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Classics of Leather Literature: Fiction Top Ten

by Gary Switch

This admittedly biased list is not in any particular order of merit. Some of these books are still in print and most have been multiply reprinted. If you have to search used book Websites (alibris.com, abebooks.com, etc.) for them, rest assured it will be well worth it.

Legend: M/f - male dominant / female submissive F/m - female dominant / male submissive F/f - female dominant / female submissive M/m - male dominant / male submissive Mixed - some combination of the above

1) Gynecocracy or The Adventures of Julian Robinson by Viscount Ladywood

(Novel, F/m, the classic work of the petticoating genre)

In works of petticoat discipline, incorrigibly unruly (and overspunked) young lads are sent off to be educated in (shame of shames!) girls' schools. The girls and their (usually French) headmistress give our poor hero "reason to respect the petticoat and chemise, the drawers and long stockings, the high-heeled boots and tight corsets and what they contain." And they usually have a few charming ensembles that are just his size.

Julian Robinson is sent to the isolated country house where his delectable teenage cousins Maud, Beatrice, and Agnes already study under beautiful, tall, stern Mademoiselle de Chambonnard. In no time, Julian is bound, slapped, detrousered, humiliated, stood in a corner under a knotted red flannel petticoat from Mlle's soiled linen hamper, and then marched into Mlle's bedroom to have his bare bottom birched. Finally, "almost sitting upon my neck and smothering me with her petticoats she proceeded to flog me lengthwise." Next, the poor boy trades in his duds and undergoes the requisite transformation into Miss Julia. But there are compensations. Plenty of frigging and a trip under Mlle's petticoat for oral sex immediately ensue.

In the remainder of the volume, Miss Julia suffers a multitude of delicious sexual torments at the hands of the entire gynecocracy. There's the waltzing with the handsome Lord Alfred, who upon discovering that his charming partner is not really a girl -- doesn't seem to mind. J falls in love with Mlle C. And if only he could control his rampant desire for the old in-out, he'd have a good thing going. But Monsieur Priapus refuses to submit and keeps getting J and his licentious cousins into more trouble, which requires more punishment, and so on. A rollicking good read, prolifically and polymorphously perverse. In contrast with similar books, there's a lot more sex and a lot less exhaustively meticulous description of the donning and removal of each feminine garment.

2) The Catalyst by Sara Adamson (Laura Antoniou)

(Story collection, mixed)

This delightful collection of eight pansexual tales employs a unifying frame that follows a diverse group of vanilla cinema patrons out of a notoriously kinky art flick, which is only described through the audience's reaction. Everybody saw the same movie but some saw fantasy and some saw exploitation. Some saw a gang bang, and some an orgy. Single scenes struck some as revolting, some as silly, and some as very, very hot. Many of the characters are at first disgusted, then compelled to admit that there was a particular scene that really turned them on. They go home and act it out.

Many of The Catalyst's stories defy convention in the way sexual exploration brings fresh excitement to the relationships of long-term partners. The cast of characters includes: a married couple with kids; two female het roomates who seduce a male neighbor into sexual slavery; two lesbians who live together in Park Slope, one of whom is very PC until... ; two swinging het couples in a long-term quartet; two gay guys who arrange for themselves to be simultaneously topped by a leatherman they know; a single het woman who finds a male slave through the personals; a het couple who meet in the theater, and two bisexual male room mates. They're not gay, understand, but sometimes they watch porn together, drink beer, and "help each other out."

The new things the characters try include: spanking, bondage, domination, submission, service, exhibitionism, humiliation, leather, tit clamps, shaving cream, cucumbers, and Tabasco sauce. And there's plenty of vanilla for dessert. Their befuddlement, ingenuity, and triumphs are well-drawn, sweet, and charming. And nobody is seriously injured, gets snuffed, or ends up in a mental hospital. A refreshingly original, sex-positive, and kink-positive volume.

3) The Image by Jean de Berg (Catherine Robbe-Grillet)

(Novel, F/f, M/f) (See Prometheus #41 for a review of the 1975 film adaptation, directed by Radley Metzger.)

This one came out in Paris in 1956, approximately two years after Story of O. The Image is a slim, but rewarding volume in the most direct deliver-the-goods-and-don't-bore-me-with-details sense. It's primarily sizzling F/f action, with very little distracting plot or character development. The male narrator encounters Claire, an impeccably glamorous and aloof old friend, at a party. Claire has in tow Anne, a young, silent, very beautiful, childishly-dressed female model. As they leave together, Claire remarks of Anne, "She belongs to me."

Claire and Anne have a very naughty relationship and Jean is invited to witness their progressively debauched interplay. There's the piercing with a rose thorn and al fresco humiliation/urination in a public garden, the photographs of Anne bound and whipped, the whipping with Anne's head in Jean's lap, the lingerie fitting, the under-the-table action in the restaurant, and the climactic torture scene in the Gothic Chamber. Does Jean finally take an active role in Anne's torment? Does Claire achieve her secret agenda?

4) Macho Sluts by Pat Califia (now Patrick Califia)

(Story collection, mixed, mostly F/f)

I can never open Macho Sluts without re-reading its tour-de-force centerpiece, the rollicking novella "The Calyx of Isis." What does FFFFFFFF/f suggest to you? Right, a bottomless bottom proving her loyalty by submitting to a marathon scene with the top tops in town. From the bottom's perspective, the thrills and the terror are inseparable.

The two stories with guys, a defiant departure for lesbian-targeted erotica, may be categorized as M/m and MMM/f. The former, entitled "The Spoiler," explores the thesis that some men become tops in protest against the mediocrity they find in topdom. The MMM/f number is mean and nasty. Three prototypical pigs abduct a queer gal with cop fantasies and give her the dream/nightmare of a lifetime.

"Jessie" tells of a fan's close encounter with one of the most potently phallic females, a bass-player in a rock band. "The Finishing School" is coming-of-age Victoriana, complete with a Discipline Chamber.

Califia writes: "S/M fantasies are usually much more lurid and perilous than the games of real-life sadomasochists." Macho Sluts falls firmly into the fantasy realm, whether speculative, supernatural, or in exaggeration of human endurance. First-rate writer Califia communicates this clearly, freeing us to join in these wonderful excursions without guilt or anxiety, except for the good kinds.

5) Harriet Marwood, Governess by John Glassco

(Novel, F/m, the classic work of the Victorian governess genre)

Governess stories have a few essential differences from petticoating stories. The boy victim often possesses a similar personality -- in this case Richard is a wimp and a sissy. His physical appearance is girlish. His favorite hobby is self-abuse and he is totally ignorant of women. In a governess saga, the boy stays at home, the sole charge of his rigorous tutor. Cross-dressing is rare, although juvenile shame clothing (short pants) is common.

Harriet is the archetypal governess -- tall, strong, statuesque, black hair severely drawn back, milk-white flesh, an intellectual brow, blazing grey eyes, ultimately desirable and ultimately intimidating. Her willingness to apply physical correction to the seat of the problem is matched only by her delight in doing so, for Harriet is the most dreaded of all governesses, a true sadist, and a sadist with a far-reaching agenda for poor Richard's future. She seizes upon his sexual naiveté, and alternating severe discipline with manual release, possesses him completely.

The plot consists of Harriet slowly tightening her net and Richard making ineffectual attempts to escape her grand design. The discipline sessions, physical and psychological, are classic. The visit to the leather shop for the fitting of the whipping harness (with a considerate shield to protect Richard's crown jewels), his introduction to the martinet, and lots of canings are written to the highest standard. But Harriet's overwhelming ecstasy inflicting the punishments and relentless determination driving Richard into her trap make this a sinister work indeed. Is it erotica or horror? You decide. Whichever, it's superbly crafted and boys of all ages will shudder in their nightshirts when they hear Harriet's measured tread approaching their bedroom.

6) Flederfiction by Fledermaus (Tony DeBlase)

(Story collection, M/m, hard-core) (Adapted from the review in Prometheus #36 by Julian Robinson, with the reviewer's permission)

Fledermaus was the bane of editors because neither consent nor justice counts for very much in many of his brutal tales; the innocent suffer just as abominably as the guilty. "Ball busting" is more than a figure of speech in this repulsively fascinating chamber of horrors. Fledermaus was obsessed with torture -- expect the Spanish Inquisition.

On the lighter side, some of the stories feature SSC powerplay between loving partners, but those aren't the ones that Fledermaus was known for. On the nightmare side, Flederfiction explores the most potent settings of atrocity and revels in situations where men torture men because they can. There's a Cool Hand Luke style prison farm, a monastery where the punishment for sodomy fits the crime, and a Soviet style "Department of Discipline." In "Retribution," the infamous classic of hard-core sadism, an aged frontier veterinarian exacts gruesome and diabolical revenge on the cowboy who loved, than mocked the vet's son, driving the boy to suicide.

Try reading Flederfiction to a male submissive and watch him curl into fetal position, clutch his equipment, and moan in terror.

7) Mr. Benson by John Preston

(Novel, M/m, the classic work of the Old Guard genre)

Mr. Benson was serialized in Drummer Magazine in the mid-seventies; there were lines waiting for the next installment at West Village newsstands. It tells the story of the molding of Jamie, a cute, cocky disco clone who doesn't even know what he's looking for when Mr. Benson finds him. Aristotle Benson is a man's man and a master's master. He lives in a penthouse on lower Fifth Avenue. Jamie not only falls in love, but senses the emptiness of his life and the meaning and purpose to be achieved under Mr. Benson's harsh training. Calling this lifestyle D/s or a 24/7 scene mocks its almost religious solemnity. Jamie's quest purifies him, proofs him in the fires of torture, teaches him dedication, devotion and duty.

What makes Mr. Benson a superb piece of writing is John Preston's incomparable skill in literary voice, an art involving much more than merely dialogue. Compare the narration, which is in Jamie's voice, to the short Epilogue, where Mr. Benson adds his gruff, crusty comments, retelling the story from his side. The subtleties of rhythm, sentence structure, point of view, attitude, and emotion are masterfully orchestrated:

Jamie: "When you're a slave and you give in to the demands of a master, you are someone. But being someone demands having a master to give you meaning. You let them take it from you to give you something better back."

Mr. Benson: "Not that he hasn't told you the truth, at least basically. He's right about the meeting, the training, and the ridiculous mess he got himself into. He's even right when he tells you this is basically a love story. I'm man enough to admit that I love the little bastard."

8) Story of O by Pauline Reage (Dominique Aury)

(Novel, M/f, F/f, the classic work of the male dominant/female submissive genre)

The most notorious love letter ever penned.

What does the "O" represent? The design of the ring she wears that allows her to be claimed by any man who knows its secret? The leather shackles that encircle her wrists, ankles, and throat? The involuntary syllable of surprise in the face of agony? The shape of her mouth opened to scream? The brutal reduction of her humanity to an Orifice?

Actually, "it has nothing to do with erotic symbolism or the shape of the female sex," corrected author Dominique Aury in an August, 1 1994 article in The New Yorker, published shortly after her self-outing. O was the first letter of the name of a friend. Aury shortened it because she felt uncomfortable doing all those terrible things to a pal.

The work was a love offering from a highly respected woman of letters (O is a work of sterling literary quality) to a considerably older, very sophisticated man. Aury replied to the charge that she created oppressive male fantasies: "They were honest fantasies There is no reality here. Nobody could stand being treated like that. It's entirely fantastic."

I believe that its very quality, coupled with the detached, matter-of-fact, third-person narrative voice, contributed to the unease it caused. If O were a first-person confessional, we could easily sympathize with its poor, put-upon heroine. In the third person, the narrator is coldly inflicting the tortures.

O is an object lesson in the freedom to choose, the danger of pre-conceptions, and the resonance of great works of literature. O is our Shakespeare -- archetypal tropes, situations, images abound. The training academy; the ritualized bondage, penetration, and punishments; the giving of the slave to others; the slow self-realization of a deeply submissive nature; the progressive intensification of the sacrifices demanded to the point of permanent physical alterations by piercing and branding. A vital, ovular volume. (By the way, the sequel, Return to the Chateau, was indeed penned by Ms. Aury and even she advised against reading it, calling it a grave mistake.)

9) Beauty's Punishment by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

(Novel, mixed, middle volume of Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy, the classic work of the BDSM fantasy genre)

Writing under the cloak of Roquelaure, Anne Rice grabs the legend of Sleeping Beauty by its happily-ever-after and applies a severe twist. Her hypnotically rhythmic prose is perfectly appropriate: formal but not stilted, measured but not monotonous, grammatical, but not dry: "Her buttocks smarted and seemed to swell as if waiting for the next spank, which never came."

There's everything you want in a fantasy: castles and royalty, operatically passionate trysts, archaic military ranks, high fashion, uncountable strokes and swats from uncountable palms and straps and paddles, arousal on command, fiendish bondage torments.

Beginning with the third-person telling of the travails of Beauty, the narrative progressively incorporates first-person accounts by the male slaves. It's truly pansexual with lots of gorgeous guys playing and having sex with gorgeous guys, including every other combination of genders and dom/subness.

Beauty's buddy Tristan joins a very strict lifestyle pony team where he eats, sleeps, and dreams as a beast of burden, lapping his food from an open trough. There's plenty of F/f action too, like the scene where Mistress Lockley, the innkeeper, disciplines Beauty in the kitchen. Beauty's ordeal includes wicked strapping in very sensitive areas and the subsequent application of sweet butter and a cat's tongue.

Beauty's Punishment, the trilogy's middle volume, is the best. Its fantasy is more convincing for being set in a commoner place, the rude village to which Beauty is banished for a moment of rebellion. The palace of Volume I is like an adult Disneyland; there's nothing to ground it, it may as well be floating in the clouds. There's no telling what the nobles do when they aren't spanking and diddling their pleasure objects. In the village, everybody has a day job, they're raising the crops, serving the wine, and baking the bread.

Anne Rice freely admits that it's porn: "I meant it to be erotic and nothing else -- to turn people on. Sex is good. Nothing about sex is evil or to be ashamed of." Rice also writes about vampires, but the Beauty books are her finest work.

10) Thongs by Alexander Trocchi

(Novel, M/f, F/m)

Thongs is a large-scale, beautifully constructed and realized novel with enough good parts for any dozen pieces of hack work and an amazingly complex plot line for its length.

The daughter of the fearsomely cruel Razor King of a Glasgow slum, Gertrude finds her destiny in her love of pain. She trains herself through the perverse ingenuity of a lascivious old shoemaker who draws upon his leather-crafting abilities to devise diabolical instruments of increasing severity. One of her father's lovers sponsors Gertrude's initiation and subsequent rapid rise in the hierarchy of the Order, a refreshingly non-gender-discriminatory secret society with a quasi-religious structure.

There is a Holy Pain Father in Madrid, twelve Pain Cardinals, etc. down to Painmistresses and Painmasters who each administer a local pain parish. Suffice it to say that devout Catholics probably will not be amused. These officials are all what we modern day players know as switches, supremely accomplished in both doling out and enduring severe punishment. Gertrude gains her office by defeating the incumbent Painmaster in a flogging duel; she lashes him to screaming while, under his hand, she barely breaks a sweat.

Upon taking office as Painmistress, Gertrude whips her congregation into shape, toys with a lover or two, then seeks the most agonizingly appropriate religious fate (not giving anything away here, since this is revealed on page 1). Too bad -- must the wages of female kink be death?

See Also