By Lisabet Sarai
When I checked our topic for the next two weeks – Erotica Revisited – I knew immediately what book I wanted to discuss. I went to the bookshelves, confident I'd seen the volume there, remembering the many times I'd pulled it out to read a favorite passage or two and set my pulse racing. However, the slim paperback with the powder-blue spine (I remembered the blue, quite distinctly) was nowhere to be found.
Momentarily disturbed, I then recalled that we'd stripped most of the salacious volumes off our shelves when we'd moved to our current apartment, concerned that they might cause us trouble in this morally conservative country. There were boxes, locked in the storage room – I hastened to exhume the two most likely containers and searched for the warmly remembered Victorian (or perhaps pseudo-Victorian) work.
A sort of panic engulfed me. Periodically we go through purges in an attempt to lighten our material load. Had I recklessly discarded my copy of Laura during one of these orgies of self-discipline? If so, could I find another copy? I searched Amazon and Wikipedia for any reference to the title, without success. I was almost ready to accept that this treasure from the period of my awakening as a submissive was forever lost.
Perhaps I should write about some other title, I mused, but my somewhat foggy recollections of Laura continued to nag at my mind. I mentally reviewed the other naughty books I'd seen in the boxes, some of them no more than curiosities, few as close to my heart. Would I really have rid myself of Laura while keeping those other volumes? When I returned for a second, dusty search, my diligence was rewarded. I found the book hidden under some erotic comics at the very bottom of the box, along with my equally ancient and well-thumbed copy of The Story of O.
I felt as though I'd been reunited a long-lost friend.
So why did this book have such a hold on me? I can't remember when or where I acquired it. The publication date is 1983, the publisher Grove Press – ancestor of Blue Moon Books who released a number of my own works. The book purports to be an unpublished erotic memoir from the Victorian period, according to the (likely fictional) preface by one Claire Matthieson, D. Litt. Edinburgh. (who, at least according to Google, does not seem to exist). Two reviews on Amazon suggests that the book was actually written by someone named Patrick Hendon. However, Amazon lists the author as Professor James Jennings.
Anyway, this hardly matters. Although penned in archaic style and sharing a vocabulary of bonnets, drawers and garters, Laura has little in common with other Victorian erotica I've read – The Pearl, Secret Talents, My Secret Life and the ilk. Instead of the bawdy physicality typical of the period, Laura offers a surrealistic, interior-focused journey through the excesses of the flesh. The young heroine of the title drifts from one disjointed carnal experience to another, at the hands of individuals whom she may or may not know, in strange houses of which she has fleeting memories. She has been trained to submit – indeed, it seems that her entire family has conspired to make her a willing whore. Despite the indignities to which she is subjected, Laura walks proudly among those who use and abuse her. She knows that she is special, gifted with the profound ability to arouse and then to accept the consequences.
“Do not sway your hips, girl,” I am told. What a nonsense is this. I am the lure, the catch, the key, the lock. My arms bind as seaweed binds, as grass curls around the cutter after rain. Come now, here now, kiss.
Laura may or may not be imagining the events in which she participates. She may well be mad. I love that suggestion – in some sense this would be more transgressive, if it were true that her fevered brain has spun such lush and lustful scenes.
I think, though, that the core of this book's appeal for me lies in Laura's awareness of how her submissive nature sets her apart. I've known this weird, twisted pride myself – the sense that I can and will endure whatever my Master inflicts and the knowledge of how this makes him value me.
This is a book about secrets and revelations. In the first chapter, Laura's father calls her to his study, shuts the curtains, reveals her role.
The question mark had slipped, slipped from his voice. It had hidden at our feet, a small black twist of sound between my toes. My silence was a tunnel in which secrets flowed. I knew the dryness and the summer heat, the far faint sounds beyond, voices floating, passing the house like small clouds urgent in their going.
I knew. I felt the cold, the warmth. The shadows deepened and the door was closed. Could I be saved? The people would be hushed, the eyes would watch, the woods be searched. Iron railings rusting in the grass would be turned over for the footprints that might lie beneath.
“In the second left hand drawer of the desk, Laura, there is a strap. You will hand it to me.”
Through a mountain of stillness moving I moved. The drawer squeaked faintly as if surprised that it was I. Only a strap lay within, brown-coiled and smooth, a serpent in its waiting. Its surface was subtle, smooth. My hand trembled not. In my handing it to his hand my hand was steady.
Upon his word the desk received me. The leather stung, burnished my burning. In Perdition there is only the receiving. I yielded, fell far faint, received. Forlorn, the furniture would not look. The inkstand stood busy in its inkness, uncaring of my cries in my undoing.
On the other hand, this might not be the beginning of the tale. The narrative shifts like summer clouds, coalesces into islands of clarity and then scatters into confusion. This is a tale about time and memory as much as about desire – about the malleability of all three.
How long has it been since I've sampled a bit from Laura? At least three years, since that was when we moved in here, but perhaps longer. No matter. The passage above still has the power to arouse and move me.
I guess my tastes are pretty idiosyncratic. The two reviews of Laura on Amazon both gave the book a single star, the reviewers decrying the very mystery that I find so alluring. Ah well. Different strokes, as the saying goes.
Anyway, I think I've spent too long away from this old treasure. Now that I've rediscovered Laura, it's going onto my TBR pile, to be savored once more from beginning to end.