Eros Denied: Sex in Western Society
Mr. Wayland Young’s researches into erotica through the ages have been diligently undertaken, and, one must assume, accurately expounded. They will save those interested in the subject the trouble, and possibly the embarrassment, of procuring access to erotica normally kept from indiscriminate public inspection. Mr. Young, who is a peer of the realm under the style Baron Kennet of the Dene, must be considered a somewhat unlikely individual to display such zeal and dedication in this particular field. A Frank Harris, even a Havelock Ellis, yes; but this earnest Labour scion of true-blue Tory stock who nourishes ambitions of being Mr. Harold Wilson’s choice for some minor ministerial position, say a Lord-in-Waiting—surprising! One should not, however, underestimate his disinterestedness in publishing a book like Eros Denied. The Labour Party, with its Noncomformist antecedents, is far more prudish than the Conservatives, as was clearly apparent at the time of the Profumo Affair. The Marquis de Sade is not a name to conjure with in Transport House.
In presenting and explaining his material Mr. Young makes frequent and unrestrained use of words which still come amiss to writers of my generation. We are asterisk men. Such diffidence, I am well aware, would meet with Mr. Young’s strong disapproval as signifying life-denying old codgers. So let it be. To get over the difficulty I shall adopt the convention of using “to Wayland” for the verb which occurs on almost every page of Eros Denied, and “Young (m)” and “Young (f)” for the almost as frequently referred to male and female organs. Thus, to illustrate the usage, one might say: “Inserting his Young (m) in her Young (f) he Waylanded her good and proper.”
In addition to making available much out-of-the-way pornography, Mr. Young clearly has some sort of message that he wishes to convey. Alas, it eluded me. He labors under a sense of righteous indignation that some of the higher flights of erotica should be denied, not only to the common people, but even, in certain cases, to acknowledged experts like himself. I cannot personally share his righteous indignation. There would seem to me to be no high principle at stake here; no cause for which men of good will should be prepared to sacrifice themselves. Mirabeau appends to his pornographic novel Ma conversion (“A first-person account,” Mr. Young tells us, “of the life of a gigolo, avid for tartufferies, for the license behind the pious facade”) the exhortation: “Eh bien, lis, dévore, et branle-toi“—“And now read, devour and masturbate.” Though Mirabeau, with characteristic shrewdness, puts his finger (in the most literal sense) on the point of all pornography, from Fanny Hill to Lady Chatterley, branle-toi scarcely seems a cry, like liberté, égalité, fraternité, which one would wish to hear ringing through the world. Or is it, in Mr. Young’s estimation? Waylanders of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your Youngs.
The same difficulty arises, I may add, in other writings by Mr. Young that I have read. He is, for instance, considered something of an authority in defense matters; in this case, fighting rather than Waylanding being his theme. As in Eros Denied there is an impressive array of information, but one looks in vain for a cogent conclusion. Likewise, his recent volume on the Profumo Affair was supposed, one gathered, to point some moral about the Conservative Party, but apart from the rather obvious suggestion that Conservative Ministers are liable to be keen, and sometimes indiscriminate, Waylanders, there seemed to be no particular declaration of the Party’s present circumstances and future prospects. Mr. Young reminds me of a hydro-electric scheme in which the massively dammed waters and the elaborately installed turbines just never get together to generate any electricity.
One chapter in Eros Denied I had previously read when it appeared in the magazine Encounter with the title “Sitting on a Fortune.” It is about prostitutes and their lives, the information on which it is based having been collected in person by Mr. Young. One imagines him, notebook in hand, zealously questioning the girls, who, I suspect, pulled his leg a little. If they did, who shall blame them? Like all enthusiasts for erotica, Mr. Young is deeply, if not abysmally, serious—a state of mind which invites a certain amount of ridicule among the naturally ribald. Some of the stories the girls fed him are old chestnuts which, to my certain knowledge, have been circulating this last half-century and more. A prostitute, D, whom I got to know well (but for Waylanding, not documentary, purposes) told me that the worst part of being a prostitute was not drunken sailors, nor even kinky clients who might want to jump on you from the top of a chest of drawers, or perform other weird capers. No, the hardest to bear were clergymen and other earnest persons who would insist on telling you how they loved their wives, and on probing the alleged miseries of a prostitute’s life. D was accustomed to charge such clients time-and-a-half quite irrespective of their, often insignificant, Waylanding requirements. She would, I feel sure, have put Mr. Young in this bracket, and, at the same time, have taken an impish delight in filling his notebook with nonsensical anecdotes. Her own view, incidentally, was that most prostitutes were, like herself, congenitally lazy, and took to prostitution because it enabled them to get up late, loll about through most of the day, and earn good money with a minimum of effort. D, I may add, married a Portuguese police officer, and, as far as I know, lived happily ever after.
Pornography has always, of course, been popular, and enjoyed a wide, if usually under-the-counter, circulation, though without arousing in most people the sort of obsessive interest displayed by Mr. Young. Its avowed purpose is to excite sexual desire, which, I should have thought, is unnecessary in the case of the young, inconvenient in the case of the middle-aged, and unseemly in the case of the old. It can be fostered equally by impotence (as with D. H. Lawrence) and revulsion against fleshly necessities (as with Swift and Aldous Huxley). Neither attitude is conducive to mirth. Laughter serves to neutralize pornography, and is therefore anathema to most pornographers. A man I know was thrown out of a Marseilles brothel for laughing at a pornographic film which was being shown there to stimulate business. I quite see the point. His laughter was liable to reveal the film’s absurdity, and therefore to defeat its purpose.
In this connection, it is interesting that Rabelais is unmentioned in Eros Denied, though, as far as vocabulary is concerned, Waylanding and the two Youngs occur with a frequency which might have been expected to win our author’s warm approval, or at any rate arouse his interest. Rabelais, however, is neither erotic nor pornographic (are they to be distinguished? According to the Oxford Dictionary, not very markedly), but merely funny. His indecencies do not arise out of sexual desire, or out of its Janus-face—revulsion. Rather, they convey a sense of the sublimely grotesque disparity between human aspiration and human performance. They cannot, therefore, stimulate sexual desire; the juveniles, young and old, who retire to dark corners with their Kama, their Chatterley, or their Cancer, henceforth, perhaps, with their Eros Denied, there to follow the Mirabeau routine (lire, dévorer, branler) would find Rabelais not at all to their purpose. He would break into their secret lechery with the same devastating force as a beam of sunlight into the murky, strip-teasing afternoon of businessmen on a spree.
Mr. Young’s attitude is very different. His very solemnity makes even the highest flights of erotica as tedious as an address by a prep-school headmaster to his charges on the facts of life, beginning with stamens and pollen and working up to Waylanding. “The Christian concept of God,” Mr. Young writes with singular asininity, “as a single creator who loves us would founder altogether if it were to attempt to take on board the intractable biological fact of orgasm.” Considering what that fantastic old bark has managed to stow under its hatches—mortality, for instance—without foundering, one cannot but smile at naiveté like Mr. Young’s which can suppose so trivial an additional cargo would sink the ship.
In another passage Mr. Young looks forward to “a time of perfect sexual freedom,” when everyone will be able to live “in the manner he has been conditioned to by chance and society, or has chosen by introspection and will.” They “will find their own way into the right life for them in accordance with those forces in society and themselves which cause them to seek that way and not another, and the individual-causing factors will be stronger than the social ones.” I am not at all certain what this sentence means, if anything, but it appears to envisage a sort of erotic paradise whose sacred texts Mr. Young has collected; a drivein Elysium with a shining screen dedicated to the promotion of orgasm pure and undefiled; Eros forever undenied. For my own part, I should be happy to avoid any such paradise, especially those sacred texts, that mirthless screen. If this be Eros, then better denied, say I. St. Paul’s Epistles are preferable, and anyway incomparably better written.
Eros Denied September 10, 1964
Eros Denied September 10, 1964
Eros Denied September 10, 1964