The British Library’s collection of ‘obscene writing’ will shortly be available to view online.
The ‘Private Case’ of sexually explicit books dating back to 1658 ranges from the hijinks of Roger Pheuquewell to pioneering gay porn in the 19th century, and will shortly be uploaded so that they will be available to be read by a wider audience, and not just those who request to look at them at the library (the collection has been available to the public through the British Library’s rare books collection since the 1960s).
Among the books going online are an 18th-century directory of sex workers in the Covent Garden area of London, copies of John Cleland’s 18th-century novel Fanny Hill (or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure), and Teleny (or The Reverse of the Medal). Teleny, for those who may be curious, tells of the tragic relationship between a young Frenchman and a Hungarian pianist, and authorship of the novel has been attributed to Oscar Wilde and members of his circle in the late 19th century.
In total there are over 2,500 volumes in the British Library’s Private Case collection, dating back as far as 1658! These 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.
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. It was added to throughout the 19th century, and this carried on until around 1960, when attitudes to sexuality were changing.
Maddy Smith, curator of printed collections.
At the Jane Austen News we thought that this digitisation news would be of interest to some of our readers due to its historic value as a glimpse into the past. It may not be for everyone though!