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Hidden erotic poems 'turned 18th-century collections into bestsellers'

4th February 2011

The success of two of the 18th century's bestselling volumes of poetic miscellanies could be explained by the addition of hidden erotic poems, an academic has claimed.

Dr Claudine van Hensbergen, of the University of Oxford's English faculty, was cataloguing the two volumes of The Works of the Earls of Rochester and Roscommon for the institution's Digital Miscellanies Index project when she developed the hypothesis.

The expert came across the so-called The Cabinet of Love section when examining the books and suggested that the 'pornographic poems' included in the hidden sequence were the cause of the popularity of the collections, which were reprinted more than 20 times in the 18th century.

Dr Van Hensbergen explained that printer Edmund Curll inserted the extra poems in a 1714 edition of The Works of the Earls of Rochester and Roscommon and demand for the books surged after this was passed on by word-of-mouth.

'The Cabinet is unusual because it shows us that people read pornographic writing directly alongside the verse of major poets. This raises interesting questions about what counts as literature and where the boundaries between high and low culture lie,' she commented.

Last month, University of Oxford academic Dr Abigail Williams revealed that digital analysis of intimate letters written by Jonathan Swift to two women showed he used a 'secret code of intimacy', such as a form of baby language and self-censorship.
 

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