Sexually Explicit Books Released Online By British Library

Some of the obscene writings date back to 1658.

british library explicit books
Detail from illustration in Harris’s Lists of Covent-Garden Ladies, held in the British Library ‘Private Case’ collection (British Library)

The British Library has kept a trove of sexually explicit books locked away for more than a century. Now, the “Private Case” of obscene writings is available online.

“Together with an 18th-century directory of sex workers in the Covent Garden area of London, and the violent erotic works of the Marquis de Sade, the Merryland books are among the 2,500 volumes in the British Library’s Private Case collection,” reports The Guardian. “The volumes have now been digitised, and are being made available online by the publisher Gale as part of its Archives of Sexuality and Gender academic research resource.”

Some sexy titles in the collection include Rare Veritis: the Cabinet of Venus Unlocked and Her Secrets Laid Open, Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (considered to be the first pornographic novel), My Secret Life and a 1899 novel about a Quaker woman’s erotic adventure.

“There was essentially a series of cupboards in the keeper’s room from the 1850s, where material that was deemed to be unsuitable was kept locked away – usually because of its obscene nature, so pretty much anything to do with sex,” Maddy Smith, the curator for printed collections at the British Library explained. “It was added to throughout the 19th century, and this carried on until around 1960, when attitudes to sexuality were changing.”

The collection has been available through the British Library’s rare books collection since the 1960s, but this is the first time the collection has been digitized and available online.

“It’s the final push to making them completely accessible,” Smith said.

Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal is a book attributed to author Oscar Wilde and features a gay relationship between a Hungarian pianist and a Frenchman.

Teleny is one of the earliest works of male gay erotic fiction in English and it was particularly shocking at the time.” Smith explained. “Nowadays we are more used to erotica, and fiction in general, including gay characters and storylines, but in the past this was pretty shocking.”

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