Do you like to read?
Silly question, I know. The last time I surveyed the people on my VIP email list, asking how many books they read per month, I had some people tell me 30 or more!
So, do you know about Project Gutenberg?
Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort that digitizes and distributes free ebooks, in English and other languages. You can read about its history here. Founded by author Michael S. Hart in 1971, it is the world’s oldest digital library. The goal of the project is to make public domain works, especially literary classics, available to as wide an audience as possible. Currently the project offers more than 60,000 titles. You can search by author or title, go see the recently added books, or use the categorized listing.
Search for “erotic” or “romance”. You’ll find hundreds if not thousands of titles. Gutenberg’s also a fabulous source for non-English ebooks in a wide range of languages.
Browsing the catalog can be great fun. You never know what gems you will discover. It’s also a great source for classic books you somehow never read. Although many of the books are older titles, in the public domain, some contemporary authors choose to make their work available through Gutenberg for personal or philosophical reasons. In fact my will specifies that all my titles should be donated to Gutenberg after I die. I don’t have anyone who’d be interested in managing my catalogue, and I really like the idea that (hopefully) for decades into the future, anyone who want can read my stories.
You can download books in many formats - not only PDF, EPUB and Kindle formats but in many cases, plain HTML and text versions as well. So you don’t need an ereader to take advantage of its riches.
Project Gutenberg is staffed by volunteers, but needs funds for computing resources, professional services and so on. So today, I’m running a Charity Sunday for the project. If you love reading, leave me a comment. I’ll donate two dollars to the project for each comment I receive.
Keeping to the bookish theme, my excerpt for today comes from Incognito, my taboo erotic romance which will be re-released tomorrow. Miranda Cahill, the heroine, is working on her Ph.D. in literature. Her thesis topic? Victorian erotica!
Just to sweeten the pot today, I’ll give away a copy of the newly-edited version of this novel to one of you who comments.
A knock on her office door brought Miranda back to the here and now. She had been lost, uncharacteristically, in the manuscript, a classic piece from the collection of the British Museum. There were no annotations, no commentary, on the photocopied pages. Her laptop, neglected, had turned itself off to save power. She sighed and shook her head as if to clear away the lascivious images.
“Come in,” she called, wondering who it could be. She often worked on Saturdays, precisely because the department was deserted and she could read and write undisturbed.
The grizzled head of Harold Scofield poked through the door. “Hello, Miranda. I am sorry to intrude, but I have someone to whom I would like to introduce you.” Miranda smiled to herself; her genial thesis advisor always sounded like a grammar textbook. The gray-bearded figure in suspenders bustled in, followed by an attractive young man in dark-framed eyeglasses.
“Miranda, I would like to present Mark Anderson, our new lecturer. Mark will be handling the Dickens course for the summer session.”
“Mark, this is Miranda Cahill, my most promising graduate student.” Miranda blushed, and Dr. Scofield’s eyes twinkled. “Miranda has chosen a rather controversial topic for her thesis, a new interpretation of the corpus of Victorian erotica.”
The newcomer’s polite smile expanded to a grin. “Really. That’s fascinating. Sounds far more—stimulating—than my dissertation on the metaphorical significance of orphans in Dickens and his contemporaries.”
Miranda’s blush deepened as she noted the double entendre. She met his teasing gaze, almost defiantly. “Yes, it is an intriguing topic, and I believe one of considerable literary and social significance, as well.” He had thick, dark hair, slightly tousled. His eyes behind the glasses were velvety brown with glints of gold. In his face, she saw intelligence, energy, and humor.
“Miranda has championed an unusual theory, that the explosion of sexually-oriented writing during the latter half of the nineteenth century was a reflection of actual practices, rather than a reaction against repressive public morals.” Her advisor appeared to be enjoying the role of agent provocateur. “She believes that the detailed accounts of sexual adventure and aberration published during the era chronicled real experiences, not merely fantasies.”
“Hmm.” Their bespectacled companion looked both amused and interested. “What evidence do you have to support this proposition?”
“Well, to begin with,” said Miranda, automatically adopting an academic tone, “a significant fraction of these writings are first person accounts. And a surprising number are related from a woman’s perspective. If this were primarily a literature of fantasy and titillation, I would expect a male point-of-view to dominate, as it does in modern pornography.” Miranda was encouraged to see that her audience listened attentively and gave due consideration to her points.
“Secondly, these tales are full of real-world details and commentary that would be superfluous and even distracting in fictional erotica. The protagonists discuss social issues such as poverty, child abuse, oppression of the lower classes, things that can only detract from a work intended as escapist fantasy. Even a hack pornographer knows better than to mention the unpleasant or the mundane, illegitimate pregnancies, unpaid bills, rising damp. Yet references to such items are common in the corpus.
“Finally, I find in many of these writings a thoughtfulness that conflicts with the conventions of the pornographic genre. The narrators are engaged in a wide variety of sexual activities, which are described in vivid and provocative detail. At the same time, in many cases, they reflect on their own desires and behaviors, sometimes justifying themselves in the face of the official morality, sometimes castigating themselves for weakness and sinfulness. Either way, there is a psychological depth that would be redundant in fictional erotica.”
“So, what you are saying,” interposed Mark with a grin, “is that a fictional character would simply go ahead and bugger his maid, whereas an individual writing a clandestine diary would spend some time and effort wondering why he wanted to bugger his maid, before he got around to actually doing it?”
“No, no, that’s not it at all!” Miranda, embarrassed and flustered, wondered if the new instructor had been reading her manuscript over her shoulder. Her eyes flashed. “You’re not willing to take me seriously, any more than the submission review committee for the Association for Modern Literature!”
“Now, Miranda,” soothed her advisor. “Mark was just teasing you.” Looking again at the attractive stranger, Miranda saw that Scofield was telling the truth.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.” Mark held out his hand like a peace offering. “I really am delighted to meet you. Your theory is unconventional and provocative, but who knows, it might actually be true.”
His skin was cool and dry, the pressure of his fingers firm and confident.
“Let me take you out for coffee, and you can tell me more about what your research has turned up thus far.” As he released her hand, he brushed his fingers lightly against her palm.
The secret, sensual gesture terrified her. Miranda found herself reacting as she so often did in the presence of a man who desired her. She felt herself tense, contract, her fears and uncertainties condensing into a dense, cold knot under her solar plexus. Her face was stiff and wooden as she tried to smile. “Thank you, but I can’t right now. I have an incredible amount of work to get done.”
“Diligent, industrious Miranda,” her advisor scolded her lightly. “You need to take more time for yourself. It is Saturday, after all.”
“Thanks, but I need to work harder. I need more evidence to support my theory. Deeper study, of a larger number of texts.”
“Please…” Mark began, disappointment plain in his voice. Then he saw clearly that she would not be swayed. “Well, maybe another time.” He smiled so warmly that the icy knot thawed slightly. “I’d definitely like to get to know you better, Miranda.”
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