Dirty Books of the 1850s

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

While researching the first chapter of my book, which is basically a broad look at policing from the colonial era up through about the early 1960s, I found the fascinating (or I guess fascinating-sounding—I haven’t yet read it) book, Licentious Gotham: Erotic Publishing and Its Prosecution in Nineteenth-Century New York.

While flipping through the index, I found a fun appendix of book titles that were named in New York City obscenity indictments between 1840 and 1860. It’s like browsing an adult bookshop in Victorian America. A few of my favorites:

The Amorous History and Adventures of Raymond DeB—and Father Andoullard, Detailing Some Curious Histories and Disclosing the Pastimes of a Convent, With Some Remarks on the Use and Advantages of Flagellation

The Auto-Biography of a Footman

The Cabinet of Venus Unlocked in a Series of Dialogues between Louisa Lovestone and Mariana Greedy, Two Cyprians! of the Most Accomplished Talent in the Science of Practical Love

The Confessions of a Voluptuous Young Woman of High Rank

The Curtain Drawn Up; or, the Education of Laura

The Life and Adventures of Silas Shovewell

The Lustful Turk

Wedding Secrets Revealed by the Torch of Hymen

Memoirs of the Life and Voluptuous Adventures of the Celebrated Courtesan Madamoiselle Celestine of Paris Written by Herself

The Secret Habits of the Female Sex

Wonderful as these are, part of me was hoping for some dirty puns on Victorian novels. Maybe Moby’s Dick. Or Scarlet Let Her. Tail in Two Cities. The House of Girth. Great Expectorations.

I’ll stop now.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

24 Responses to “Dirty Books of the 1850s”

  1. #1 |  Doubleu | 

    I am not finding any of the books available on the Project Gutenberg site. http://www.gutenberg.org/

  2. #2 |  Red_anonymous | 

    I should get in the habit of commenting when i like the post and not only when i disagree. The puns are hilarious :D

  3. #3 |  Other Sean | 

    Check for non-fiction. Maybe you’ll find “An Immodest Proposal”, “The Influence of She Power in History”, or “The Origin of Species By Means of…Oh Yeah”.

  4. #4 |  Walt | 

    The Lustful Turk was actually made into a movie, starring the fabulous Abbe Rentz:


  5. #5 |  PeeDub | 

    “Silas Shovewell”: that’s 19th century porn name gold right there!

  6. #6 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 


    Partly an account of NYPD sexually assaulting women protesters at OWS, to set up male protestors to be accused of attacking the police, and also police injuring helpless people, but also a claim that the police only supported the rule of law in the US from about 1950 to 1980.

  7. #7 |  dmoynihan | 

    Heh, book pr0n didn’t really get going in this country until Chicago came along. But there were no paperbacks back then, so the business was rather upscale. I have Turk, Venus and Curtain Drawn Up on my site, but if ya really need the other stuff, you can find of them, I suspect, on microfilm at the UK library just up the road from Nashville (and nowhere else in the country, save perhaps for Aurora, CO).

    Sadly, I’d bet you that most of those titles censored for erotic content have almost nothing to get worked up about.

  8. #8 |  Other Sean | 

    Nancy #6,

    I thought those porn titles were hilariously retro, until I read Brad Hicks’ quaint Marxian analysis of the police state. He stills speaks in terms of “land owners and employers”. And using those potent tools of analysis, he’s got the Reagan years all figured out:

    “A big part of what the 1980 election was about was an all-out revolt by everybody in America who owns even a tiny bit of land, or who employs even a couple of people, against those court rulings [Mapp, Miranda, etc].”

  9. #9 |  JLA | 

    “Wonderful as these are, part of me was hoping for some dirty puns on Victorian novels. Maybe Moby’s Dick. Or Scarlet Let Her. Tail in Two Cities. The House of Girth. Great Expectorations.

    I’ll stop now.”

    Oh, please, a couple more: David Copt a Feel, Oliver Twisted It

  10. #10 |  PeeDub | 

    Jane Areola

  11. #11 |  drewby | 

    PeeDub’s “Jane Areola” is awesome!

    How about:
    War and the Piece
    Huckleberry’s Finn
    Givin’ Head Wilson

    A few don’t need any modification at all:
    Aaron’s Rod
    Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    The Man Who Corrupted Haddliburg

  12. #12 |  Barnes | 

    This Most Certainly Is Not Moby Dick!: A Stimulating Burlesque

  13. #13 |  Windypundit | 

    You’re doing RESEARCH??? God, no wonder you’re still on the first chapter!

    Hint: Whatever else she’s done for a living, Maggie McNeill is also a trained research librarian. If anyone can find obscure Victorian-era American porn, it’s going to be Maggie, and she seems to have trouble saying “no” to libertarian gentlemen who ask nicely.

  14. #14 |  Marty | 

    what, no ‘2 Princesses and a Chalice’?

  15. #15 |  CK | 

    I was going to read Great Expectorations … but while many man smoke; few man chew

  16. #16 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    Several of these are translations from French or were inspired by similar books in that language. (Translators were unusually creative when they worked on erotica, often adding whole new sections or deleting stuff they didn’t like.)

    If you read French, you can find “The Curtain Drawn Up; or, the Education of Laura” online here:


    I don’t know how it compares to the English version, but you might find Robert Darnton’s _The Forgotten Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France_ an interesting read. It’s about “philosophical” books in the 18th century, which included everything from Voltaire and Rousseau to pornography. More or less a synonym for “illegal” books, then.

  17. #17 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    And how could I forget? The book’s author was a noted physiocrat economist and French Revolutionary:


    This is why the eighteenth century is the best century ever.

  18. #18 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    Cunning Linguists of France and England

    Foreignication: My Travels to Europe

    And the Shakespearian classic… A Sale of Two Titties

  19. #19 |  Aresen | 

    Tom Saw Her
    Dear Stalker
    Billy’s Budd

    And some titles that need not be changed:
    Leaves of Grass
    Black Beauty

  20. #20 |  Pete Cofer | 

    Another 1850’s classic, with a title that need not be changed …

    Westward Ho!

  21. #21 |  tariqata | 

    I am hilariously and horribly reminded of my first-year English TA, who claimed that she was writing her dissertation on 18th and 19th century Canadian erotic fiction about nuns.

  22. #22 |  Andrew Roth | 

    If the Virginian outdoor scenes of “NCIS” can be filmed in Santa Clarita (LMFAO; then again, I’ve lived on both coasts, and I’m the kind of botany nerd who immediately notices that the oaks are all wrong), then “The Life and Adventures of Silas Shovewell” can be authentically filmed in Van Nuys. Or Simi Valley. Or, if current legislative trends hold, Las Vegas.

    Lubbock might work, too. The very presence of a porn crew in Lubbock will lower the local incidence of STI’s. Thanks to “I’m worth waiting for” curricula, Panhandle kids don’t use protection, and public health statistics show it. If nothing else, Lubbock is a place name amenable to innuendo, and it isn’t the only place in Texas whose name might inspire the screenwriters.

  23. #23 |  Alex | 

    “With Some Remarks on the Use and Advantages of Flagellation”

    I can’t get over how clever this is. “With some remarks on the use and advantages of” is *such* a 19th Century addendum to a title–and then the word “flagellation” comes after it! Both the meaning and the sound of that word are just perfect there. Absolutely hilarious.

  24. #24 |  how | 

    GREAT album title:
    “The Science of Practical Love”

    Band name:
    “The Torch of Hymen”