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H. G. Wells, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Rice Burroughs
And The Development Of Contemporary Sexual Attitudes
by R.E. Prindle
Certainly it is to be hoped that (the) naturalistic school of writing will never take firm root in England, for it is an accursed thing. It is impossible to help wondering if its followers ever reflect on the mischief that they must do, and, reflecting do not shrink from the responsiblility to look at the matter from one point of view only, Society has made a rule for the benefit of the whole community, individuals must keep their passions within certain fixed limits, and our system is so arranged that any transgression of this rule produces mischief of one sort or another, if not actual ruin, to the transgressor. Especially is this so is she be a woman. Now, as it is, human nature is continually fretting against these artificial bounds, and especially among young people it requires considerable fortitude and self-restraint to keep the feet from wandering. We all know too, how much this sort of indulgence depends upon the imagination, and we all know how easy it is for a powerful writer to excite it in that direction. Indeed, there could be nothing more easy to a writer of any strength or vision, especially if he spoke with an air of evil knowledge and intimate authority. There are probably several men in England at this moment who, if they turned their talents to this end, could equal, if not outdo, Zola himself, with results that would shortly show themselves among the population. Sexual passion is the most powerful lever with which to stir the mind of man, for it lies at the root of all things human; and it is impossible to over-estimate the damage that could be worked by a single English or American writer of genius, if he grasped it with a will.–H. Rider Haggard: Appendix to the Broadview Edition Of She
Edgar Rice Burroughs
For a long time now I’ve put off writing about Edgar Rice Burroughs in relation to H.G. Wells. Wells has been difficult to get a handle on, a point of entry. But the Woodrow Nichols' article on nudity in Burroughs on ERBzine pointed in the direction of changing sexual attitudes in the twentieth century. Coupled with reading the above quote of Rider Haggard I realized that Wells and Burroughs were two of those powerful writers capable of unleashing those sexual passions. They, coupled with Sigmund Freud, did change sexual attitudes in the twentieth century.
That is not to say they were alone but of all of the hundreds of writers between then and now all their books remain in print continuing their work.
The sexual problem is central to civilization while it has been handled differently in the development of civilization. For some time it seemed that the Patriarchal model would be permanent. J.J. Bachofen, the great Swiss mythologist of the mid-nineteenth century, was the first to challenge the Patriarchal model. In his studies of mythologies he perceived that behind the Patriarchy first came a Matriarchy while at the beginning was a Hetaeric period. All three had different sexual approaches while all three attitudes have survived into the current age competing for dominance.
In the first Hetaeric stage of development Bachofen believed men used women, and woman, indiscriminately whether with force of persuasion when the sexual urge hit him. A good picturalization of this can be found in the movie, In Quest Of Fire. As there was no knowledge of how offspring were conceived the women of the horde merely accepted the inevitable bumper crop of children.
J.J. Bachofen- One Of The Greats
Being a sexual object puts an unbearable burden on the female of the species no matter how natural. Since most females began bearing at twelve or thirteen with the onset of puberty they were worn out at twenty with few probably surviving to thirty. Indeed, a huge percentage must have died in child birth from twelve to twenty. One imagines a surplus of males in the horde not unlike affairs in the nineteenth century when men frequently went through two or three wives or more as the women died young in childbirth.
While conception or paternity wasn’t recognized there was no mistaking motherhood. By some process of refinement the sexual mores of hordes evolved into Matriarchy which acknowledged female parentage while giving women some sort of sexual control, preference if you will. The change from the Hetaeric to the Matriarchal inevitably left behind a reactionary or conservative group who saw no reason for change or giving up their sexual prerogatives. Thus conflicts between the two attitudes, perhaps warfare.
The Matriarchy was still thriving when history began to be recorded. Thus Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey concern the Patriarchal revolution against the Matriarchy amongst the Europeans. By now paternity had been discovered by which the male discovered that he impregnated the female which he now considered the most important part of the process and one which involved the exclusive use of the female as he had no wish to care for another man’s children. Hence Patriarchalism- the primacy of the father- evolved putting the three systems into conflict and competition. This is a main theme of Greek mythology.
Concessions had to be made to the Hetaerists who were irate at the loss of their prerogatives. Hence temple prostitution undoubtedly evolved in which all the young females were kept in a temple compound until they had sex with any man who demanded it. Civilization being civilization, of course, there was a fee, hence protitution. Upon completion of the duty the female was released.
The Patriarchal revolt was a long slow drawn out process with many setbacks and compromises such as the above. Indeed, the Patriarchal god, Apollo, wrested Delphi from the Matriarchy but in the Matriarchal reaction he was forced to share the shrine with the effiminate Matriarchal hybrid god, Dionysus who, himself was destined to replace Zeus as the avatar of the Piscean Age. He assumed both male and female characteristics in the attempt to arrange the sexual conflict. That’s why the Jewish prophet Jesus of Nazareth, who substituted for him in yet another compromise is so effiminate. With the admixture of the Semitic influence in European religion with its uncompromising Patriarchalism the evolving Catholic Church was all but able to extinguish the Matriarchal Dionysian influence as well as the Hetaeric. Chastity, celibacy and monogamy became not only dominant but exclusive.
Just as the Matriarchy, while suppressed, has never disappeared or admitted defeat so also the Hetaerists have survived assuming different disguises while waging continued war with the Patriarchy and the Scientific view which is say Western Science and the Roman Catholic Church.
Reviled by the Church and persecuted sometimes to death the various sects fought back often posing as Catholics to become priests, even occasionally a Pope, and bore from within. Thus arose the Free Spirit sect which demanded the right of access to any woman at any time in any place. Thus John Sinclair in 1960s and 70s demanding the right to ‘fuck in the streets.’ An irrational request by any other standard. The Free Spirits delighted in debauching nuns when they had sufficient numbers to seize a place.
The spirit surfaced among the Anabaptists, for instance, who were not only suppressed but destroyed root and branch. With the Enlightenment when the Hetaerists surfaced as the Libertines we hear of them forwarding the French Revolution while their ideals were absorbed by the nascent Communist political movement. The Libertines per se seem to have transmogrifed into La Vie Boheme after the Napoleonic Empire, Bohemianism reaching down to our time.
La Vie Boheme as depicted by the French novelist Henri Murger evolved in the early nineteenth century along with their more overtly criminal cousins, the Mohicans of Paris as the novelist Alexandre Dumas styled them and known as Apaches by the end of the century. In the US fifties the Apaches were represented on TV with a mystifyingly violent effect as Apache dancers from France. I suppose the Apache style was transmogrified into the New York Bohemian style also. So this quasi-criminal Bohemian Apache style pervaded Euroamerican civilization through the nineteenth century and in diluted form into the twentieth and present day. The Fall 2010 Nordstrom catalog for instance celebrates the New York Haut Boheme.
I was trying to relate this latter day form of Behemianism to Burroughs in my three part series on Presley, Lennon and Yoko Ono that Bill Hillman courageously published in ERBzine but over some very strenuous objections. I presume I lost the Bibliophiles on that issue.
That Burroughs was fascinated by the Bohemian style while actually furthering the Hetaeric sexual program is fairly obvious. He said that he wrote his first unpublished work, Minidoka, in Ragtime speech, that is to say the Bohemian mode. In other words ERB considered himself plenty hep, at least a closet Bohemian. Some may find that disturbing but, it is so. In ’60s NYC terminology ERB would hve been of the Haut Boheme. Along with those sympathies went a set of Hetaeric sexual mores that Burroughs advocated.
I have already examined the Bohemian influence of George Du Maurier on Burroughs with his novels Peter Ibbetson, Trilby and The Martian. Du Maurier was also of the Haut Boheme. A photograph of ERB behind the camera in Idaho in 1899 shows ERB dressed in full artistic Boho mode. He had just emerged from a short stay at the Chicago Art Institute where he would have immersed himself in Boho mores as artists then and now were virtually all Boho, at least in outlook. Writers too.
It seems quite extraordinary that Libertinism was discouraged and contained between the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century. Perhaps the answer can be found in the transition from aristocratic society to bourgeois society. Perhaps the Bourgeois requiring a different sexual morality than the aristocracy succeeded in imposing their version of sexual mores by sheer numbers.
Libertinism did regain prominence amongst the wealthy Haut Boheme of NYC thence spreading throughout society as a Bohemian sensibility began to displace the Bourgeois.
A book I have reviewed on ERBzine, found in ERB’s library which he read, GWM Reynolds’ The Mysteries Of The Court Of London scrupulously records the libertine activities in a fictional form of Prince George, later King George IV, whose career of seduction ended only in the 1820s. Certainly Reynolds’ depiction of the libertine actiities of George and his circle out Zolaed Zola by more than somewhat.
The whole libertine attitude was nowhere more prominently displayed than in NYC’s Haut Boheme nightclub, Studio 54. So the suppression of the libertine spirit during and since the reign of Queen Victoria was short. Perhaps Haggard’s novel She echoes the memories of the Libertinage of the eighteenth century Hellfire Club in some obscure way.
Haggard had no reason to put on airs because as I pointed out in my review of his King Solomon’s Mines that novel is smutty from top to bottom while ‘She’ has some very salacious passages. As Horace stands watching the scene of She and the dead body of Kallicrates for instance one is more than excited. She had murdered her former lover Kallicrates for running off with another woman. Immediately remorseful she kept the body preserved in perfect condition for two thousand years. She could even psychically animate the body so that it stood although still insensate. The necrotic effect is hypnotizing, making the reader a voyeuristic accomplice of Horace. As he and we watch the bodice of She’s dress slips to her waist exposing her magnificent charms according to your imagination. As we watch she then raises her arms above her head lifting and pointing the golden orbs. She does this not once but twice so it is clear Haggard was exciting and taunting his readers. If one imagines Ursula Andress who played She in one of the movies the effect is exhilarating indeed.
Ursula Andress as She
The Mad Herr Doktor Professor
Last Sane Man Left Alive
Haggard aside, as he says there were writers in England and America who were champing at the bit to alter the course of sexual history. Chief among these was H.G. Wells in England and our own Edgar Rice Burroughs. Both would make significant contributions to the ‘change’ but the most effective writer of them all was the secret sexual pervert, the undisputed master of them all, Sigmund Freud. But to go first to H.G. Wells and take things in order.
H. G. Wells, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Rice Burroughs
And The Development Of Contemporary Sexual Attitudes
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