary life was over. The woman who was executed that day in 1917 was better known as Mata Hari, the name Zelle had chosen for herself when she became Europe's queen of unbridled eroticism, an exotic dancer, courtesan, harlot, great lover, spendthrift, liar, deceiver and thief.

And German spy? That is what - in the fevered atmosphere of France in World War I, with the Kaiser's troops encamped within its borders - she had been shot for. She caused the deaths of tens of thousands of French soldiers, it was said, a crime that would ever after make her synonymous with seduction and treachery, the ultimate femme fatale.
Except that she may not have been guilty at all.
In a new and fascinating biography, American academic Pat Shipman makes the case that, far from being the betrayer, she was the one betrayed, and by that breed she loved all her life - men.
It was men who, like witch hunters, built the case against her, driven by prejudice not fact. And with France gripped by anti-German spy mania, few would stick their heads above the parapet to defend her. Britain's fledgling intelligence service, MO5 (soon to change its name to MI5) also helped dig her grave with, as we will see, the dodgiest of dossiers.
But in the story of Mata Hari, there was one thing that needed no sexing-up - Mata herself. Sex was the driving force of her life.
In the little Dutch town where she grew up, her shopkeeper father lavished extremes of affection on his "little princess". It made her vain, self-centred and spoilt, and with an insatiable longing for male attention.
At school, the 16-year-old bedded the headmaster. Was he the seducer or her? No one knows, but this was 1893 and it was the girl who was sent home in shame.
The restless teenager now set about finding a man to take her away from the stuffiness of Dutch society. When, through a Lonely Hearts ad, she met Captain Rudof MacLeod, a hard-living, hard-drinking officer home on leave from Holland's vicious colonial wars in the East Indies, she didn't care that he was 22 years older than her.
He was handsome, with a splendid moustache. She was tall (5ft 10in) and elegant, with flirty dark eyes and a dark olive complexion. The attraction was immediate, sexual and very strong. She told him she longed to do "crazy things" and they were engaged within six days.
They married three months later, she in a bright yellow gown rather than the traditional white.

There were problems almost straight away. She couldn't keep her eyes off the other officers and, as she was the first to admit, did not have it within her to be "a good housewife".
"I was not content at home," she later confessed. "I wanted to live like a colourful butterfly in the sun."
He was jealous, though saw no reason why he should forego the womanising, drinking and coarseness of his bachelor days. He was constantly in debt; she was extravagant, always spending. As for his syphilis, caught overseas, he neglected to tell her.
The omens were not good. Nonetheless, she bore him two children, and they returned as a family to his new posting in the colonies. There, in the exotic surroundings of Indonesia, their marital problems multiplied.
She did not fit the mould of the officer's wife, not least because her dark skin made the snobbier women suggest she had native blood in her. To the men, however, that look was seductive, and she made the most of it.
"Her languid, graceful style of moving, her dark eyes and luxurious hair, telegraphed her sexuality to any male in her presence," writes Shipman. "She drew every man's lustful admiration and every woman's envy. She was seen as morally dangerous, selfish and frivolous."
The marriage deteriorated into sharp quarrels, too much drinking, rows about money and accusations of infidelity. But what destroyed the union was tragedy. Their son, Norman, was struck by serious illness and died at the age of two. His sister, one-year-old Nonnie, nearly died, too, but pulled through.
The boy's death shattered both parents. Who was to blame? A local nanny was said to have poisoned the children because of some grievance, real or imagined, against MacLeod, though no case was ever brought. Nor was the death ever reported in the colonial press. For some reason, it seemed to have been hushed up.

Shipman's hypothesis is that the children were being treated for congenital syphilis, caught from their father, and the garrison doctor accidentally overdosed them with mercury. Whatever the real cause of the boy's death, the couple blamed each other.
The relationship sank into hatred. His wife was "scum of the lowest kind" MacLeod told his family back in Holland, "a woman without heart, who cares nothing for anything".
On that he was wrong - she cared for officers. He caught her with a second lieutenant. She flaunted herself in a low-cut dress at a ball. She was punishing him by stoking up his jealousy. He punished her in return with a cat-o'-nine-tails.
She wrote to her father: "I cannot live with a man who is so despicable. I eat and live apart and I prefer to die before he touches me again. My children caught a disease from him."
MacLeod left the army and the family returned to Holland. There they separated. But MacLeod had one more weapon to use against her.
He put an advertisement in the local papers warning shops not to give her credit because he had resigned all responsibility for her. It left her penniless. She had to earn money - and there was only one way she knew how.
Sexual favours were her only useful assets, but she did not see Holland as the best place to exploit them. In 1903, with little money and no contacts, she took herself off to Paris. There, she would recreate herself as a model, an actress, perhaps, or a chic cosmopolitan in that chicest of cities.
But, as Shipman tells us, "the only dependable source of income available to her was pleasing men for money" - prostitution. But then a circus gave her a job, and the owner advised her where her talents lay - dancing.
And dance she did. From the depths of her experiences in the East Indies she invented what she called "sacred dances". They were exotic and seemed to have some mysterious eastern mythology about them but, most of all, they involved her ending up all but naked.
It was a brilliant move. Dancers at the Moulin Rouge were flashing their knickers and breasts but Zelle's great departure was to push the bounds of discretion even further and wrap sex up with religion and art.

She began by performing in private homes, but soon the stories of her "artistry" and, above all, her nudity were passing round the salons of Parisian high society. She wore a beaded metallic bra, which never came off - she was self-conscious about her tiny breasts - but the veils covering the rest of her floated free as she danced in "slow, undulating, tigerlike movements".
The critics enthused, "feline, trembling in a thousand rhythms, exotic yet deeply austere, slender and supple like a sacred serpent". She added spice to the performance with lies.
First there was her name - Mata Hari, meaning "sunrise" or, more literally, "the eye of the day", in the language of the Dutch East Indies. Then there were the stories to the press, that she was the daughter of an Indian temple dancer who had died giving birth to her, that she grew up in a jungle in Java.
Her life became an unending performance, both on stage and off. Her success seemed unstoppable and the money came rolling in. But she still managed to spend more than she earned as she travelled Europe, picking up lovers, dropping some, keeping others.
"Tonight I dine with Count A and tomorrow with Duke B. If I don't have to dance, I make a trip with Marquis C. I avoid serious liaisons. I satisfy all my caprices," she said.
All too soon she was suffering from over-exposure in another sense. By 1908 anyone who was anyone in Europe had seen her dance at least once, while the lesser theatres were overrun with imitators doing Oriental dances.
The dance work was now more irregular and increasingly she would have to rely on her men friends for her livelihood.
One, a stockbroker, provided her with a chateau in the Loire and another house on the Seine - until he went bankrupt. Still she refused to cut her prodigious spending or alter her outrageous lifestyle. When she was frantic for money, some said, she would ply her trade at Paris's maisons de rendez-vous, one step up from ordinary brothels.
Her financial problems seemed eased when in May 1914 she signed a contract to dance for six months at the Metropol in Berlin, starting in September.

But the political situation overtook her. When war broke out in August that year, though Holland was neutral, she was stuck in a now belligerent and increasingly jingoistic German capital with no money and no job. Her fur coats and money had been seized. She charmed a Dutch businessman to pay her train fare to Amsterdam.
Back in Holland, she took up again with a former lover. Aristocratic and wealthy, he was just her type. There she was visited by Karl Kroemer, the German consul, who told her he was recruiting spies. He gave her 20,000 francs and a code name, H21.
She took his money but she didn't take him seriously. She told herself the cash was compensation for the furs taken from her in Berlin and threw away the invisible ink he gave her.
"As she never had the slightest intention of spying for Germany, she felt no guilt or obligation to do anything for the money she had accepted. She had always taken money from men because she needed it and they had it; she always felt she deserved it," says Shipman. Others, ominously, would not agree.
Naively, she failed to realise the Europe she had travelled through so freely and so promiscuously had disappeared for ever.
British counter-intelligence certainly had her number. They stopped her at Folkestone, while she was travelling from Holland to France via Britain to avoid the front-line, and recorded that "although she was thoroughly searched and nothing incriminating was found, she is regarded by police and military to be not above suspicion".
A copy of the report was sent to intelligence officials in France, Britain's ally against Germany.
But on what was this suspicion based? The report noted that she "speaks French, English, Italian, Dutch and probably German. Handsome, bold type of woman".
And that, says Shipman was the key. "The problem was not what Mata Hari said but who she was. She was a woman travelling alone, obviously wealthy and an excellent linguist - too educated, too foreign. Worse yet, she admitted to having a lover. Women like that were immoral and not to be trusted."

A British intelligence officer in Holland now added to Mata Hari's dossier with rumours about payments to her from the German embassy. He added, with no evidence whatsoever: "One suspects her of having gone to France on an important mission that will profit the Germans."
In Paris, Mata resumed her glamorous life, living at the Grand Hotel and with plenty of men in uniform to keep her occupied. She did not know that two secret policemen were tailing her.
They steamed open her letters, questioned porters, waitresses and hairdressers and collected abundant evidence of her love life - but not of espionage. She spent a day and a night with the Marquis de Beaufort, had a flirtatious dinner with a purveyor of fine liquors and then met another lover, who embarrassingly for the secret policemen was a senior colleague from their own bureau.
But her main intention at this time was to get a permit to go to the town of Vittel, which was in the eastern war zone, because she was desperate to see the man with whom she had fallen deeply in love, a Russian captain 18 years her junior named Vadime.
For that, she had to apply to the head of French Intelligence, Captain Georges Ladoux, an ambitious man who had staked his reputation on France being riddled with foreign spies and his being able to destroy their network. He was in need of an attention-grabbing case to prove the worth of his bureau.
He regarded Mata as little better than a prostitute; she thought him small-minded and coarse. They fenced words with each other. She wanted her pass to Vittel. He agreed, if she promised to enlist as a spy for France.
The entire encounter was bizarre, Shipman argues. If Mata Hari was already a German spy, as Ladoux believed, then he was foolhardy to try to recruit her to be a French one.
Mata Hari was known by sight throughout Europe. Her comings and goings were reported in gossip columns. Wherever she went, she was the centre of attention. It is difficult to imagine a woman less able to engage in clandestine activities.
But she accepted his offer - as long as she was given enough money to pay off her massive debts and settle down with Vadime. The great seductress wanted out of the game.

But it was too late. Ladoux was convinced she was a German spy, however ridiculous that was. So, too, were the British. For Mata Hari, everything in her tangled life was unravelling dangerously.
She went to Vittel and had a blissful interlude in the spa town with her Russian. On her return to Paris, Ladoux sent her on her first mission - to German-occupied Belgium where she said an ex-lover could steer her into the arms of the German military governor.
But Belgium proved impossible to reach and she ended up in Spain. There, she turned her charms on a German captain, an intelligence officer named Kalle, and stretched out on a chaise longue as he told her secrets about German manoeuvres in North Africa.
This information she triumphantly passed on to Ladoux, believing she was doing his bidding, earning the million francs he had promised her. Instead, she had fallen into his trap. Her meetings with Kalle would be turned against her, twisted to claim that she was handing over French secrets to the enemy rather than teasing out German ones.
On February 10, 1917, a warrant for her arrest was signed by the French war minister. Three days later, police officers knocked on the door of her hotel room and found her eating breakfast in a lace-trimmed dressing gown. She was not, as wild rumours around Paris soon claimed, naked.
At the Palais de Justice she faced the investigating magistrate, Pierre Bouchardon. "From the very first interview, I had the intuition that she was a person in the pay of our enemies," he wrote later. "I had but one thought - to unmask her."
The process was under way that would lead her unfairly but inexorably to her execution.
It did not seem to matter that no one had the least bit of evidence against her. Nor could anyone point to a single document, plan or secret that she passed to the Germans. Suspicion, envy and the prejudices of small-minded men would triumph.
Only 30 years after her death would one of her prosecutors concede the truth - "there wasn't enough evidence to flog a cat".

FEMME FATALE: A Biography Of Mata Hari by Pat Shipman is published by by Weidenfeld & Nicholson

10 August 2007 The Daily Mail

Friday, 22 June 2012


I am quivering with anticipation! Trembling with excitement! Today, my novella, “Memoirs of a Sex Slave: The Confessions of a Submissive Woman”, comes out, published by wonderful Sizzler!

Here is what Sizzler says about my book.

Billierosie rocked the BDSM world with her collection, FETISH WORSHIP, and she proves just how good she can be - if not better, in her new novel: MEMOIRS OF A SEX SLAVE: THE CONFESSIONS OF A SUBMISSIVE WOMAN.  As the author says: "I know people who have had their lives changed for the better, when they finally embraced their fetish."  And with this, her wonderful new novel, she shows not just that understanding but how great a writer she is!

I wrote a short story, about Elektra, an elderly lady passing through the autumn of her years in a private nursing home. Elektra reminisces the events of her life. How she was once beautiful, with an erotic life that would surprise, and definitely shock, the people who now look after her needs. The short story became Chapter One of the novella.

Elektra has led a full, and exciting life. She is happy and though some of her memories cause her to blush, she relishes her life and would not change anything. In these later years her one regret, is that the Master that she adored, passed away leaving her lonely and alone.

Here is a taster of Elektra’s tale!
“…the feeling of being filled in her rectum thrilled her with its very indecency; she wanted more. As if in a psychic response, the stranger pushed in another finger; she was tight, but his persistence and the lubricant did their work. Then a third finger. She wanted him to rape her anus, defile her, right there in the middle of the club with everyone looking on.
Slowly he masturbated her rectum; pushing in, retreating, going further in with each push. Her pelvis pushed back on him. It was her body's reaction to the strange new sensation. She was helpless; her body's needs dictated the rules. She felt the flat palm of his hand on her buttocks. He was all the way in. Her rectum muscles gripped him tightly. He moved his fingers in a circular motion, stretching her as if in preparation for a man's thick cock. Elektra trembled as he finger fucked her dirt hole. When he slowly slid his fingers from her, she felt bereft, empty and tears trickled down her cheeks. He moved around to face her and she watched him examine his fingers. She had emptied her bowels earlier in the day, but still his fingers were streaked with her dark excrement. His hooded eyes watched her face, as he held his fingers to her mouth, a silent order for her to lick them clean. Elektra lapped obediently. She could taste the lube that he'd used and something dark and forbidden. The taste excited her and she slobbered over his fingers. A tremor of shameful disgust shuddered through her body like an electric shock; what was she becoming?

Or had this always been her truth, it was just that the doors, until now had been kept closed? Her head reeled with dark, indecent, ancient taboos.”

Thank you so much, Jean Marie and Chris, for your encouragement and for taking a chance on me!
“Memoirs of a Sex Slave; The Confessions of a Submissive Woman” is at Sizzler and will be available at Amazon very soon.

Friday, 15 June 2012



Isadora Duncan, was born in San Francisco in 1877. She was an instigator of changes, but her dearest passion was “The Dance”. Isadora lived and breathed for dancing, but she did not like things as they were. She wanted The Dance to be different.

She began teaching at the age of five, when she gathered all the little girls in the neighbourhood and taught them to sway their arms to express the movement of the ocean waves. Following this childhood experience, Isadora went on to direct several dance schools throughout her career. She said, “To dance is to live. What I want is a school of life.”

Isadora is known as the mother of  "modern dance," founding the "New System" of interpretive dance, blending together poetry, music and the rhythms of nature.  She did not believe in the formality of conventional ballet and gave birth to a more free form of dance, dancing barefoot and in simple Greek apparel.

Her dreams took her to Chicago and New York, but any applause that she received was desultory. Isadora desperately needed artistic fulfilment and she embarked on a quest that took her and her family from her homeland, to Europe. Money was scarce and they often faced starvation, but Isadora would endure any hardship for her dance, which she characterised as life itself. Scantily dressed in Grecian-inspired tunics, Isadora danced barefoot at garden parties and other small social gatherings. Her popularity grew and soon she was touring throughout Europe and America.

Isadora was an emancipated woman, ahead of her time. Her first long-term lover was the famous set designer Edward Gordon Craig. He was her lifelong friend and the father of her daughter Deirdre. The father of her second child, Patrick, was the millionaire Paris Singer who, for a while, financed the school she had always dreamed of. The government of Russia also gave Isadora a school. She was inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution and created one of her most famous dances, The Marche Slav, for the Russian people. There Isadora met the poet Sergei Esenin and married him, despite her vow to remain unwed and despite the fact that he was fifteen years younger than she was. Their marriage ended tragically two years later when Esenin left Isadora and soon after, committed suicide. It was not the first tragedy in Isadora's life. Many years earlier, her two children and their nurse drowned when their car went into the Seine.

Isadora Duncan's genius inspired other modern dancers of her time to create their own individual styles; the far-reaching influence of Isadora's dance, however, was not limited to the stage. All the arts were reaching out in new directions, searching for new and exciting forms of expression and inspiration and they found Isadora Duncan. While painters and artists of all media worked with furious strokes to catch Isadora’s essence through the movement of her dance, photographers sought to capture her image on film. Max Eastman said, “It was never easy to coax Isadora Duncan into a photographer's studio. Like a wild and wise animal, she fled from those who sought to capture the essence of her, which was motion, by making her stand still.”

Isadora Duncan died as dramatically as she had lived, when her long trailing scarf was entangled in the spokes of a wheel of a new Bugatti sports car. In an instant, she was strangled, nearly decapitated by the tightening of the scarf wrapped around her neck. Despite her untimely death, on September 14, 1927, her legacy continues to inspire new dancers. Drawings, paintings, and photographs attest to her influence on modern art. She inspired Emile-Antoine Bourdelle’s design of the bas-relief “The Dance”, it can be seen on the façade of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. “All my muses in the theatre are movements seized during Isadora's flight; she was my principal source,” Bourdelle said. It is fitting that Bourdelle saw Isadora as the model for the muse. Since the time of the Greeks, whom Isadora emulated, the nine muses have symbolized artistic expression. Very early in Isadora‘s career, sculptor Laredo Taft, one of Isadora’s earliest admirers, described her as, “Poetry personified. She is not the Tenth Muse but all Nine Muses in one; for painting and sculpture as well.”

Dancer, adventurer, revolutionary and ardent defender of the poetic spirit, Isadora Duncan has been one of the most enduring influences on contemporary culture. Ironically, the very magnitude of her achievements as an artist, as well as the sheer excitement and tragedy of her life, have tended to dim our awareness of the originality, depth and boldness of her thought.

Isadora was a thinker as well as a poet, gifted with a lively poetic imagination, a radical defiance of “things as they are,” and the ability to express her ideas with verve and humour. Isadora, was a theorist of dance and a critic of modern society, culture, and education. She was also a champion of the struggle for women’s rights, social revolution and the realisation of poetry in everyday life.

Virtually single-handedly, Isadora restored dance to a high place among the arts. Breaking with convention, she traced the art of dance back to its roots as a sacred art. She developed within this idea, free and natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces as well as an approach to the new American athleticism which included skipping, running, jumping, leaping and tossing.

With her free-flowing costumes, bare feet and loose hair, she restored dancing to a new vitality using the solar plexus and the torso as the generating force for all movements to follow. Her celebrated simplicity was oceanic in depth — and Isadora is credited with inventing what later came to be known as Modern Dance.
From Lori Belilove

Friday, 8 June 2012


L’absinthe Edgar Degas 1876

It seems that as human beings, many of us, are engaged on a quest to find other realities. Hashish, extacy, magic mushrooms, vague 21st century, designer drugs that I don’t have a clue about. Back in the 60’s Ken Kesey expounded the virtues of LSD; “Turn on, Tune in and Drop out”, was the cry from Dr Timothy Leary speaking to a new generation. The user of “acid” experiences enlightenment, religious experience, mystical experience. Aldous Huxley’s drug of choice was mescaline. Mescaline is a dark brown powder, ground from buttons of the Mexican cactus peyote. With Mescaline and Acid there is a sense of oneness with everything in the universe. States of mind are achieved, in which new perceptions can arise, unhindered by everyday mental filters and processes.

The Victorians had their drugs of choice too, in particular, absinthe. It has the colour of a vibrant green; it was named by those who used absinthe as la fee verte. The green fairy.

Degas' groundbreaking L'Absinthe (1876) features two forlorn-looking café patrons staring out beyond their milky-green drinks. Although the people pictured were merely actors, this painting later roused intense comment for its unprecedented gritty realism.

Absinthe is alluring because of its beautiful and ever-changing green colour and its air of danger and seduction.

Absinthe. Albert Maignan

Albert Maignan. The Green Fairy is at work, liberating the mind of a poet. The dramatic pose of the poet and the misty-green appearance of the painting symbolise the effects of absinthe.

“Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic beverage. It is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of Artemisia absinthium  "grand wormwood”, together with green anise, sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs. Absinthe traditionally has a natural green colour but may also be colourless.” WIKI

“There is an essential ritual in preparing and drinking absinthe. It involves placing a sugar cube on a flat perforated spoon, which rests on the rim of the glass containing a measure or “dose” of absinthe. Iced water is then very slowly dripped on to the sugar cube, which gradually dissolves and drips, along with the water, into the absinthe, causing the green liquor to louche (“loosh”) into an opaque opalescent white as the essential oils precipitate out of the alcoholic solution. Usually three to four parts water are added to one part of 68% absinthe. Historically, true absintheurs take great care in adding the water, letting it fall drop by single drop onto the sugar cube, and then watching each individual drip cut a milky swathe through the peridot-green absinthe below. 

Seeing the drink gradually change colour is part of its ritualistic attraction.

“The “ritual” is important – it’s part of the fascination of absinthe. No other drink is traditionally consumed with such a carefully calibrated kind of ceremony. It’s part of what lends absinthe its drug-like allure (for instance, one talks about the dose of absinthe in the glass, a term you’d never use with whisky or brandy). From all historical evidence, it seems that absinthe was almost always drunk like this – even the poorest working man, in the roughest bar or café, would prepare his absinthe slowly and carefully. It was seldom drunk neat (except by the kind of desperate end-stage alcoholics who might also be drinking ether or cologne); the water was always added slowly not just sloshed in; ice was never added to the glass.

“Place a sugar cube on the spoon. Drip a few drops of water on to the sugar cube, just enough to saturate it thoroughly. Then do nothing, just watch the sugar cube for a few 
minutes. It will spontaneously slowly start to collapse and drip into the glass, eventually leaving only a few drops of sugared water on the spoon. Then add the rest of the water in a thin stream.”
From Absinthe Originals.

The Absinthe Drinker. Edouard Manet.

“Absinthe was invented in 1797 by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire. The first absinthe distillery opened in Switzerland, then moved to France in 1805. By the 1850's it had become the favourite drink of the upper class. Originally wine based, a blight in 1870's on the vineyards forced manufacturers to base it with grain alcohol. Everyone could now afford it. The bohemian lifestyle embraced it.” WIKI

“Absinthe, was most popular in France. Most days started with a drink and ended with the "green hour" (l'heure verte) as one or two or more were taken for its aperitif properties. It is interesting to note that it also has aphrodisiac and narcotic properties. Authors and artists were proponents for using it to induce creativity.” WIKI

Arthur Rimbaud, the French poet, sipped the green drink to liberate the "sacred thing" (his mind) as he daydreamed "voyages of discovery that nobody had heard of" and "every kind of magic". 

Those who take absinthe say that it produces drunkenness, but it is a weird kind of drunkenness, with a bizarre clarity of thought.

Portrait bleu de Angel Fernández de Soto, Picasso

“The French poet, Paul Marie Verlain, is said to have drank himself to death and damned his drink of choice, his beloved absinthe, from his death-bed. Through his times of poverty, in his later years, Verlaine succeeded in giving up all other habits, but absinthe. He took kisses of la fee verte  as he lay dying.

“Vincent Van Gogh’s love affair with absinthe is well documented. It has been suggested that his depression, combined with manic activity over the last two years of his life, were brought about by the additional effect of thujone poisoning from his consumption of absinthe.

Vincent, Toulousse Lautrec

“Oscar Wilde was also a devotee of absinthe. Wilde’s stage plays, poems, and short stories gained him celebrity status not only in his native Ireland but also in Continental Europe. From his post as foremost writer of his day, Wilde referred often to absinthe as a boost to the creative process. Oscar said of Absinthe;
“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

“The man who all but defined artistic decadence, Charles Baudelaire’s best known work includes a poem entitled “Get Drunk!” Baudelaire’s life was an extravagant one: he lived well beyond his means and drank far beyond the capacity of his body and pocketbook. For Baudelaire, trips to the poorhouse were followed up by trips to the café. He eventually died, young even by 19th Century standards, due to a combination of seizure and the ravages done to the writer’s body by his regular use of laudanum, opium, and absinthe. Baudelaire’s ethos was;
"One must be drunk always. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time that breaks your shoulders and bows you to the earth, you must intoxicate yourself unceasingly. But with what? With wine, poetry, or with virtue, your choice. But intoxicate yourself."

For Baudelaire, Time was a shackle, and he often turned to absinthe for release. The green fairy provided the ‘intoxication’, the distraction he longed for.

“Guy de Maupassant was a French writer known for his efficient prose and a style that championed brevity above all. In de Maupassant’s “A Queer Night in Paris,” the writer describes the sensations associated with absinthe in the streets of Paris. De Maupassant tells of the confusion, brought about by the emerald green wine and the madness. Finally, the despair and depression, of slowly remembering his antics of the night before. The tale that he crafts so sparingly, is a microcosm of the world of the absinthe drinker.
"Decidedly, the air of Paris does not resemble any other air. It has in it something indescribably stimulating, exciting, intoxicating, which fills you with a strange longing to dance about and to do many other things. As soon as I arrive here, it seems to me, all of a sudden, that I have taken a bottle of champagne. What a life one can lead in this city in the midst of artists! Happy are the elect, the great men who make themselves a reputation in such a city! What an existence is theirs!"

Details of writers and artists, from

“Absinthe's popularity soared from 1880 on. Advertisements touted it as being healthful. It was exported to New Orleans and reached the same acclaim in the United States. It was one of the few drinks considered lady-like and women freely enjoyed it in the coffee houses where it was most commonly served. Victorian era men however, found women freely enjoying absinthe, distasteful.

“At the height of absinthe’s popularity on through to its eventual banishment, the drink was considered both a miracle tonic and a criminal scourge, depending on your perspective. While little of the alleged psychoactive or hallucinatory aspects of absinthe have been explained by science, what we do know is that the drink touched the lives and influenced the work of many an artist, writer, and intellectual.

“In 1905, Jean Lanfray, while very intoxicated, murdered his wife. He supposedly only had two glasses of absinthe but none the less, his trial became known as the "Absinthe Murder". Prohibition movements were underway. Absinthe was singled out as the maddening culprit. Absinthism was named as a disease. . By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in much of Europe, including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

“The legacy of absinthe as a mysterious, addictive, and mind-altering drink continues to this day. Though its psychoactive effects and chemical makeup are contested, its cultural impact is not. Absinthe has played a notable role in the fine art movements of Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Surrealism, Modernism, Cubism... and in the corresponding literary movements. The legendary drink has more recently appeared in movies, video, television, music, and contemporary literature. The modern absinthe revival has had a notable effect on its portrayal. It is often shown as an unnaturally glowing green liquid demonstrating the influence of contemporary marketing efforts.”

Thanks to Jan Vander Laenan, for suggesting this post and the images.

Friday, 1 June 2012


“Have you read EL James' "Fifty Shades of Grey"? I am on chapter 3 and no sex yet! I am disappointed with EL's book -- not just because of the prevaricating about sex -- but I am disappointed for all the wonderful erotica writers out there, who do it so much better!”

This was my comment on Facebook, mid-May -- I was trying to gather up a response for this blog post, regarding “The Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon. It seems that within the intellectual press, there is a feeling of surprise that women love erotica.

“The women’s book club has a new romantic heroine. By day, Anastasia Steele is a college senior at a Vancouver University and a virgin who wears indifferent jeans and reads the usual novels (Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Pride and Prejudice). By night, she is the willing slave of Christian Grey, who trusses her up in his “red room of pain” and slaps her and makes her shiver with just the tip of his whip. You can tell by the characters’ names what general territory we are in: erotic fiction mixed with Harlequin and just a hint of legal brief (apparently bondage drama requires the exchange of elaborate documents and disclaimers).”
Book Club Erotica: Why do women love the new smutty novel “Fifty Shades of Grey”?

“Fifty Shades of Grey is the Kindle and Goodreads sensation that recently made the round of the morning talk shows and is apparently bewitching women from “the Upper East Side of Manhattan to the suburbs of Seattle,” says Today. Part of a “triple-X trilogy,” the book began as a Twilight fan-fiction story called “Master of the Universe” by someone who called herself “Snowqueens Icedragon” and has now revealed herself to be E.L. James, a TV executive, wife and mother of two in London.”
Hanna Rosin, writing in “Slate”

“James's success marks a change in the way erotica is viewed – and bought – by the public, say publishers, a shift in gear even following the success of noughties titles including the Belle de Jour books, and Girl with a One Track Mind. And they want a part of it.
"What is changing now is the audience, and I think that Fifty Shades of Grey, and the firestorm around it, has done that … Now it is OK to read erotica – in fact, it is cool," said author KD Grace, whose book Surrogates has just been launched by HarperCollins's new ebook erotica line Mischief Books. "Women almost had to be given permission to be open about it, to say, 'I read erotica and so what?', rather than reading in the closet.”

Alison Flood, Wednesday 25 April 2012

One commentator in response to Alison Flood’s piece wrote;

“Oh come on, it's not new or different for women to be reading saucy books. Lace, Lace II, Jilly Cooper... bonkbusters have happened before, and there are whole websites dedicated to satisfying women's liking for erotica in ebook form.
What's new is the press noticing it!”

Arifa Akbar explains how the digital revolution has made sex the hottest genre in literature. How e-readers took the embarrassment out of erotic fiction.

“We've read about the extraordinary success of Fifty Shades of Grey, her best selling, sadomasochistic romance that became an e-reading sensation, even if we haven't yet thumbed through its pages. The debut novel, which has a sexually graphic narrative following the passions of a virginal college student and her rich and powerful lover, began life as a viral word-of-mouth hit, selling more than 250,000 copies as a download before it had even been published as a conventional book. Its success is not unique, and points to a blossoming, red-blooded trend.
The e-reading phenomenon has led to a rise in the sales of erotic and romantic fiction that readers may previously have felt too inhibited to buy and read in public. Now, without the embarrassment of a dust-jacket, readers have begun to download such works in growing numbers.”

Oh, so it’s because of Amazon and the Kindle, that women love erotica! Women can read it in secret!

Not so, says Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher of erotica and erotica romance publisher at Ellora's Cave.

“BDSM has been around forever, but used to be "underground." With the sexual revolution, more and more aspects of sex became visible and open — and people were frequently astonished to find out how many others were like them, enjoyed things formerly kept hidden. BDSM in erotica fiction blossomed as very popular with erotic romance readers a dozen years ago.

“Why has the popularity risen, especially among female readers? Well, I think for the same reason BDSM as a sexual practice has been popular with men. It is a fantasy that allows you to let go of your responsibilities and let someone else take charge. Most BDSM stories focus on the person in the submissive role. In erotica, that's more frequently the woman. In reality, men are often the subs. The reader or the real-life participant is the person who has to make decisions all day, be in charge, be under pressure for results — and then can let go in a sexual situation and have someone else whose job it is to focus on them and be responsible for giving them sexual pleasure. Men had always had what was seen as the more responsible roles in society; in the last few decades women moved into the workforce and became responsible for everything — their job, their home, care of their family … So now some women have discovered they like being the sub in BDSM for the exact same reason some men do.”

 I suggested to Laura Antiniou on Facebook, that EL James is said to have put erotica on the map. I could feel Laura bristling with indignation when she responded!

“She did no such thing. Every ten years or so, the mainstream media "discovers" that women read smut and declare one break-away book to be the placeholder for all erotica. This just happens to be the one for this decade. Ten years from now, they'll do it all again, conveniently ignoring the fact that erotica and erotic romance represent a monstrously huge portion of book sales, especially with the advent of e-books. The map was there already; what she (and her publicists) did was direct some new consumers to a marketplace that already had millions of 'em. Without the insulting tag of "mommy porn." Ten years from now, there will be another "discovery" that women like sexy stories, and those who remember the hullabaloo over this one will roll their eyes.”
Laura Antoniou on FB

“Presumably when Tesco starts selling handcuffs and ball gags, doubtless the media will 'discover' kinky sex (again). The only reason that the media regard any of this as 'new' is because they've not been paying attention and because 'erotica' is an even more despised genre than romantic fiction.”

A comment on Alison Flood’s piece in the Guardian.

But is Fifty Shades any good?

“There are plenty who do it better! But they don't get the word of mouth they should! Not sure why..” PM White on FB

“Yes, so much better stuff around. Gives the genre a bad name, I feel, and not even that sexy really, unless you've lived underground for decades. There's no understanding the great unwashed public…” Maxim Jacubowski on FB

“ With all the hype about this book, you'd expect it to be well written and full of sex. It's such a shame some of the authors who struggle and work so hard to hone their craft are ignored while crap is raved about.” Jude Mason on FB

One reviewer remarked; “I read the first chapter free on Amazon out of curiosity... the characterisation is lame, the dialogue is limp and the places are cardboard sets with no sense of place. The critical first scene between the couple is a laughable encounter. I can only assume that the erotic elements are better-written and the main reason for reading it.... these aren't available for preview.”

And another commentator; “What annoys me most is that I truly hadn’t read/heard any of the hype surrounding the book and bought it on the strength of the cover blurb which made it sound like a taught thriller about a sinister controlling I find out that it is vanilla hetero soft porn and frankly the first few pages could have been written by a teenager so I don’t want to read the rest.....anyone want a copy going cheap...or I'll swap for a decent lesbian love story?”

Remittance Girl, writing in the Guardian. “I'm sorry that, when Random House chose to take a chance on an erotic novel, they decided we all had the reading level of 12-year olds. The novel is repetitive, adolescent in the extreme, and not a good representation of some of the magnificent writing out there within the genre.
The most we can hope for is that readers of Fifty Shades of Grey will finish it, feel the need for something with better writing and more meat, and go looking for it.”

Marion Miller, writing in the Guardian. “All this demonstrates is how low publishers have sunk in the chase for profit to feed their shareholders. Ooh look. A bandwagon. Let's jump on it. Let's produce piles of shit and peddle them to the public. Who cares if it is derivative, badly written, and will end up in the charity shops unread? Who cares that good writers are squeezed out by this idiotic chase? Who cares that publishers seem to be staffed by fools who place decision making in the hands of unpaid kids who wouldn't know decent writing if it pissed in their boots?”

Check out this paragraph, from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. I think that it is a compelling, inspiring piece of writing. Bram Stoker drip, drip, drips a potent blend of sensuality directly into the vein. It is impossible to resist. And he does it all in one short, powerful paragraph -- more than EL James manages in 514 pages.

“I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one's flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.”

In some parts of Fifty Shades, I am actually bored. The vapid description of orgasm, which goes on and on and on grows tedious. Orgasm after orgasm after ecstatic orgasm is boring. And as for the contract Ana has to read (we read through it with her) well, if it is meant to shock, if it’s intended to arouse, well it doesn’t, it really doesn’t; frankly, it’s dull. And dull; boring is surely the most cardinal sin a writer can commit?

And I must admit, I have been selective with the opinions expressed here. If you are still desperate to read stunning reviews of EL James’ book and how it has “empowered” women, just put the title into Google, you will be overwhelmed by gushingly positive comments, that tickle my gag reflex.

But who are these writers who do erotica so much better? Well, start with Vanessa Duries, “The Ties That Bind”. Now there is a real submissive, not just a silly girl play acting to keep a man. In Fifty Shades I tire of reading of just how gorgeous Christian Grey is and how Ana knows he is out of her league. His gorgeous sculptured lips. How gorgeous his hair looks when it is rumpled. Ana’s constant dialogue with her “inner goddess”, as to why such a gorgeous guy should be attracted to lil ole her, is nauseating. So is the silly adolescent dialogue with her subconscious; “holy hell, holy cow, holy fuck, holy crap etc. I can only assume the EL James is trying to convey her heroine’s innocence and total lack of sexual experience through this abysmal use of the English language.

Are there worse books than “Fifty Shades of Grey? Most certainly. Will I finish reading it? No -- I can’t face another evening of boredom, I have more entertaining things to do, like watching paint dry, picking my nose.

Read anything by P.M. White. And anything by M. Christian, Jude Mason, Janine Ashbless, Maxim Jacubowski, Remittance Girl. The romance publisher, Mills and Boon, has their fair share of superb writers of erotic fiction.

Go to Oatmeal Girl’s blog. She talks explicitly about her submission to “the Sadist”, without using a single superlative. Without a lurid description OG conveys the dark eroticism of their Dominant/submissive relationship in finely crafted, beautiful language.

Read everything published by Black Lace.

And written erotica is nothing new; “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” (popularly known as Fanny Hill) is an erotic novel by John Cleland first published in England in 1748. 

One of the most prosecuted and banned books in history, it has become a synonym for obscenity.

And while Henry Fielding’s, “Tom Jones”, 1749 is described as a comic novel, it has its fair share of erotica too. Check out the “food eating” scene in Tony Richardson’s 1963 film of the same name.

Tom and his paramour “smoulder at one another while gulping back wine, slurping oysters, tearing at chicken legs and biting lasciviously into pears.
“ … the characters probed, fingered and sucked their food, they did so without laying a finger on each other. The moment they stop eating, however, the two run for a room…”
The Telegraph. 13th May 2012 in an obituary for Joyce Redman.

The scene was a violent erotic awakening for me -- I snuck into see it aged 14! In those days it had an X rated certificate. I was always where I wasn’t supposed to be; I always have found the dark side, the forbidden side, lusciously enticing.