Victorian Unicorn Porn, Part I – The Unicorn Approaches

I'll preface this by saying that, while this is hilarious and ridiculous, it's also shockingly graphic for a Victorian text. I will try to be as delicate as I can and focus on the humorous side, but it's still NSFW, NC-17, rated 18, whatever rating system you have for adults.

The text I read was Aubrey Beardsley's Under the Hill (written between 1896-1898), which is a retelling of the medieval German legend Tannhäuser. I called it a fantasy-fiction erotic novella, but really it is just an unfinished novel that Beardsley died before completing. I'm kind of glad about that, because I don't think I could have handled much more of it. I laughed myself sick in the hour it took me to read it. The original text is here, if you fancy checking it out yourself.

A quick note on Beardsley: he was an English writer and illustrator who ran with Oscar Wilde's crowd. He was very foppish, liked to challenge the Victorian establishment, and was chronically sick, dying from tuberculosis at 25. His sexuality is a matter of debate–some think he was a homosexual, some think he was asexual, and some believe he impregnated his sister. There have got to be better ways of following in Byron's footsteps, but what do I know?

Okay, here's the story–and I apologize in advance, but the unicorn sex scene is in the second half, which I will tell tomorrow. Trust me, you'll have enough to deal with today:

It opens with a long dedication to Cardinal Giulio Poldo Pezzoli. That's right–this story of "all sex, all the time" is dedicated to a priest. Beardsley converted to Catholicism late in life, so I guess this is the highest compliment he can give the Church? I don't know. After he slobbers all over the Cardinal for a while, he gets to the story.

Tannhäuser is riding up to Venusburg, home of the Goddess Venus (because Greek goddesses who run around naked prefer that balmy German weather to frigid Greece or something). He's all nervous about how he looks and is being SUPER prissy about his perfect little clothes and his perfect golden curls, and how is it possible that I hate this character already? Also, there genital imagery EVERYWHERE. You have your giant phallic pillars and your vaginal blooming flowers, and I'm like, "GOOD LORD, I GET IT. ENOUGH ALREADY." So then he rides into the city.

Meanwhile, Venus is in her room. Her hair is being curled by her servants, and it. Is. Sexy. This is the sexiest hair curling that has ever happened in the history of ever. Even her servants "stand amorously about". Whatever that means. I think it means no one has any pants on.

So she's getting ready to get dressed in her sumptuous gown "of yellow and yellow" (. . . What? Couldn't he think of two shades of yellow?) and her favorite servant, Priapusa, comes rushing in. Priapusa is hideously ugly. Not really sure what relevance this has, but by God, Beardsley makes sure we know it. So Priapusa is all, "My lady, Tannhäuser is in the city, getting pelted by our populace with roses. He started smooching the God of All Gardens, and now he's at the baths "making a favorable impression" (I BET HE IS).

Venus is like, "WOO! Let's finish getting dressed." So she chooses what shoes she wants to wear and, according to the nightly ritual or something, after she has chosen her shoes, her servant is allowed to take a different shoe and wear it on his penis. (The text says, "As the tray was being carried away, the capricious Florizel snatched as usual a slipper from it, and fitted the foot over his penis . . . That was Florizel’s little caprice.")

Venus is like, "Wow, my shoes look so amazing that I don't think I'm going to actually get clothed tonight. Just stockings and shoes at dinner, what do you all think?" And what the sevants think is that it's time to make out with her legs. So Venus just kind of stands around, indifferent, while her servants mack on her knees and stuff, and then the dinner bell rings and she's like, "I'm hungry!" and walks off, presumably naked.

The next chapter sees her and Tannhäuser at dinner with her court. They are surrounded by "4,000" phallic candles and a bajillion vaginal shell-shaped vases, and at this point in the story I stop even noticing Victorian genital imagery.

Guys, this is a weird dinner party. Venus is naked, and Tannhäuser is naked under his bathrobe, and "Some of the women had put on delightful little moustaches dyed in purples and bright greens", and the couches they're sitting on had "little amorous surprise packets" on them (I have no idea what that means . . . I hope the packets are full of condoms, because it has got to be an STD-palooza up in this hizzy).

After dinner, everyone starts drinking and gossipping, which rapidly turns into an orgy. As you do. I'm fairly certain Tannhäuser gets date raped by some chick named Julia, who we've never heard of before and never hear of again. Venus starts biting Tannhäuser (I assume Julia's gone away at this point, but it's a orgy: anything is possible), and then sex happens. In the middle of their coitus, Priapusa, Venus's hideous servant, comes up and starts tickling them. I'm sitting here thinking "That is really not the time to tickle people, Priapusa," but I guess they're fine with it because they all make out. 'Kay.

So when the orgy starts to lull, some actors put on a . . . play? Opera? Ballet? Some kind of performance. Then I start freaking out, because there are children in this play and I'm like, "Children shouldn't really be here, but I guess if the orgy's over and they're on stage, separated from the debauchery . . ." ONLY THEN UNCOMFORTABLE THINGS START ON STAGE. The lead character in the play remembers how  he "was so fond of children. Scarcely had he caught one by the thigh than a quick rush was made by everybody for the succulent limbs; and how they tousled them and mousled them! The children cried out, I can tell you. Of course there were not enough for everybody, so some had to share, and some had simply to go on with what they were doing before."

AND I AM UNCOMFORTABLE. I'm not sure if something sexual is happening here or not, because the children leave and THEN the proper orgy starts on stage, but during this I was like, "NOOOOOO! Think of the children! No–wait–don't think of the children! Think only of consenting adults!"

The play/orgy ends, and Venus and Tannhäuser go back to her room for more sex. Afterwards, Tanhauser wishes he had the stamina to go again, but he's relieved when, instead, Venus's servants bounce into the room and kidnap her, or something, so she can have sex with their crew.

Then everyone goes to sleep.

Part two tomorrow.

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3 Responses to Victorian Unicorn Porn, Part I – The Unicorn Approaches

  1. leia131 says:

    Priapusa has to be based on Priapus, right? The guy who’s often depicted as a penis with legs? It only makes sense (as much as anything in this crack show makes sense).

    Also, I can’t decide if that sounds like they’re sexing the children or eating the children, and I don’t honestly know which one is worse. Either way, NOT OK.

    Like

    • I have never heard of Priapus. Great. The last thing this book needed was more implied penises.

      Also, I think the ambiguity about what’s going on with the kids is the worst part. Because I’m unsure about what’s actually happening, I keep thinking about it . . . wondering. If I had to go with my gut, I would say that they are just tossing the kids around in some sort of weird foreplay, even though nothing directly sexual happens with the children. But, again, I can’t be sure.

      I only guess this because he tends to be really direct about sex, when it happens, and is most definitely not afraid to ‘go there’. There are a couple of passages I will have to really gloss over tomorrow because it actually squicked me out to read them.

      Like

      • leia131 says:

        Ugh. Just, ugh.

        I only know about Priapus because in Spring Awakening (the non-musical) that’s where Elsa lives with the artists: At the Priapus Club. And since I had researched all the references and stuff in Gary’s scenes, when Emily asked me what that meant, I Googled it for her. Greek fertility god with a giant penis, except for when he himself IS the giant penis.

        *the more you know*

        Like

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