There are many books considered to be “erotic classics,” far too many to list all in one post. These are the books still whispered about and passed among friends, the ones that have titillated readers for decades. Maybe you’re heard of these books but never got around to reading them. Maybe you noticed them tucked in your mom’s sock drawer years ago. But since the resurgence of erotica in mainstream publishing, these classics are once again becoming popular. So here is my take on some of the most popular titles in erotic literature. Enjoy!
Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954)
The ultimate kinky classic! How could I start this list with anything other than this scandalous BDSM masterpiece? Originally published in France and later translated into English in 1965, Story of O is every bit the shocking and sinfully enjoyable book its reputation states. Not so much for the sexual acts described in the book (although the sex is quite graphic), but for the psychology of the protagonist O.
Story of O is about a young Parisian fashion photographer who willfully surrenders herself to slavery and debasement at the hands of her lover René. O lets René take her to a château in the country where she is used for the sexual gratification of him and three other men. For two weeks she is routinely bound, flogged, and made to perform various sex acts on demand. After her stay at the château, O’s journey into total submission continues when René gives her to his best friend and tells her “you belong to him now.”
The sex got my attention, but what held my interest was how the story delved into O’s psyche. Because even more unsettling that the acts committed against O was her willingness to submit to them. So desperate to please René was she that she let him use her in any way that he saw fit. Even when he gave her to other men to beat and abuse, she derived happiness in the knowledge that she was obeying his wishes. All she desired was reassurance that he still loved her, and she would be happy to endure anything he asked. And indeed René did insist many times that he truly loved O. But his love came with a price: absolute obedience, which she freely chose. It’s a perverted sort of romance, but fascinating nonetheless.
So does Story of O stand the test of time? Absolutely. The language is pretty clunky at times (keep in mind it is a translated work) and some of the terms are a little archaic, but the themes it discusses are timeless. Is there happiness in slavery? Is total submission the ultimate expression of love? It’s a heavy story with a ton of kink and even more substance. Read it slowly, savor it, let it seduce you. You won’t soon forget it.
A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter (1967)
Another erotic tale set in France! Written by American author James Salter, A Sport and a Pastime is the story of an affair between a young American man and a French girl.
Philip Dean is a Yale dropout. He’s handsome, charming, and privileged. While vacationing in France, he begins an ill-fated affair with a local girl named Anne-Marie. Together they travel around the French countryside, and their relationship intensifies as they find new ways to explore their sexuality. The details of their physical relationship are graphic but not shocking, thanks to Salter’s beautiful and tasteful prose.
We soon see that the relationship isn’t picture-perfect. When they’re not in bed together, Dean seems disenchanted by Anne-Marie. He disdains her lack of pedigree, even thinking to himself that her pierced ears make her seem cheap. He also resents her for being needy and clingy (at least by his perception), and often treats her coldly when they are in public together.
What’s most interesting about A Sport and a Pastime is that it is narrated by a third party who claims to be Dean’s friend. The book takes on an unsettling voyeuristic aspect when the narrator describes Dean and Anne-Marie’s sexual acts, events he could not have actually witnessed. Indeed, even the narrator admits that this story is partially his own fantasy of what Dean and Anne-Marie’s relationship was like. The unreliable narrator adds a unique dimension to this short and sad tale.
While the reader may be wondering which details of the couple’s affair are true, there is one truth that shines through in this book: relationships based solely on sex rarely end well. When Dean and Anne-Marie were in bed together, they were free and open in their passion for each other. But in public, social pressures and class prejudices took their toll on the affair.
Some think that A Sport and a Pastime is outdated. But while some of the language may be a little passé, I think the story itself is timeless. The book is being republished as an ebook by Open Road Media, and will hopefully attract new readers.
Nine and a Half Weeks by Elizabeth McNeill (1978)
Written under a pseudonym, Nine and a Half Weeks is a first-person account of a New York woman’s two-month affair with a man she meets casually. During this time, he comes to dominate every aspect of her life. He feeds her, bathes her, dresses her, tells her what to do, and yes, he even inserts and removes her tampons for her. No, I didn’t throw that in there to make sure you were paying attention. Though the woman’s lover also uses light bondage and corporal punishment on her, the main focus of the book is his emotional dominance over her as opposed to their sexual practices.
In terms of kink, Nine and a Half Weeks is pretty tame in comparison to Story of O. This book’s controversy lies not in its sexual content, but in its protagonist’s willingness to surrender all her autonomy to her lover. She writes how adulthood is a burden to her, and what a relief it is for her to let her lover make all her decisions for her, even when it comes to simple things like choosing clothes. In the 1970s, when feminism was in full swing in the US, this is a bold statement to make.
It’s an interesting book, but for me, Nine and a Half Weeks didn’t have the substance that Story of O or A Sport and a Pastime had. It wasn’t quite as deep, I wasn’t drawn to the character in the same way I was drawn to O, and I found the writing style to be pretty flat. Still, it’s an erotic classic, and worth reading as such.
Little Birds by Anaïs Nin (1979)
For those of you looking for short erotic stories, look no further! Anaïs Nin has long been considered one of the masters of erotic literature, and this volume showcases the sensuality and beauty of her writing.
The thirteen stories in Little Birds deal with a range of sex-related topics, including virginity, sexual passivity/dominance, lesbianism, and even pedophilia. Many of the women in these stories find themselves experimenting with new sexual experiences and learning to open themselves up to their own desires. One of my favorites was “The Maja,” in which a seemingly prudish woman discovers her sensual side after she discovers her artist husband has been secretly making nude paintings of her.
The writing style of Little Birds is beautiful in its simplicity, and the stories are a lot deeper than you would think at first glance. It’s a short volume, but not one to be read through quickly. Perfect for those who prefer softer erotica, and a great way to introduce yourself to the writing of Anaïs Nin!
I hope you get a chance to check out these old classics. Maybe they will become your new favorites. Or are you looking for something a little more modern? Stay tuned for the follow-up to this post, where I talk about some newer erotic titles!