Hot And Heavy In The 17th Century

by Dish Staff

Hal Gladfelder traces the history of outrage over porn:

The brave new world of “sexting” and content-sharing apps may have fueled anxieties about the apparent sexualization of popularJustine_ou_les_Malheurs_de_la_vertu_(ménage_à_trois_2)culture, and especially of young people, but these anxieties are anything but new; they may, in fact, be as old as culture itself. At the very least, they go back to a period when new print technologies and rising literacy rates first put sexual representations within reach of a wide popular audience in England and elsewhere in Western Europe: the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Most readers did not leave diaries, but [English diarist Samuel] Pepys was probably typical in the mixture of shame and excitement he felt when erotic works like L’École des filles began to appear in London bookshops from the 1680s on. Yet as long as such works could only be found in the original French or Italian, British censors took little interest in them, for their readership was limited to a linguistic elite. It was only when translation made such texts available to less privileged readers – women, tradesmen, apprentices, servants – that the agents of the law came to view them as a threat to what the Attorney General, Sir Philip Yorke, in an important 1728 obscenity trial, called the “public order which is morality.”

(Illustration from the Marquis de Sade’s Justine [1791] via Wikimedia Commons)