Banned Books: The Origins of 50 Shades

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on July 23, 2013 in Guest Writers |

To many of us, the erotic thrill of 50 Shades of Grey, and its subsequent sales explosion and fervent media coverage, may seem a little bit controversial. However, this best-selling page turner is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shocking, titillating and entertaining adult fiction. It seems that throughout history our prim and proper sensibilities have been thoroughly upturned by controversial, ground-breaking literature. Here are just a selection of some of history’s most outrageous reads:

John Cleland – Fanny Hill (1748)

Written in debtor’s prison, Cleland was then re-arrested for obscenity once the book reached the public. Told in the form of letters by Fanny to an unknown recipient, the book only charters her life from ages 15 to 18 but tells of myriad sexual experiences she had within that time, including prostitution, mutual masturbation, voyeurism, whipping and anal sex. It has been considered to be the first erotic novel in the English Language and had to be smuggled across borders to be read. The ban in America was finally released in 1973.

Marquis de Sade – Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795)

The Marquis de Sade, from which the term ‘sadism’ has been coined, wrote a number of erotic novels with a largely sadistic element throughout his life, much of which was spent in prison for sodomy and other sexual crimes of the time in France. Philosophy is one of the most cohesive, though it deviates to become more of an extended metaphor on society and politics at times. Like Fanny Hill, the focus is on a 15-year old female protagonist, Eugénie, who has no understanding of sex until she is taught practically by a number of different subjects and the author himself even asks his readers to model themselves on one of the characters. It’s not a pleasant read, with horrifying chapters including rape, incest, torture and even matricide, but it has shaped the way sex and sexuality is analysed today and invented the culture of BDSM.

D H Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928)

Lawrence successfully wrote a book so controversial that its subsequent publication and trial was so famous that it was also turned into a film. The story of a woman who has an affair with her disabled husband’s groundskeeper examined the class divide and, like the Marquis de Sade, encouraged sex for pleasure rather than purely as part of marriage. Due to its subject matter and use of swearing, for it to reach the public it was abridged and re-written several times. The ban was finally fully lifted in 1963 when Penguin managed to win the right to publish the work as it was intended. The uncensored version has won favour from the public and critics alike for being a frank, painfully-honest rendition of love and need in an extremely repressed and hierarchical society. A BBC adaptation of the story (albeit a little cautious) starring Sean Bean in 1993 did little to stop its red-hot status. Fingers crossed for a new feature length film soon.


William Slater is an adult author and writer for Secret Passion – providing the UK’s largest selection of sex toys at affordable prices.

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1 Comment

  • Mr. Slater, La philosophie dans le boudoir was banned essentially because of the chapter titled “Français, encore un effort si vous voulez être républicains”, a manifesto in which de Sade argues forcefully:
    1- Against the establishment of a State religion in the new French Republic.
    2- For full equality, political, legal, social, and sexual, for women.
    3- Against the death penalty for any crime.
    4- For natural morality (including sexual) as each individual decides it and without any kind of State intervention in private lives.

    Those are the reasons the book was banned, not its (fastidious) sexual content which was nothing new or even rare in the libertine culture.

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