This course will explore the long tradition – as long as literary writing itself – of writing about sex, sexuality, and the erotic. Erotic writing is different from the merely pornographic or obscene, though they sometimes overlap. Our focus will be on what makes the erotic erotic. What makes one sex scene steamy while another is merely clinical? Sex is fun and often funny – can erotic writing also be fun and funny? Sex is often about pleasure, life, joy – but what about when it is also about death, suffering, and pain?

How does the form of the writing contribute to its effect? How does language either heighten or detract from the eroticism of writing? As with all writing, there are conventions to erotic writing. We’ll find out what they are, then see how different writers use, abuse, and toy with them to achieve new effects. Is gay erotic writing significantly different from straight erotic writing? What about writing that crosses over or does not fit easily into such categories? What’s the relationship between sex and self, between erotic writing and self-discovery? Where do incest, adultery, trans-generational sex, bestiality, fetishism, and other non-vanilla forms of sex and sexuality fit into the erotic imagination? Does that change when they are figural rather than actual?

Beginning with ancient Sumerian writing and proceeding through biblical verse and writing, Aristophanes, Homer, Vergil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Christina Rossetti, the Marquis de Sade, Oscar Wilde, E. M. Forster, James Joyce, Anais Nin, and D. H. Lawrence to name but a handful, this course offers a tour through some high points of erotic writing. Moving through history and across kinds of writing, we will focus on what counted as erotic in different contexts, and how different sexualities are represented. Inevitably, we’ll also talk about the history of sexuality and the shifting status of categories like “straight” and “homosexual.”

Make no mistake: while the reading for this course will be among the most fun you’ll ever have assigned, it is still reading and I will still expect you to do it.


Coursepack with excerpts from Sumerian wedding poems through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment, Victorian England, and smutty, smutty modernism.

Bataille, George. Story of the Eye. San Francisco: City Lights, 2001.

Jelinek, Elfriede. The Piano Teacher. New York: Grove Press, 2009.

All will be available from the UVic Bookstore by January.


Feel free to contact me with any questions:

Email –   |   Phone — 250-721-7237   |   Twitter – @ghostprof