If little is known about the producers of Victorian pornography, even less is known about its readers. Who were the readers of Victorian pornography? Which books were the most distributed? How were they consumed? We begin to answer these questions by finding evidence of readership in the material cultural practices surrounding these books. When Henry Spencer Ashbee compiled his three-volume bibliography of erotic literature, he was not just enumerating books; he was also establishing a mode of consumption that filtered the “reading” from the original source material. When Charles Carrington wrote a book branding his pornographic productions, he also produced fan fiction inspired by the favourite titles in his list. When publishers designed the pages of their books, they not only aligned themselves with an underground print trade, they also designed the conditions of readership. In such cultural practices we find an archive of pornographic reading particular to the period. We also explore, through primary historical research, other channels of sexual information that informed Victorians about topics such as flagellation, incest, cross-dressing, and women’s physiology and conditioned their representation and reception in Victorian pornography.
How does pornography fit into an archive? Can pornography itself be an archive? The answers are, respectively: quite well, actually, and yes. Here’s why.
*Forbidden Books,* by an Old Bibliophile, is a catalogue of how one Victorian read the pornography of the time. This artifact will help readers today interpret and understand how this Old Bibliophile was both reader and fan writer.
Pornographic works in the nineteenth century were mostly published underground, and they functioned, necessarily, with readers’ anonymity. But is there a link between the books’ design and the reader’s subjective experience of the work? This artifact focuses on title pages of erotic works to explore what their design adds, or doesn’t, to the reader’s sexual experience.
– Viktoria Cseh
Historically the English have had a prudish reputation while the French are revered as a more sexual people. This artifact explores the truth and/or falsity of these beliefs in relation to the sexual acts enacted within the anonymous work, *The Story of a Dildoe.*
Incest is largely believed to be a practice that is unnatural and immoral. But how was incest understood in the Victorian period and how did Victorians encounter information about it? This artifact tries to answer this query by examining 19th-century periodicals and select scenes from Victorian pornography.
Although cross-dressing is a highly discussed topic today, where would Victorians have read about it? This artifact examines how newspaper reports and Victorian pornography depicted cross-dressing, and exposed the instability of gender relations at the time.