BOOK REVIEW: The Power of Mesmerism by Anonymous

The Power of MesmerismThe Power of Mesmerism by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Occasionally, a book comes along that is so ill-named that one needs to first discuss what the book is and isn’t. If one only read this work’s title, one might think it’s an early self-help book on hypnotism. It is not – not by a longshot. [Mesmerism, named for Franz Mesmer, is an alternative name for a system he called “Animal Magnetism” that involved a prototypical form of hypnotism along with other practices – most or all of which have been proven to have no scientific merit whatsoever. Because the “magnetism” part of animal magnetism bore no fruit, and only hypnotism proved at all useful, the word “mesmerism” became a synonym for “hypnotism.”] If one read the subtitle, the words “erotic narrative” would clue one into the fact that the book is racy fiction. That it is, but that still may not mentally prepare the reader for the particular nature of this piece of Victorian Erotica.

Even for readers generally comfortable with erotic content, this book may be unappealing owing to three controversial forms of content. First, there’s sexual activity that occurs without consent. The fictitious way in which hypnosis is portrayed in the book is key to understanding this issue (it’s a fantastic depiction that is common in fiction, television, and movies because it makes an interesting plot device.) In the book, mesmerism can be used to make the subject do anything the the hypnotist asks them to, and the subject is perfectly amnesiac (i.e. they remember none of what transpired in the trance state.) Real hypnosis cannot be used to force a person to do anything they don’t want to do, and while a suggestion to forget can be made, results will vary. Some subjects will have no memory of the trance, but others will remember what happened with perfect clarity. I should point out that this isn’t the harshest non-consent scenario because all of the characters eventually are made (at least vaguely) aware of what has happened and are depicted as being “into it.”

Second, much of the content is incestuous (and, on a related note, while the lead character’s sister seems to be physically mature, she is presumably not of legal age of maturity – not today’s, at least.) The story revolves around a young man who comes back home from school, having learned the tricks of mesmerism. He first employs them on his younger sister, then on some household staff, then upon his parents, and finally on a cast of friends and family. The final point which some readers will find excessively offensive involves a lecherous and perverse clergyman. [Though individuals offended by portrayals of depraved clergy probably don’t read many historic works of erotica because from at least “The Decameron” (AD 1351) onward a hypocritical and libidinous priest is par for the course in erotic scenes. As one can imagine, the Church and writers of erotica have not gotten along, historically.]

As is common in erotica that leans pornographic, story and character development are nearly non-existent in this work. It’s largely one sex scene after the other with the only internal logic being that they be more scandalous / decadent as they proceed.

Any recommendation must be qualified. If you can’t deal with sexual activity, this book is definitely not for you. But, furthermore, if any of the three types of content I mentioned above are non-starters for you, this also isn’t your book. If you read historic fiction and don’t mind the aforementioned content, you can find this book on Project Gutenberg and other public domain outlets on the web.

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BOOK REVIEW: Sins of the Cities of the Plain by Jack Saul

Sins of the Cities of the PlainSins of the Cities of the Plain by Jack Saul
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Project Gutenberg page

 

This is a short work of Victorian erotica that describes the sexual adventures of a male prostitute of the variety then called a “Mary-Ann.” The “Mary-Ann” was an effeminate male who — to a large extent, but not exclusively — serviced male clients. The story is presented in an epistolary form. It opens with a chapter that’s written as if by a john of the pseudonymous author / main character. This opening sets up the rest of the work by explaining how this john, a Mr. Cambon, came to use Jack Saul’s services, and – furthermore – how he then became involved in the publication of this story.

After the details of Mr. Cambon’s interaction with Jack Saul is presented, the book proceeds as if a diary conveying the saucy bits of Saul’s sex life (both professional and personal.) While Saul explains that he prefers engaging older male clients, the book presents a mix of homosexual and heterosexual activities (both in his work and in his personal relationships.)

There is some ancillary matter in the book. After Saul concludes [what is presented as] his personal story, he offers some second-hand accounts of individuals in the same line of work. Here one learns about the worst elements of these sex workers in the form of “George,” an anti-Semitic mary-ann who engages in blackmail and other heavy-handed and sociopathic tactics that – as far as we know – Jack Saul doesn’t engage in. [Although, under the direction of a client, Saul does take part in some unsavory practices.]

There are also a couple of essays at the end, one on sodomy and another on tribadism. If you’re like I was, you have no idea what tribadism is. That brings up a point worth mentioning. If you decided to read this work, you may want to have a good dictionary near at hand. The slang and terminology of the sexual domain have not aged well, and you may find yourself needing to look up many words. (Though, admittedly, context often gives one a strong clue.)

If you’ve gotten this far, it should be clear that there is a great deal of explicit sexual content in this book. While readers of some modern-day erotica might not find it particularly racy, it’s graphic in its descriptions and does involve a wide range of practices.

This book shines a light on a domain of Victorian society that one will not learn about from Dickens or Austen. Like most pornography, it’s not particularly well-developed or artistically grand, but it’s intriguing in its own way.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Convent School by Rosa Coote

The Convent School: Early Experiences of a Young FlagellantThe Convent School: Early Experiences of a Young Flagellant by Rosa Coote
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This novella is a work of Victorian erotica. Given the Victorian era’s legendary hyper-moralism and widespread desire to downplay of sexuality, one might be forgiven for thinking of the term “Victorian erotica” in the same vein as “Medieval Electronics.” However, the psychology of interest revolves around the question of whether repression produces obsession, resulting in sex becoming more entangled with guilt and punishment than it is with love and romance. The Convent School tells the sexually-charged story of a girl / young woman / woman who receives a lot of spankings before, during, and after her time at the titular convent school — in the latter case, as an unfaithful married woman.

That brings us to mention the first of two [overlapping] groups of readers who are unlikely to find any appeal in this book, and who would be advised to steer clear of it. First of all, anyone with delicate sensibilities regarding sexual activities will likely find this work over the line. If you are expecting something like Bram Stoker’s Dracula that is sensual but in only a vaguely sexual sort of way, you’ll be in for a rude shock. This story is presented with a pornographic level of graphic detail. It holds nothing back and leaves little to the imagination. I should point out that the story gets more graphic as it progresses. So, for example, before the girl is sent to convent school, the main sexual activity goes on behind closed doors between the girl’s matron-like tutor and the girl’s father (or so the reader is led to believe,) with the girl’s solitary self-exploration forming the most graphic portion. However, by the time she is a married woman being punished for the transgression of infidelity the story reaches a brutal level of graphic detail.

The second group are those who are piously religious. In written tradition that predates the Victorian era, and which includes works like Boccaccio’s The Decameron and any work by the Marquis de Sade, the clergy are presented as libidinous and hypocritical. [At least, that’s how the clergy who feature in the story are portrayed. While it could be argued that they are exceptions to the rule, it might also be claimed that these authors are saying something about how the inability to engage in romantic sexuality will – rather than resulting in the desired asexuality – result in a perverse weaponization of sexual activity.]

As for who would read this book, beyond the obvious — those for whom sado-masochism and bondage / domination has great interest or appeal, the readership is a niche group with interests in history and / or psychology as it [they] overlap[s] literature. It’s fair to say that this is a work that might have been totally forgotten had it not been for the fact that Alan Moore revived the pseudonym and fictitious biography of the author of The Convent School for use in his graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a work that imagines a collection of Victorian era fictional characters (Allan Quatermain, Mina [Harker] Murray, Dr. Jekyll, and Captain Nemo) brought together as a team of heroes. Having said that it might have been completely forgotten from the annals of erotic literature, it is available on Project Gutenberg.

Normally, here I’d give a recommendation or anti-recommendation, but this whole review serves that function, so consider yourself forewarned / informed.

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