Monday, 22 October 2012

Erotic Romancing

Andrea De Nerciat.

Although The Unexpected Love Lesson was first published in 1788 as Le Doctorate Impromptu, and Summer in the Country (Un Ete a la Campagne) in 1867, they are uncannily like each other. Both are in the form of letters from one girl to another, but subsist on a diet of voyeurism and Lesbianism with just a dash of heterosexuality. The novels are cool, limpid, and every so often slide into vacuity. If this is erotica then the vigilantes have nothing to fear.
De Nerciat was first translated into English for the Victorian pornographic journal The Exquisite, but the pellucid French writer was not altogether to the taste of 19th century connoisseurs - the 'goats' as Carlyle called them - as he lacked the animosity, the flagellation scenes, and the sadism, that the Victorians demanded in their pornography.
These novels are not crude, and there is a merciful absence of heavy breathing. But if the aim of pornography is to make the reader as randy as possible then these two books are not pornography. It may be that there is a clearly defined chasm between erotica and pornography. There is assuredly a gap between English and French erotica, and the publication of this pair of books would have confirmed the opinion of snob Victorian enthusiasts that French erotica was not amenable to translation, and that the truest of a gentleman was whether or not he could read French erotica in the original language. H.S. Ashbee, that prurient bibliographer of smut under the anagramatic pun 'Pisanus Fraxi', went along with this. Summer in the Country, he declared, 'is written throughout with that delicacy of expression only attainable in the French language'.
I would not describe either book as a sparkling masterpiece, but compared with their semi-illiterate modern equivalent they can be seen as charming light novels, that could be read by lovers of Jane Austen - although on second thoughts, maybe not.