Porn with a Pedigree
By Brantley Thompson Elkins
There was nothing, nothing in the world like this feeling, the glorious feeling of being stretched and filled to the brim with male flesh. Bradamante felt him tremble with the effort to hold himself back, and she did not want him to...She wanted him to hold nothing back and spend with her as he had never spent before, with all the fury and violence of his pent-up young blood.
Ways of a Wanton Wench, which was first published about 1969 under the byline of Madeleine LeGrange, is a porn novel, plain and simple. It can’t have stayed in print long, and is almost impossible to find now. Yet it deserves attention for its strong woman protagonist and its witty literary allusions as well as its female viewpoint eroticism.
Porn fiction is a very ephemeral thing. It seems to be the stepchild of visual porn, of which there always seems to be a glut. Apart from a few classics like John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (which has lately rated a pretentious scholarly introduction) porn novels don’t seem to have any staying power. Even porn publishers are here today, gone tomorrow.
Bee-Line Books is a case in point. There’s a Bee Line Books (without the hyphen) today, but it’s a publisher of children’s books. The original Bee-Line must have been out of business for a long time for that to happen. But 30 years ago, it was a big-time porn publisher. Or at least as big as they ever got.
LeGrange’s novel may have
been pirated more than once; at this writing, a British dealer called Delectus
Books was offering a “pirate” edition dated 1969 under the Svea imprint,
apparently published in Copenhagen but sold in the USA (The Bee-Line edition is
dated 1970.). Delectus was asking £15 for its copy—a paperback, like the
Bee-Line version. Apparently they considered it a cut above the average porn
novel, and it is. The novel is surprisingly witty and literate, and its viewpoint just as surprisingly feminist.
The novel is surprisingly witty and literate, and its viewpoint just as surprisingly feminist.
Bradamante isn’t anything like the faceless sluts who typified porn fantasies of the time. She’s a woman warrior who fights disguised as a man and more than holds her own. Her hands and face are roughened by years of wandering and fighting, but that has only “enhanced the perfection of her body,” from her breasts (“round and firm and rosy, with long brown stems of nipples that had been hardened and crinkled by the air”) to her “long legs and firm, full fleshed thighs [that] came together in a generous bush of red-brown curls.”
It was an article in some porn magazine that steered me to Ways of a Wanton Wench when it first came out. All I can remember is that the article centered on women writing porn, and cited the novel as an example, commenting that its heroine was a truly liberated woman who satisfied her lusts in a “spirit of comradeship and equality.”
Of course, the byline is no guarantee that the author was actually a woman. But the story, told from the heroine's viewpoint, certainly reads like a woman’s novel—it even has an HEA (happily ever after) romantic ending. Beyond that, I suspect that it must have been written by a college professor familiar with medieval literature or modern opera or both.
Bradamante first appeared as the heroine of Ludovici Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516), the Italian epic romance in verse. An expert fighter, she wields a magic lance that can unhorse any opponent. She ends up marrying Ruggiero, a Moorish prince who has converted to Christianity. Avatars of Bradamante have since figured in a number of other works and adaptations of same, including GeneviŹve de Brabant (1859), an opera by Jacques Offenbach based on another medieval romance heroine.
One of the villains in the GeneviŹve legend and the opera derived from it is named Golo, and there is a man of that name in Ways of a Wanton Wench—only he isn’t a villain, just a man with a very long cock that Bradamante manages to accommodate. Gerin, the young knight Bradamante invites to fuck her in the first chapter (after first fighting him), and who marries her at the end, takes his name from one of Charlemagne’s twelve paladins in the Chanson de Roland, a 12th Century French romance that inspired Ariosto’s epic. And Monjoie (My Joy), the name given one of Bradamante’s fellow soldiers and lovers, was originally Roland’s battle cry.
None of this would have been of the slightest interest to the average porn reader, and whoever edited Ways of a Wanton Wench must have gone along with it only because the novel had the requisite number of sex scenes in the requisite variety—including anal intercourse, lesbian encounters, gang rape and even incest. The strategy of Bee-Line and other publishers of its ilk was evidently to put something for everybody in each book, even if it didn’t make any sense.
“Madeleine LeGrange” may be another in-joke. One Madeleine Lagrange (1900-1992), whose memoirs were published in 1998, was the widow of Leo Lagrange, France’s first Secretary of State for Sports and Leisure in 1936 -- he was killed defending his country in 1940, and Madeleine herself pursued a career as a decorative artist. Women of the same name turn up at family history websites. But whether any of these may have inspired the author of Ways of a Wanton Wench must remain a matter of speculation. Any record of the her real name would have gone out with the trash when Bee-Line folded, and it would thus be impossible to contact her, even if she were still living.
If indeed she were, she might now be writing spicy romance novels, or the more explicit erotica, that now caters to a predominantly female readership. Women seem to be more receptive to this sort of thing than men—when’s the last time you saw a men’s adventure novel or techno-thriller with hot sex? For whatever reason, men seem to go for the visual – skin magazines and X-rated videos. It can’t be an accident that there are scores of porn magazines aimed at men (straight or gay), whereas at least half the readers of the only one supposedly for straight women, Playgirl, are actually gay men. Yet porn fiction, even in the men's skin magazines, has always been subordinate to the pictures.
Ways of a Wanton Wench can be seen as a precursor to contemporary women’s erotica. The focus throughout is on Bradamante’s pleasure; it is practically taken for granted that her lovers are enjoying her company. The very first sex scene in the novel, before they fuck, is of Gerin going down on her:
Oh God, she prayed, let him do it to me....And then her prayers were answered... Nor did he hesitate, but threw himself into the feast wholeheartedly, sucking and gulping and drinking her fragrant juices as if he had been doing it all his life.
About the time Ways of a Wanton Wench came out, there was a radical young science fiction writer who made quite a fuss about the lack of sex in sf—and wrote a controversial novel to remedy that. He considered himself very liberated, but I once overheard him grousing about how hard it was for him to get a blow job. I wondered at the time whether it had occurred to him that he might offer to reciprocate.
As for LeGrange, she may have wanted her novel to be an erotic romance in the first place, but there wasn’t a market for any such thing in the sixties. She had to shuffle Gerin offstage for most of the story, and chose an odd way to do it. After having laid her with a will, he has a sudden attack of remorse, as if he has somehow violated her – when she was obviously an eager partner. Insulted by his post-coital guilt trip, she sends him on his way.
That sets the stage for the usual round robin of sexual encounters: Monjoie, who insists on anal sex because he’s afraid of getting Bradamante pregnant (and also out of repressed homosexual tendencies); Golo of the long cock, who also eats her out before fucking her (“And Golo was right—she [was] able to open herself even more.”). Before long, we also learn from her reminiscences how she was initiated into sex by her father.
This relationship is obviously harder to defend now than it was in 1969, when incest was considered exotic and even a possible alternative lifestyle in some quarters – Theodore Sturgeon wrote a utopian story (“If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?”) about a society based on incest for Again Dangerous Visions (1972), but that might not be publishable today after all the sordid revelations of actual incest – which, far from being consensual among adults, as in Sturgeon’s story, is nearly always forced on underage girls by their fathers.
Bradamante’s father is saddled with a cold wife, who berates him for not having fathered sons and for letting their only daughter act so mannishly that she’ll never be able to marry. That’s hardly a legitimate excuse, but LeGrange does the best she can to argue that what actually attracts him to Bradamante (whose pagan spirit welcomes his attentions) is the same budding heroic attributes – she rides and fights better than the young men of her village – that later inspire the admiring lust of other men:
She was a soldier, a comrade, [an] equal... She was like one of those ancient pagan deities, part man, part beast, half man, half woman, who have fascinated mankind and inspired their worship because they represent a bridge, a merging of opposites, the reconciliation of conflicting forces that men secretly long for.
Bradamante later has to save her family from a Satanic cult, at the cost of being raped by one of the Satanists, then takes refuge at a convent to recover from her injuries – part of the therapy is mouth-to-cunt resuscitation by the Mother Superior. Soon she’s also having an affair with a novice. But when a gang of brigands attacks the convent, Bradamante offers herself to them to give the nuns time to escape: “One at a time now … plenty here for everybody.”
Portraying submission to gang rape as a heroic act is obviously a stretch, and because this is a porn novel from a different generation than ours, Bradamante is obliged by the genre rules of the time to enjoy it. But rather than a celebration of male dominance, LeGrange makes it a matter of her heroine taking pity on her assailants:
She looked into the eyes of the man and saw in them the look of all hunted and desperate creatures… Her arms grew limp and her heart was filled with an overwhelming sorrow. For she felt that he was her brother—he’d fought beside her, suffered by day… shivered and waited in the cold night… And now he too had touched bottom.
It is only that pity that allows her to first endure and then to enjoy the brigands; and in the end, she gives as good as she gets: by the time Mother Serena returns, the brigands have departed – all fucked out, and caught with their pants down by angry villagers who run them off. Recovering again, Bradamante rides off into the sunset – only to find herself doing battle again with a knight who turns out to be… Gerin. From a callow youth, he has become a real man, as she soon discovers when they get down to business:
So powerful were his thrusts that it was almost more than she could bear. Yes, Bradamante, who had taken on a dozen brigands, was about to plead for mercy, to beg her youthful lover to take it easy. But just then he shot his seed into her and she could feel the hot melting inside.
And that’s just the beginning of the HEA. Gerin has been looking for her ever since their first encounter: his own family has a tradition of heroic women, and he realizes that Bradamante is the woman for him: “Come to where you can be yourself, be accepted for the woman you are instead of having to masquerade as a man to be free!”
Ways of a Wanton Wench is apparently in the public domain. Although the Bee-Line edition has a Copyright 1970 notice, a search of the U.S. Copyright Office database indicates that the title was never actually registered by Bee-Line or anybody else. Considering the ephemeral nature of porn publishing, that shouldn’t really be surprising. But it means there could be another happy ending for Bradamante’s story if one of the current erotica publishers picked it up.