“Clitoris” in Victorian – or Edwardian – literature?

in the 1980s Grove Press published what they said were volumes two and three of “A Man with a Maid”. They claimed that all three volumes were written in the late Victorian age, or perhaps early Edwardian in the case of the last two volumes.

I think Volume 1 really is an Edwardian bdsm classic, but I suspect that the second and third volumes are modern fakes, written for Grove Press by some anonymous forger.

If it is a modern(ish) pastiche, it’s a good one. It feels more authentically in period than the book “Beatrice” did. “Beatrice” was published as a long out-of-print piece of Edwardian porn, but turned out to be written by a guy who wrote for Penthouse. It’s not a bad hoax, or a bad book, but I was never convinced that it was Edwardian, or written by a woman.

But the supposed second and third volumes of “A Man and a Maid” feel reasonably credible as Edwardian writing, to me. Or they did until a sequence in Volume 3 in which the hero, the redoubtable “Jack”, is buggering some freshly tawsed and obedient girl, keeping her happy by stroking her “clitoris”. 

The word “clitoris” did exist at the time, but it was a medical term. If a porn writer wanted to mention a clitoris, he’d write “her little bud”, or some other indirect phrase, letting context do the rest.

I don’t know of any other instance of the word “clitoris” popping up in an erotic scene, until the 1970s.  

“Clitoris” probably escaped the medical textbooks and got into pop culture through the Masters and Johnson books on human sexual response, big sellers in the 1970s. Writers felt they should mention clitorises in sex scenes, to show they were up to date, but they were still a bit awkward with it. For example, there’s a scene in some pulp thriller from the early 1970s in which the hero plays the heroine’s body like a beautifully tuned violin, as chaps in books tended to do in those days, before he triumphantly “entered her clitoris”. Yeow! 

So: it is likely that we’d find an accurate and casual reference to a “clitoris” in Edwardian erotic fiction? Probably not. So volumes 2 and 3 of “A Man with a Maid”, published by Grove Press, are forgeries.

I could be wrong. Does anyone know of any examples of the word “clitoris” appearing in fiction written before, say, 1970? 

2 thoughts on ““Clitoris” in Victorian – or Edwardian – literature?

  1. I can’t answer your question – however, fact is, it is an extremely ugly-sounding word for an interesting and very important body-part. Come to think of it (said the actress to the bishop) vagina and penis are also ugly-sounding words. Why could they not have come up – ahem – with something more palatable? A word that rolls off the tongue; that sounds delicious and sexy and inviting? I wonder if they are ugly words in all languages?

    • Well, in Lithuanian, clitoris is “varputė”, which I like. Penis is “varpa”, and vagina is “makštis”. Those aren’t quite so good. More random research will follow.

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