Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ye Olde Kink: Dr. Samuel Johnson, Kinkmeister

"It was worth the three hours it took to remove your corset to see your splendid physique, my dear!" Image source: Fetish Pop Culture.

One of the interesting points about history is this: how did kink express itself in a time period when slavery was a real and extant thing? I mean, if you wanted someone to be your slave in such times, and you had money, you just bought them. There was no power exchange, consensuality, slaves were just property. A consensual kinky relationship would have undoubtedly been more appealing than owning a real slave, to anyone who examined the ethics of such things at least, but was there even a framework for that kind of thinking around at the time?

Cue Kate Chisholm's book Wits and Wives, Dr. Johnson in the Company of Women, which sheds a tiny ray of light on the topic in an offhand sort of way.

A review of the book in The Guardian Online points out that Wits and Wives has passages that reveals that Dr. Johnson engaged in some kinky correspondence with Hester Thrale, the wife of a wealthy brewer who plied him with meat pies and such, that may have had some basis in a real life kinky relationship between the two of them (no one knows, apparently, if that was true).

Here's the relevant passage from The Guardian's review:
Johnson’s other chief adult relationship was with Hester Thrale, the wife of a wealthy Streatham brewer. Hester kept the morose widower supplied with ‘meats, pies, puddings and tarts’, of the pastry variety. Whether it was a sexual union is disputed, though their correspondence contains kinky references to chains, keys and bondage.

So apparently there WAS some awareness of consensual kink at the time, which the early to mid 1700s, for Johnson and Thrale, a period when England was neck deep in the Atlantic slave trade. Just the fact that their correspondence was laced to kinky references to chains, keys and bondage indicates that it was on their minds in a sexual sort of way.

I've no idea how that worked. Certainly the ability to buy human beings and keep them in chains and physically beat and torment them as a practical and completely socially acceptable means of bending them to your will must have had some effect on anyone having bondage fantasies. It's really hard, though, to wrap my head around what it must have been. Of course, ordinary human hypocrisy probably easily accounts for any cognitive dissonance of old-time bondage connoisseurs, and undoubtedly many bondage fetishists of the time simply bought slaves and used them in the ways their sexual fantasies worked, while maintaining a vanilla relationship with their spouse. (In my the same way that Spartans had other warriors for lovers and wives for child-bearing.)

Still, the fundamental unfairness of actual slavery must have generated a lot of congnitive dissonance among thinking men and women. It must have been strange and disconcerting to be a bondage fan in such times. Hell, it's strange enough nowadays!

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