Victorian erotica is genre of sexual art and literature which emerged in the Victorian Era of 19th century Britain. Victorian erotica emerged as a product of a Victorian sexual culture. The Victorian era was characterised by paradox of rigid morality and anti-sensualism, but also by an obsession with sex. Sex was a main social topic, with progressive and enlightened thought pushing for sexual restriction and repression. New sexual categories emerged as a response, defining normal and abnormal sex. Heterosexual sex between married couples became the only form of sex socially and morally permissible. Such deviant forms included as masturbation, homosexuality, prostitution, and pornography. Yet, Victorian anti-sexual attitudes were contradictory of genuine Victorian life, with sex underlying much of the cultural practice. Sex was simultaneously repressed and proliferated. Sex was popular in entertainment, with much of Victorian theatre, art and literature, including and expressing sexual and sensual themes
Art and Literature provided Victorians with an avenue to express transgressive and repressed sexual desire. Sex was a prominent feature in much of Victorian art, especially in theatre and literature. It is argued that some Victorian erotica rests on techniques of implication and allusion to sexual desires and activity, such in the cases of Wilde's, Dicken's, and Field's works. Victorian erotic works include The Romance of Lust, My Secret Life, and Venus in Furs. Additional Victorian artists and authors include Audrey Beardsley and George Eliot.
A main component of Victorian Erotica was the female sexual object. At this time, sex roles between men and women were being developed and redefined. Women were increasingly being defined in terms of femininity, subordination, and were becoming the object of sexual desire. Aesthetic and medical procedures were targeting women to accentuate their sex appeal. In real Victorian life, female's sexuality was problematic, and was only to be expressed in terms of domestic life. On the stage, in art, or in literature, women were inscribed with sexuality, positioned as the sexual object. Societal expectations tied women to ideas of purity and virginity. Erotic plot lines and themes sought to shatter these expectations, crafting women as whores, prostitutes, and adulterers. Women were symbol of vice and temptation. The fallen woman was a key stereotype for Victorian Erotica. The fallen woman was characterised in opposition to the Victorian moral standard for women. The fallen woman was a prostitute, sexual deviant, or wife unable to perform her domestic duties. Social anxieties over the sexuality and independence of women produced the image of the fallen woman. The fallen woman is features in much of Victorian erotic works, including works by Thomas Hardy, Augustus Egg, and William Bell Scott.
Homosexuality arose out of Victorian beliefs that heterosexuality was normal and natural. Homosexuality was the primary form of male sexual deviance. Prior to sexual cataloguing, intimate and emotional relationships between men were normal. Homosexuality was a threat to heterosexuality and symbolised unnatural sexual desire. Homosexuality in the Victorian era had series legal repercussions, resulting in imprisonment or the death penalty. Art and literature allowed the construction and expression of the homosexual identity. Art and literature were the primary mode in which positive images of homosexuality could be produced. Homosexual artists such as Pater, Wilde, Symonds, and Solomon, threaded homosexual themes and identities through their work. Homosexual themes were common in Victorian art, and were accepted in society if they were subtle. Examples of homosexual erotica include Solomon’s The Bride. The Bride depicts a man peripherally touching another man, while embracing a woman. Wilde alludes to homosexual tendencies throughout the novel. Other forms of Victorian homosexual erotic include Two College Friends by Frederick W. Loring, depicting a romantic relationship between a college student and professor. More explicit forms of homoerotic art from the Victorian era, include:
Don Leon by Lord Byron. Oscar Wilde was a famous Victorian author who was trialed three times for Victorian homosexual 'crimes' in 1895. Wilde's figure emerged from these trials as a significant marker for homosexual identity in the Victorian period.
In the Victorian period, loving relationships between women were thought of as romantic friendships. The term "lesbian", was not used in the Victorian period, rather lesbian relationships were undefined and covert. Unlike male to male friendships, intimate female friendships were considered normal, due to feminized gender roles. Female sexuality was understated, with dominant perceptions claiming women lacked sexual passion. Havelock Ellis in The Sexual Inversion cautioned women, "that sexual desires might arise for another women without them knowing.This is argued to reflect a social anxiety over female pleasure, and is contrary to the reality reflected in Victorian works. It is also argued that women feigned ignorance of sexuality between women as a weapon against social expectation and discrimination. In the Victorian period, pornography on the market boomed, and was produced in abundance. Pornography was not a clear cut genre, but a general category of sexual explicitness. Victorian pornography often depicted the rape, abduction, and subordination of women. Cases and trials of sexual misconduct were a class of their own. Castration was also a theme of Victorian pornography, with it being alluded to the male orgasm.
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