Modern Erotica and the 19th Century Sensation Novel

It’s a tale as old as erotica: a girl sits down at a coffee shop and pulls out her e-reader because the cover of her steamy romance novels will be judged if she bought the physical book. In 2022 seven of the ten best-selling books were romance novels that contained erotic content. Adult romance and erotica are almost indistinguishable these days, for example the number one best-selling fiction book in 2022 It ends with us by colleen hoover contains several graphic sex scenes yet is labeled romance not erotica. Adult romance is the best-selling fiction genre of all time, yet despite the popularity of the genre, men and women still deal with romance reader shame. Why is this genre seen as trashy? Is it misogyny, classism, or something else?

Although the criticism of modern erotica may seem like a modern issue, this debate has been going on for centuries. It would be interesting to analyze the modern romance reader shame and its relationship to the criticisms of the 19th century sensation novel.

  • I do not think the unpopularity of Adult Romance can be directly attributed to misogyny, of all things. At best, there is an implicit connection there, and even that, I fail to see. If you think about it, a man reading a steamy romance novel with a suggestive title would be considered a creep if he did it in public--which is considerably worse than being judged trashy. The genre has a bad reputation because it is saturated with low-quality content. A lot of writers try to create erotic fiction. A lot of writers fail. If you compare erotica to historical novels, for example, you are significantly more likely to find tawdry content in the former category than in the latter, not to mention the fact that many people cringe at the believability and logic of most Adult Romance books. – Rahul 1 year ago
  • This is really intriguing topic. I'm trying to think of 19th century novels that I would classify as erotica. Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1929) comes to mind, but I haven't read it myself. I suppose Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded which is much older could work as well. But both of these novels are mainly a commentary on marriage and how sex can fit into it. I think maybe you could argue that erotica isn't considered literature because it seems like its only about the physical act and not the personal or cultural impact. – E. DeWitt 1 year ago

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