‘Pleasure Bound’ is smartly written

Updated: Feb 16, 2011, 18:16 PM IST

London: ‘Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism’ focuses on a small cross-section of Victorian culture: a group known as the Aesthetes whose members included the Pre-Raphaelite painters (of whom Dante Gabriel Rossetti is perhaps the best known) and a group that called itself the Cannibal Club, founded by the explorer Richard Burton as an offshoot of the Anthropological Society.

Deborah Lutz`s study follows two main ideas: First, that most of the 19th century`s overtly sexual material, whether in visual or prose form, came from these groups; second, that the willingness of these men to push the limits of social propriety and study, almost empirically, what was considered then sexually deviant, is at the heart of their creativity.

Lutz explains her attraction to these often overlapping groups and what they came to stand for: "I found in them something so rare today among artists and writers: a will to collaborate. Conviviality sparked inspiration for their work; shared rooms in houses and studios kept a seriousness of creative intent circulating."

For Lutz, then, exploring their radical approaches to sexuality and eroticism is meant as a way of recovering an approach to creative work all but lost to us in the 21st century.

‘Pleasure Bound’ is clearly and smartly written and provides interesting and, yes, titillating accounts of Victorian pornography, from the anonymous ‘My Secret Life’ diary to letters to the poet Algernon C. Swinburne`s proclivity for flagellation.

However, a great deal of the book is devoted to close readings of poetry and paintings with which the majority of readers may not be immediately familiar, suggesting that this book may be unfortunately of interest only to other scholars and enthusiasts of the Victorian period.

Bureau Report