James Joyce: letters--new for 6/30

Robert Herrick: To Anthea

William Shakespeare: Sonnets 57 and 58

Literary Kink

As someone whose interests in art and sex are equally intense, I've always been intrigued by images of sadomasochistic and fetishistic sex in literary works.

On the whole, scholars have tidily tiptoed around some of the more sexually bizarre images which grace the pages of many great books. Often they choose either to interpret the text as metaphor only, or will sidestep the issue altogether by shrugging off such passages as bizarre and insignificant detours.

For obvious reasons, I see it differently. From a sexological perspective, it's precisely these detours which fascinate me. From a literary one, I think that whenever writers commit words to paper, it is a self-conscious process. Writers can't help choosing their words, metaphors and subjects carefully, whether writing for one or one million readers. Indeed, some writers' finest and bravest literary performances are in their diaries, letters, and private notebooks.

On this page, I've pulled together an assortment of citations from various literary gods. Whether or not these artists actually engaged in SM or fetish acts is unknown. But by putting their extreme ideas and erotic fantasies into words, they have created a valuable and true picture of human sexual diversity.




The following two sonnets are somewhat notorious for their sadomasochistic imagery. In these poems, Shakespeare expresses a universal truth about the power dynamic in intense love relationships. (And, of course, what could be more intense than the love a submissive feels for his or her dominant?)

While it's unlikely Shakespeare had the leather scene in mind when he wrote these, certainly he embraces the role of being the obedient love slave of a cruel, mysterious individual.

Sonnet 57

Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end-hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu.
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save where you are how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

Sonnet 58

That god forbid that made me first your slave
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand th'account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal bound to stay your leisure.
O, let me suffer, being at your beck,
Th'imprisoned absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list; your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong.
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.


The following poem was composed by 17th century English poet, Robert Herrick, and addressed to the mysterious Anthea, to whom he pledges his life. It is a simple poem and a very romantic one.


A Poem of Devotion by Robert Herrick
Command Him Anything

Bid me live, and I will live
Thy protestant* to be;
Or bid me love, and I will give
A loving heart to thee.

A heart as soft, a heart as kind,
A heart as sound and free
As in the whole world thou canst find,
That heart I'll give to thee.

Bid that heart stay, and it will stay
To honor thy decree;
Or bid it languish quite away,
And 't shall do so for thee.

Bid me to weep, and I will weep
While I have eyes to see;
And having none, yet I will keep
A heart to weep for thee.

Bid me despair, and I'll despair
Under that cypress tree;
Or bid me die, and I will dare
Even death, to die for thee.

Thou art my life, my love, my heart,
The very eyes of me;
And hast command of every part,
To live and die for thee.

* as used here, protestant means defender or disciple (not the religious denomination).

JAMES JOYCE: Selected Letters

In 1975, eminent scholar and biographer Richard Ellman published a thick volume of the selected correspondence of James Joyce. For the first time, several previously suppressed letters which Joyce had written to his wife, Nora (Barnacle) Joyce, appeared.

This group of letters was composed during an extended stay abroad which Joyce took early in their marriage. Joyce (and apparently Nora, whose letters were lost but whose content Joyce occasionally described) freely and explicitly confessed their sexual fantasies. The letters make clear that the Joyces used them as masturbatory aids while they were apart.

Ellman shrewdly anticipated the scholarly scandal that would result from opening so private a part of Joyce's life to public scrutiny. In his introduction, Ellman wrote that, "This correspondence commands respect for its intensity and candour, and for its fulfillment of Joyce's avowed determination to express his whole mind."

Whether it was his whole mind or his whole libido will be for you to judge. What is particularly interesting, however, is that despite the explicit SM, watersports, and fetish content of Joyce's love-letters, I am unaware of any scholar or biography who has delved into this area of the great Irishman's life...much less examined what roles these sexual drives played in his art. (If you are aware of such study, please drop me a line.)

Here are a few brief excerpts from this group of letters.

JAMES JOYCE: excerpts from private letters

"Darling, do not be offended at what I wrote. You thank me for the beautiful name I gave you. Yes, dear, it is a nice name. 'My beautiful wild flower of the hedges! My dark-blue, rain- drenched flower!' You see I am a little of a poet still. I am giving you a lovely book for a present too: and it is a poet's present for the woman he loves. But, side by side and inside this spiritual love I have for you there is also a wild beast-like craving for every inch of your body, for every secret and shameful part of it, for every odour and act of it. My love for you allows me to pray to the spirit of eternal beauty and tenderness mirrored in your eyes or to fling you down under me on that soft belly of yours and fuck you up behind, like a hog riding a sow, glorying in the very stink and sweat that rises from your arse, glorying in the open shame of your upturned dress and white girlish drawers and in the confusion of your flushed cheeks and tangled hair. It allows me to burst into tears of pity and love at some slight word, to tremble with love for you at the sounding of some chord or cadence of music or to lie heads and tails with you feeling your fingers fondling and tickling my ballocks or stuck up in me behind and your hot lips sucking off my cock while my head is wedged in between your fat thighs, my hands clutching the round cushions of your bum and my tongue licking ravenously up your rank red cunt. I have taught you almost to swoon at the hearing of my voice singing or murmuring to your soul the passion and sorrow and mystery of life and at the same time have taught you to make filthy signs to me with your lips and tongue, to provoke me by obscene touches and noises, and to do in my presence the most shameful and filthy act of the body. You remember the day you pulled up your clothes and let me lie under you looking up at you while you did it? Then you were ashamed even to meet my eyes."

    From letter dated 2 December 1909

"I would like you to wear drawers with three or four frills one over the other at the knees and up the thighs and great crimson bows in them, I meant not schoolgirls' drawers with a thin shabby lace border, tight round the legs and so thin that the flesh shows between them but women's (or if you prefer the word) ladies' drawers with a full loose bottom and wide legs, all frills and lace and ribbons, and heavy with perfume so that whenever you show them, whether in pulling up your clothes hastily to do something or in cuddling yourself up prettily to be blocked, I can see only a swelling mass of white stuff and frills and so that when I bend down over you to open them and give you a burning lustful kiss on your naughty bare bum I can smell the perfume of your drawers as well as the warm odour of your cunt and the heavy smell of your behinds."

    From letter dated 6 December 1909

"Punish me as much as you like. I would be delighted to feel my flesh tingling under your hand. Do you know what I mean, Nora dear? I wish you would smack me or flog me even. Not in play, dear, in earnest and on my naked flesh. I wish you were strong, strong, dear, and had a big full proud bosom and big fat thighs. I would love to be whipped by you, Nora love! I would love to have done something to displease you, something trivial even, perhaps one of my rather dirty habits that make you laugh: and then to hear you call me into your room and then to find you sitting in an armchair with your fat thighs far apart and your face deep red with anger and a cane in your hand. To see you point to what I had done and then with a movement of rage pull me towards you and throw me face downwards across your lap. Then to feel your hands tearing down my trousers and inside clothes and turning up my shirt, to be struggling in your strong arms and in your lap, to feel you bending down (like an angry nurse whipping a child's bottom) until your big full bubbies almost touched me to feel you flog, flog, flog me viciously on my naked quivering flesh!!"

  From letter fragment dated ?13 December 1909




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