Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sex in Literature

"Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children; life is the other way round." --David Lodge

It has occured to me that Mr. Lodge is quite correct--of the two books I've read most recently (The Magus by John Fowles and The World According to Garp by John Irving), sex plays an extremely prominent role in both plot and characterization, to the point that I don't feel comfortable using any direct quotations without risking the wrath of corporate IT.

For example, sex and sexuality permeate the pages of The World According to Garp, beginning with the different forms of sexuality that each character portrays throughout the story--there is an asexual (Jenny Fields), multipleheterosexual characters, two (at least) transsexuals. There are swingers, cheaters, rapists, Garp himself has a babysitter fetish, and each of these play an integral part in the story as a whole. Nicholas Urfe, the main character of The Magus, holds obsessively to his Madonna-whore complex, almost to the very last page of the book.

What does this add to the value of the story, however? The Magus dwells quite explicitly on what is "real," arguing that fiction can be real, if it inspires real thoughts and feelings. But is there a line? How many of us, for example, would look at the entire history of our lives purely from a sexual standpoint, as The World According to Garp does? Yes, of course sex can be a metaphor for something else, but in some cases, can't it just be an excuse to write something titillating? Where's the line between metaphor and smut?

In addition, are there people who read The Magus purely because Playboy named it one of the "25 Sexiest Novels of All Time"? (This should be deeply disturbing, by the way, to anyone who read the book with anything approaching a critical air.) Perhaps that aspect of the novel attracts more people, but are they people who simply read the sex scenes and get tingly rather than wondering where the hell Fowles is going with all this? In my opinion, many of the sex scenes were designed to show Nicholas in a negative light (in particular in his mysoginistic treatment of women), and getting turned on by such scenes defeats the purpose of them in the first place.

(Note: I am not arguing that either The Magus or The World According to Garp is smut, but I have to wonder where the line between being artistic and catering to the masses lies. I guess we'll have to see how many page hits I get just from having the word SEX! in the title before I pass judgment.)

6 comments:

Homero said...

Your SEO has just gone through the roof now because of this post.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Sexity sex, sexy sexy sex, sexery sexes sex.

Darkhrse99 said...

Your to funny!Bringing sexy back..

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Thanks, I try! :)

Homero said...

And your SEO has gone up! This post is now number two on google search for "Not so gentle reader"-- congrats!

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

That's depressing on so many layers...

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