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Codes used to blackout erotica in era before 'Grey'

Posted on 10/06/2013

The phenomenal success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has brought to light the popularity of erotic fiction, but this is not a new trend, according to researchers at Royal Holloway.

In a new book published today, Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France, author Dr Hannah Thompson finds that novelists were writing about sex as far back as the 19th century but were forced to get around strict censorship laws by using a series of codes.

“In contrast to today, when people  will happily read Fifty Shades of Grey on the tube, sexual desire or activities could not be described in 19th century France and such books were considered a social taboo,” said Dr Thompson, from Royal Holloway’s School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

“As a result, French female authors such as George Sand and Rachilde had to find imaginative ways to disguise their racier content, allowing women in particular to read these books without fear of discovery or embarrassment. This ranged from describing flowers, ornaments and clothing as references to the female body, to using illness as a code for sexual desire.”

In the book, Dr Thompson also addresses the issues surrounding other taboos in 19th century French literature, including incest, paedophilia, rape and disability. She finds that society only changes attitudes towards these subjects by talking about them openly.

“I believe examining how a taboo subject like erotica has been brought into the mainstream, teaches us a crucial lesson when dealing with other taboo and more serious subjects such as rape and physical deformity,” she added.

“There is a vicious circle where the less the subjects are talked about, the harder it is to discuss them. It is only by trying to put unspeakable subjects into words that we can rid society of this inability to address difficult issues head-on.”



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