Erotica are the non-books of the bibliographical world. In most, if not all, of the standard records of book production and book possession their existence has gone unnoticed. They have seldom been recorded in the lists of books entered for copyright at the British Library or the Library of Congress, for the understandable reason that their secret publishers did not wish to bring them to any form of official attention. Historically, in nearly all libraries they have not only been segregated from other books but kept in limbo, their catalogues, if any, withheld from the public as resolutely as the collections themselves. The fact that, in British and American libraries, 'curiosa' (another euphemism for sex books) were kept under lock and key in the head librarian's office gave rise to the perennial fancy in the profession - a gossipy morsel that must already have been making the rounds in the staff canteen at Alexandria - that he sometimes sequestered himself in order to have a furtive go at some choice item in the closet. In Victorian times, this might have been interpreted as an indulgence he allowed himself after having performed another service incumbent on him as a guardian of public morality, the daily scissoring of racing news from the papers before they were put on the reading-room racks.
LRB 20 August 1981 | PDF Download