Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism by Deborah Lutz - review by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

Strange Rumblings in the Cannibal Club

Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism


W W Norton & Co 336pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

Pleasure Bound is organised around the lives and work of the most prominent members of two bohemian societies, the Aesthetes – which consisted of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his Pre-Raphaelite associates – and the Cannibal Club, a dining society founded by the explorer, sexologist and uber-male iconoclast Richard Burton. From these two bodies sprang, as Deborah Lutz puts it, ‘most of the sexually themed writing and painting … of the latter half of the nineteenth century’. The art of the Pre-Raphaelites gave us the eroticisation of death and melancholy and the blurring of genders, while the Cannibal Club, formed in 1863 as an offshoot of the Anthropological Society, brought together scientists, writers, intellectuals and pornographers – including Richard Monckton Milnes, previously a suitor to Florence Nightingale – to ‘encourage one another in personal and artistic investigations into the outer reaches of human sexuality’.

It is the collaborative nature of the work of these groups that interests Lutz. While sharing their houses, studios and women, the Aesthetes produced poems about one another’s paintings and paintings about one another’s poems, and the Cannibals – bound by their adulation of Burton – pooled their

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