Friday, October 16, 2009

The Alternative to History

by Helen E. H. Madden

Let me give you a little history on my relationship with history. It all started with my parents. As far back as I can remember, our house was filled with books, many of them historical works. My dad was a history major and a career military officer. He devoured books on every war ever fought on this planet. He also had a passion for anything Irish. Being a historian, Dad had traced his family tree all the way back to Connacht during the great potato famine, and found it full of colorful characters who did some of the most amazing things. He committed their lives to memory, both his and mine, so to say I have a sense of my family's place in history would be an understatement. I can recount tales from my patrilineal heritage the way some folks recite American fables of Paul Bunyan and John Henry.

My mother also had a taste for the historical. She loved to read classic fiction - Louisa Mae Alcott, Gene Stratton Porter, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and so forth (all of whom wrote contemporary fiction for their time, but today their works offer a delightful peek into the past). To make sure I was reading, Mom always passed these books on to me and then quizzed me about them a week or so later. Nowadays she sends me books by more current authors, but the stories are still set in the past - turn of the century Egypt as realized by Elizabeth Peters; medieval monasteries brought to life by Ellis Peters; and Queen Elizabeth's court as depicted by Phillipa Gregory. Half of my library must come from Mom. The other half is from Dad. He loves historical fiction too, especially murder mysteries, and often calls to complain about the fact that someone (i.e. me or my mother) has once again made off with a book he just bought, and would I happen to have his copy of the latest Lindsey Davis and Steven Saylor murder mystery lying around the house?

I suppose at this point I should also mention that I grew up in southeastern Virginia. Within a half-hour's drive of my home, we had historic Yorktown, site of the last major battle in the American Revolution; colonial Williamsburg, the political heart of a fledgling US of A; and Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. A little farther afield, there were more historical sites than you could shake a stick at, including Mount Vernon, Monticello, Petersburg, and Appomattox. I lived and breathed this stuff growing up, working for local museums and libraries and newspapers. I knew so much local history I cursed Disney to the seven hells when they put out that travesty "Pocahontas." I still live in the same area, so over the years I've watched entranced as archaeologists uncovered the original fort at Jamestown and brought up the remains of the CSS Virginia. I visit both historical artifacts whenever I can. They're still within half an hour's driving distance of my home.

So yeah, I get history. I can't not get it, living where I live, having the family I have. The funny thing is I often forget how much history I have with history. And so when it comes to writing, I usually veer off in the direction of the completely fantastic rather than look at what I've lived and breathed for so many years.

That's been changing lately though. After years of writing speculative fiction, I find myself creeping toward the sub-genre of steampunk. Suddenly, all that Civil War history comes surging back to me. The last time I visited the CSS Virginia, I studied the displays and exhibits with an eye toward story ideas. Letters from lovers parted by the war, cameo brooches and hooped skirts, all that antiquated machinery and the ingenuity that went into inventing it, and the wild adventures that followed... how could I not be inspired?

So I started boning up on history, and it amazed me while reading this week's posts that no one here at the Grip mentioned one of the most significant facts in the history of human sexuality - the invention of the steam powered vibrator. During the Victorian era, women were often diagnosed with a condition known as hysteria. Doctors treated the victims of this "disease" by masturbating their patients to climax. It was a great money maker for the medical community, but it was also an extremely time consuming treatment and patients often returned for repeat sessions when they suffered another lapse, leaving doctors' hands completely fatigued. Then in 1869, Mr. George Taylor invented the Manipulator, the first steam powered vibrator, thus freeing doctors from performing such an odious treatment by hand. Imagine the world today if history had been just a little different...

Bedside Manor

By Helen E. H. Madden

(originally published on the Heat Flash Erotica Podcast)

Dr. Galen Lucius studied the diagrams on his desk and frowned.

"Exactly how big is this... contraption, Mr. Taylor?"

On the other side of the desk, a man in a cheap suit cleared his throat. "The main table is seven feet long by three feet wide, raised four and a half feet off the ground. The drive train is powered by a steam engine, which we can set up in the adjacent room--"

"Good lord! You mean this thing will take up two rooms in my hospital?"

"Well sir, a steam engine is rather large--"

"Too large." Dr. Lucius rolled up the diagrams and tossed them back to Mr. Taylor. "And too impersonal. Mr. Taylor, doctors need to nurture an ongoing relationship with their patients. That means using a hands-on approach to treating disease. If we start using machines for such delicate operations as this, what's next? Self-circumcision kits? Do-it-yourself labor and delivery? No sir, here at Bedside Manor, we take pride in treating our patients with a personal touch, and no touch is more personal than this."

"But it's the wave of the future!" Taylor protested. "And these machines are getting smaller all the time. Next year's models will be small enough that you could set up several in a single room. Then you could treat multiple patients at once! More patients means more money--"

Lucius shook his head. "No, no, no. I'm a doctor, not a financier." He cast a critical eye over the fuming salesman. "You know, Mr. Taylor, recent research has shown that hysteria isn't just limited to women. Men can suffer from it too. You certainly seem to be hysterical right now. Perhaps you should schedule an appointment? You'll find I'm very handy at treating this particular disease."

"Ah, no." Blushing, Taylor clutched his diagrams to his chest and backed away from the desk. "Thank you, but I think it's time for me to leave."

He stumbled out of the office, leaving Dr. Lucius to chuckle to himself. "Machines to treat hysteria. What will they think of next?"

The office door opened and Nurse Watson poked in her head. "Doctor? Miss McFadden is here for her twelve o'clock appointment."

"Yes, yes, show her to the treatment room. I'll be right there."

Humming, he got up from his desk and sauntered out of the office. In the treatment room, he found Miss McFadden, a pretty but prim spinster in her early thirties, waiting for him on the examining table. She wore a white hospital gown and a hesitant smile on her face.

Dr. Lucius nodded to his patient. "And how are you today, Miss McFadden?"

"Oh, terrible I'm afraid. I've been so out of sorts lately. I'm agitated, nervous, I can't sleep..."

"Hmmm. Sounds like a relapse." Dr. Lucius lifted the hem of the hospital gown above his patient's waist to expose her naked pubis. "Never fear. The usual treatment should take care of all that."

"I hope so, Doctor."

Dr. Lucius gently spread Miss McFadden's knees. He slipped a finger between her swollen labia to rub gently at the small, pink clitoris he found there. As she began to writhe and groan beneath his ministrations, he mused. To hell with Mr. Taylor and his machines. There was so much satisfaction to be gained from treating one's patients. It really did require a personal touch.


If you're still not hooked on historical erotica, don't despair. I just published four contemporary erotica stories with Logical Lust. You can get them here!


  1. A personal touch, indeed!

    Great post, Helen! I too find myself attracted to steam punk, except that I'm a bit disgusted at the fact that what was once a truly novel perspective has now metamorphosed into a "genre" (me-too, me-too...)


  2. Helen,

    A wonderful blend of the hysterical and the historical.

    I have to admit, I've always wanted to write a historical romance set in the American Civil War. Two of my all time favourite novels are Gone With the Wind and John Jakes's North & South (as well as the other John Jakes titles in that series) and, if I could ever get my head to stay consistently in that era for long enough, that's where I'd set a historical.

    Fantastic post and wonderful accompanying fiction.



  3. Lisabet,

    Thank you! I have to admit, steampunk does seem to be all the rage now, and it's a challenge to find books that are unique in that sub-genre, but I hope one day to have something worthwhile to add to it. Thank you for your lovely comments!

  4. Ashley,

    Up until the last five years or so, I always preferred ancient or medieval history, but recently have begun to take enjoy Civil War and Victorian history as well. Most of the sites in my immediate area focus on the American Colonial and Revolutionary period, but I'm not joking when I say within an hour of my home, you can find several Civil War battle fields. Plus, my dad the history nut used to drag us all over the place going from one battle site to the next. I recall more than a few summers spent piling into the car and taking off for some historical site or other. And we still do that this day when we visit my folks in Arkansas!

    Thank you for the wonderful comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the story!

  5. Helen,

    I really enjoyed your post this week. You're obviously at home with researching history and enjoy it greatly. I think that's enormous! If you don't like what you're doing, then do something else, which you seem to have taken to heart.

    The excerpt was spectacular!


  6. The vibrators have evolved quite. I never have imagined that the steam powered vibrators had existed.

  7. Hi HElen!

    Madden . . . McFadden. . . Hmn. Makes me wonder what you have tucked away in the laundry room. Wonderful post! I've always found the Victorian thing about women's hysteria interesting, though I would side with the doctor about the personal touch. Also you'd think for a woman a steam powered dildo would be kind of scarey. But they did exist. David Levy had a chapter on the evolution of vibrators in his book "Love and Sex With Robots" which was really interesting.


  8. Jude,

    I do a lot of research for the sci-fi and even fantasy pieces I write as well, so I am pretty comfortable with it. I'm starting to gather books on the Victorian era with an eye towards writing along those lines, but that may be years in the making ;)

    Thank you for the comments!

  9. Jude,

    I do a lot of research for the sci-fi and even fantasy pieces I write as well, so I am pretty comfortable with it. I'm starting to gather books on the Victorian era with an eye towards writing along those lines, but that may be years in the making ;)

    Thank you for the comments!

  10. Carl, there were tons of variations on steam and clockwork powered vibrators. They used to be advertised in newspapers and home goods catalogs too, they were considered such a necessity to a woman's health! Funny things aren't like that anymore.

  11. Garce,

    I have an agitator in my laundry room ;D

    BTW, I've got an e-book copy of David Levy's book. Haven't gotten into it yet, but I'm glad to hear it's interesting!

    Thank you for the comments ;)


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